Face­off amid a flower shower

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - SUNJOY MONGA

It’s the time of year when the blue sky hangs cloud­less over­head, and all of hu­man­ity grum­bles about the heat. And yet there is song and dance in na­ture. And a won­drous back­ground is pro­vided for some spec­tac­u­lar trees to bloom.

Mum­bai has al­ways been cel­e­brated for its wealth of tree va­ri­eties — not to be con­fused with num­ber any more, sadly.

We have sac­ri­ficed much of our green her­itage to our grow­ing need for var­i­ous kinds of in­fra­struc­ture. It is an un­for­tu­nate part of the ur­ban process, but needs a ma­ture look­ing into.

It is the loss of tree qual­ity that is alarm­ing to me. Our in­dige­nous va­ri­eties are fast los­ing out to flimsy, eco­log­i­cally in­con­gru­ous ex­otics. Let’s look at one such pair, an in­dige­nous and an ex­otic, both now in bloom.

No two trees are more con­trast­ing of colour panache and mo­har. The for­mer is an in­dige­nous tree also known as the Golden Shower or In­dian Labur­num. The cur­tains of sheer gold that drape it when in bloom bear a sub­tle shim­mer.

Its flow­ers and seed pods at­tract in­sects, mam­mals and birds. There are fine spec­i­mens all over Mum­bai. And there is the street in South Mum­bai named after this tree, never mind that for many years the tree has all but van­ished from it.

Con­trast this story with that of the Gul­mo­har, a na­tive of Mada­gas­car but ex­ten­sively in­tro­duced around the world. In Mum­bai this tree has more than wide­spread across the built-up zones; it even lights up the face of an en­tire hillock in the recre­ational zone of the na­tional park.

It en­joys such splen­did al­ter­nate names as Flam­boy­ant, Royal Poin­ciana and Flame Tree, and is re­garded as one of the most beau­ti­ful trees in the world when in bloom. It at­tracts nary a crea­ture, save an oc­ca­sional car­pen­ter bee or sun­bird.

But it’s a shower and a sur­vivor, more a Mum­bai­ite now than the soft-spo­ken Amal­tas. You prob­a­bly have a Gul­mo­har on your street; and it has likely been months since you saw a Labur­num Many peo­ple seem to pre­fer

And that wor­ries me, be­cause what we need are more Amal­tas. It’s all very well for the stars to shine in Bol­ly­wood or even the cor­po­rate world, but in Na­ture, bal­ance is cru­cial. The Gul­mo­har does not do its bit to main­tain an eco­log­i­cal bal­ance, and for that rea­son, I am sad to say, it will never be­long, no mat­ter now pop­u­lar or at­trac­tive.

Will it take over any­way? Well, Na­ture doesn’t get much of a say in the plan­ning of our metropo­lis, does it?

The Gul­mo­har is a flashy fel­low, but the Amal­tas (above left) is a son of the soil.

IM­AGES: SUNJOY MONGA

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