The Qutub Minar watches over a short Khabbar tree (Salvadora Oleoides) that lies near a raised, grassy patch of the Qutub Complex, not far from the boundary wall. The gnarled trunk, with hollows and crevices, is etched with the initials of those who visited, much like a monument itself. A squirrel scampers over the trunk, a mynah sits on a branch for a while, and a family that comes to see the towering monument of the 13th century in the backdrop spends some time on the bench lying in the tree’s shade.
A list of 16 ‘heritage’ trees prepared by the Delhi government a few years ago mentions a Salvadora tree in the Qutub complex. Another Khabbar tree lies close to the ornately engraved Alai Darwaza, its trunk almost bent over and leaning towards the minar. The Khabbar trees are a little different from what appear to be their close cousins, the Salvadora persica or Peelu, a specimen of which is also located in the Qutub complex.
The Salvadoras in the Qutub complex also feature in Pradip Krishen’s book ‘Trees of Delhi’. While Delhi golf course and the graveyards in Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg are home to many Peelu trees, the Khabbar is said to be much rarer in Delhi.
He writes that for reasons unknown, the tree is found ‘almost exclusively in Mehrauli.’ Smaller Khabbar trees can be spotted around the walls of Lalkot in Mehrauli and there are two more such trees in Khusro Park, Nizamuddin.
They can be distinguished from the Peelu tree by their narrow leaves which are never more than 1.3 cm wide. Khabbar flowers have no stalks and their fruits are yellow when they ripen.
Empty cans and used straws litter the ground around the twisted trunk, scattered around the plants that grow at the base, and even stuffed into some of the larger recesses in the bark of the tree.
The afternoon sunlight penetrates through the many branches of the tree. The intertwined branches cast a shadow on the stone bench beside it.
Awestruck by the monument behind it, few tourists pay heed to the trees in the complex. They flock to the nearest tree when the sun gets too harsh. A child who tries to touch every tree he sees is rebuked by his mother; “don’t go close or a dragon will come out of it.”
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