Updated: January 12, 2022 9:02:49 pm
The large yellow-green leaves of three young kulu trees stand out amidst the mostly green foliage at Nehru Park in Delhi.
The kulu tree (Sterculia urens), which is in its elements in the Aravallis and may have once been found more abundantly in the city’s Ridge, is now rare in Delhi.
On one tree, the distinctive leaves are mostly yellow and green, bright in the afternoon sunlight. The other two trees bear leaves that are mostly brown and dried up, with many scattered on the grass around them. Small, brown and green flowers dot one of the trees, standing in clusters at the ends of the twigs.
Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist-in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, describes the leaves as “umbrella-like”. They have a heart-shaped base and five pointy tips. Yogesh Ram, a gardener at Nehru Park, pointed to the velvety underside of the leaves, describing the texture as “electric”.
In his book Jungle Trees of Central India, Pradip Krishen writes that the leaves of the kulu tree begin to yellow and fall in October, and the tree eventually turns bare. New leaves begin to appear in May or June. The flowers appear between December and March, while the tree bears red and brown fruits around April and May. Going by the book, the trees thrive in the jungles of central India.
The barks of the kulu trees at Nehru Park are brownish-grey. Khudsar explained that the tree derives the name of “ghost tree” from the white hue that the trunk takes, while the tree is completely shorn of leaves. The bark has phases that vary with the seasons and with the age of the tree. Young stems have a “bright, coppery hue”, according to Krishen’s book. Parts of the trunk peel away in papery bits. The trunk can sometimes be green, with a chlorophyll layer that helps the tree photosynthesize when it has no leaves, Krishen writes.
Gum is extracted from the kulu tree and is used in the pharmaceutical industry and as an adhesive.
“Historically, they were common in Delhi, but that is no longer the case. These trees prefer rocky terrain, so the Aravallis are part of the historical distribution range of the tree, and Delhi was part of this range too. But over a period of time, other species have eaten away these native species. We have recreated and developed a community of kulu trees at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park,” Khudsar said.
A profile of the kulu tree is conspicuously absent from Krishen’s book Trees of Delhi, which profiles the tree species found in the city. It states, however, that the kulu tree is a “characteristic northern Aravalli tree” that would have once been part of the Delhi Ridge, but has disappeared. “It’s not mentioned in the book because at that time there were no examples of kulu growing here,” Krishen said.
The book was first published in 2006.
Krishen added, “We found some of these trees growing naturally in Mangar Bani in Faridabad. So, this is definitely a Delhi tree, but has disappeared. I gave some seeds to the New Delhi Municipal Council several years ago, and they have grown some in their nursery. This has been planted in some parks, including Nehru Park.”
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