While most visitors to Byculla zoo queue up to see its star attraction, the penguins, a lesser known natural beauty deserves equal attention — the endangered tree ‘Pride of Burma’. According to experts, the tree is so rare that it is hard to find even in its native country Myanmar.
“The tree is an endangered species and nobody has studied it. It is almost extinct in the wild and needs to be updated in the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Today, the tree can only be found in gardens as it needs to be cultivated. Though it produces seeds, it might have lost its pollinator,” said Dr Raj Dev Singh, a researcher from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Despite its rarity, Mumbai is home to six Amherstia Nobilis wall — four in the Fort University Campus and two in the zoo. A medium-sized tree with dark ashy-grey bark and dense dark green canopy, it bears crimson coloured flowers yellow at the tip and flat fruits. The tree is known to flower between December and April. First recorded by Dr Nathaniel Wallich, superintendent of the Calcutta Botanic Garden, in 1826, there is no data available about the tree’s origins in Mumbai.
“No research is available about who planted it and when. But it appears that the trees here are at least 40-50 years old. As the seeds are exceedingly difficult to obtain even in Myanmar, the propagation is principally by air layering. Even the trees in Mumbai were born by air layering, a safe way of growing a new tree,” added Singh.
According to Singh, the trees were rare even in Wallich’s time. “Wallich came across only two of these trees in Burma. It produces seeds but might have lost its pollinator, making it difficult to germinate,” said Singh.
Mumbai has been ruled by many foreign powers over the centuries, who introduced several exotic species in the city. The tree was named after the Countess Amherst and her daughter, Lady Amherst, the wife and daughter of Lord Amherst, Governor-General of India (1823-1828). The tree has been introduced in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.