A stone’s throw away from traffic-ridden streets, in the Mombay University campus, the endangered ‘amherstia nobilis’ tree can be found, with bright crimson red flowers hanging from it. Known by its common names ‘Pride of Burma’ and ‘tree of heaven’, the tree belongs to a species that originates from Myanmar. According to experts, there are only four such trees in Mumbai and it is difficult to come across them even in their native country.
“Such a rarity exists right next to this bustling road, and yet nobody knows about it. We might pass by these trees during our daily routine, but still not know its significance,” said Vandan Jhaveri of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), while leading a group of nature-lovers on a natural heritage walk as part of the Kala Ghoda Festival.
The Pride of Burma was one among several exotic species of trees introduced to the group during the walk. While walking through the historic precinct in the Fort area, the participants saw ‘lignum vitae’ from South America near St Thomas Cathedral, the West Indian ‘star apple tree’ outside the Bombay High Court, the ‘baobab tree’ originating from Madagascar near the Rajabai Clock Tower and South American rain trees outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
“Historically, Mumbai has had several foreign influences, from the Portuguese, the British and even the Dutch. Each of these brought with them trees from their countries. So, Mumbai has a large variety of these exotic species. However, unlike the cultural heritage of the city, not many are aware of the natural heritage here,” said Krutika Garg, the curator of the walk.
During the walk, participants came to be acquainted with some of the city’s oldest trees, both indigenous and exotic. Near Flora Fountain, there are a few Indian tulip trees, which are some of the oldest roadside trees in Mumbai. The High Court complex houses a mango tree and the university has an ancient canon-ball tree and a wild almond tree, all of which are over a century old. “The university was started in 1890, this means these trees have been here for around the same time, plus or minus a few years,” added Garg.
Ankur Jain, a Powai resident, who was a part of the walk, said, “These trees have been here for so many years that they have witnessed historical events. If they could talk, they would be able to give a better account of history.”
Around 25 people participated in the walk, which began from Horniman Circle. During the walk, the hosts shared interesting trivia about the city, like the naming of different parts of the city after trees. “The place we are beginning the walk from was called Bombay Green, and historical accounts have recorded that Mumbai was once known as the ‘Land of Trees’. Many parts of the city received their name after trees. Wadala was named after the ‘Wad’ trees (banyan) or the Tamarind Lane after a Tamarind tree in the area, under which local trade would be conducted,” said Garg.
Rohit Satra, from Dadar, is a regular at heritage walks in the city. “I have done many heritage walks in the city, but this is the first time I am coming across a natural heritage walk. We know the history of the heritage buildings of our city, but these trees also have a history to share. Through walks like these, we need to raise awareness about them,” he said.