BANGALORE is beautiful. The streets in the city have bright-coloured blooms throughout the year. Perhaps it starts with the golden yellow Tabebuia, followed by the Brazilian mauve Jacaranda, and bursts of flamboyant red Gulmohar in April-May. The sweet smelling Magnolia Champaca and the fragrant Frangipani fill the air just before the rains and even after that, not to mention bright yellow Copper Pods that spill over the streets. The city also sees spells of Peltophorum, Dolichandrone in between. Till recently I assumed that these blooms were very much part of the urban landscape of the city. It is then that I came across the term ‘arborist’, and their role in designing a city.
Wikipedia defines Arboriculture as the study and management of trees and woody plants. An arboriculturist or an arborist has a thorough information of trees alongside having specialised knowledge about landscape architecture, forestry etc. The arborist plays an important role in designing cities. Here is why.
Selection of trees for cities
Trees are an integral part of the urban landscape. They beautify a city, attract birds, insects, and add to a city’s charm. As they improve air quality and provide shade, they play a vital role in climate proofing the locality. However, trees cannot be haphazardly planted in a townscape. Not all trees survive well in streets, some may not tolerate pollution, while some canopy trees may interfere with wiring. There are some trees that can become invasive and replace the native vegetation as well. An arborist takes all this into account.
Randomly introducing foreign plants for ornamental purposes can also create havoc. Exotic varieties though add to the charm, greatly fail when chosen for avenues. Their root system is not strong and easily fall during monsoon. Thus, native trees are more favourable. They withstand the onslaught of monsoons, provide shade and fruits, nectar for birds and insects. Native trees like jackfruit, mango, pongamia, neem, banyan and peepal make good candidates. In divided highways smaller trees fare better like singapore cherry, paarijat (Coral Jasmine).
Serial blossoming in Bangalore
The greening of Bangalore, especially the serial blossoming in Bangalore, is all thanks to the vision of these arborists. Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel was one such horticulturist with a vision. He was a German horticulturist who worked in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew. From 1908 to 1932 he worked for Mysore Maharaja and contributed a lot to the green cover in Bangalore – he was Superintendent of Lalbagh during this period. Prior to that he had worked at the Botanical Gardens at Baroda and Ooty. Until his death in 1956, he worked in the city, planting flowering and avenue trees. He is buried at a cemetery in Hosur Road. The serial blossoming in the city was his vision. He selected seasonal flowering trees that bloomed sequentially so the city avenues were never bereft of blooms during any season.
Here are some of the summer blooms in the city that continue to survive in the city.
Pride of India: The botanical name of the plant is Lagerstroemia speciosa. Other names of this tree are Jarul, Queen Crape Myrtle. It is the state tree of Maharashtra. Quite a number of these trees are present in the Lalbagh Park in Bangalore. Though its natural habitat seems to be in swamps, it grows quite well in the city putting out pink, purple flowers. If you observe the tree in full bloom you will notice that the older flowers have a bleached look and turn pale, while the younger flowers at the tip are fresh pink. Thus you see the tree in different hues. In Bangalore it works well as an avenue tree, providing shade and flowering during the hot months from March to June. The wood is resistant to water, tolerant to drought, and is often harvested for its timber. As the roots are dense, it is quite effective in preventing soil erosion.
Rusty Shield Bearer: The botanical name of this tree is Peltophorum pterocarpum, while the common name of is Copper Pod, Yellow Gulmohar etc. The flowering season is between March to September. The yellow flower bunches bloom at the end of branches and is a welcome sight. As it forms a huge canopy and also lets grass grow beneath it, it is a popular choice for gardens and avenues. The flower sprays however are very fragile, and do not stay in the tree for long. A slight wind or rain, and you can see a carpet of flowers beneath the tree.
Golden Shower tree: This tree lives up to its name – the rich golden yellow flowers are quite an attrac- tive sight in the city. The common name of this tree is Amaltas, and it flowers in the months between March to May in Bangalore. Apart from providing shade it is said to decrease temperature and bring improvements in air quality. The cylindrical pods hang in clusters and contain round seeds in them.
Tulip Tree: The botanical name of the tree is Spathodea Campanulata. The Tulip tree is a well-known avenue tree in the city. The bell shaped red-orange flowers never go unnoticed in the streets. The other common names of the tree are Fountain tree, Flame tree, etc. Though it is of African origin, it has adapted well in the city and commonly flowers and fruits between October to January, and August to September. The tree is also known as Squirt tree, children are often found pressing the hollow flower buds that are filled with liquid, and hence the name. It is said that Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel is buried beneath this tree, as he was quite fond of the tulips.
Temple tree: The botanical names are Plumeria alba and Rubra. This tree is known by multiple names – Pagoda tree, Frangipani. The white, yellow and pink fragrant flowers are most often planted near temples. It is also a symbol of immortality – the tree blooms even when uprooted. Thus it is often planted near tombs. They have a flowering period that could last from February to October.
Gulmohar: The botanical name is Delonix regia. This tree from Madagascar is very much a part of the Bangalore landscape. Come April, the Gulmohar bursts forth in red flowers. The petals of this flower are spoon shaped and the bigger petals have yellow and white stripes.
Flame of the Forest: The botanical name of this tree is Butea monosperma. The tree lives up to its name, bursting out in orange flames in the hot months. Commonly known as Muttuga or Palash, it attracts a number of birds and butterflies into its vicinity. The flowers have a curved keel – hence the tree is popularly known as Parrot tree as well. The bright orange flowers are also used to make colours played during Holi.