Saturday, August 1, 2009

Forest giants in urban gardens

This is one flower that I'm sure not many would have seen, let alone grown in their garden.
Mystified? These tiny white flowers grow in great clusters at the top of gigantic teak trees (Tectona grandis). These huge trees are prized for their excellent timber but as for me, I get a thrill out of watching them grow in my garden, tall and strong!
Oh yes, and their rough bark makes it ideal to tie orchids on to. And that's a huge plus point in my books.

I had planted some teak trees in my garden many years ago. No one expected them to grow in Mumbai and sure enough, every other year saw one of them succumb to the strong monsoon wind and rain. All that rock underground doesn't help either. It's so heartbreaking to see big, healthy trees toppling over.
There isn't much I can do about it because a great part of our garden is a big sheet of rock with most of it disguised with a thin veil of soil a couple of inches deep in most places and a few feet in others.

A few trees still survive,however, having grown tall and wide of girth. I'm told that my trees are thicker around the middle than the forest-grown teak trees of the same age. That's possibly because they don't have to compete with so many other trees , I suppose.

A couple of days ago, a heavy downpour made me run indoors and just as I had closed the door, I heard a loud crack and a crash.
It was only a branch that hit the ground this time. Bad enough, but I would've hated to lose that big tree. But what kept me frozen was that I had been standing in that very spot just a few seconds before the rain made me run indoors. Yikes!

My next thought was, serves me right! I should've got those branches pruned off when they were forming so that only the main trunk remained tall and straight. But it's not easy getting someone to climb such tall trees ( I read somewhere that they can reach up to 150 feet high) so my teak trees are a bit unkempt.
It looks like Nature took care of this problem and decided to do a bit of pruning herself.

The big leaves are thick and leathery and really look their best during the monsoon season. Some of them are really big ... as big as dinner plates, and have often been used as such in the olden days. Not surprising, don't you think? Nowadays, machines press these leaves into eco-friendly disposable plates. A perfect cottage industry for those in rural areas.
I wonder ... if I invest in one, maybe I could cut down on dish-washing time. And chipped crockery!
Incidentally, a red dye from these leaves was traditionally used on cotton and silk. I really must try that out some time.
By the way, did you see that cluster of buds? One rarely gets to see them because they're carried right on top of the tree.

This what I see more often... the green fruit of the teak tree . Don't they remind you of a drawstring bag?
The green cover which turns brown when mature, feels very papery to the touch but there is a hard stone inside which contains the seeds.
In many places the seeds of mature fruit are sown but the person who gave me these trees as saplings told me that in commercial teak nurseries, they are grown from root stumps.

If there is one advantage of this forest giant, it has to be that birds feel right at home in it. Every year flocks of parrots take advantage of its height to use it as a lookout point. These three are scouting out the next fruit tree to raid, I'm sure!

The Coppersmith Barbets love it too. The green crown gives plenty of cover for this green bird to hide from human sight. These two were either dining out (plenty of bugs on teak leaves) or looking around for a new home to move into.
They really have the right idea. After all, teak should make the strongest, most secure home of all, don't you think? Even for teeny little Barbets ... if kings built their palaces with teak, so can they !

39 comments:

  1. Your teak tree is lovely! I used to raise those green ringneck parrots. I have since come to believe they are better off in the wild.It's so nice to see them in the top of a teak tree. I used to of think trees as permanent, but they are constantly changing. Rain and wind are a hard test for a tree with shallow roots. The ones you still have are survivors that have passed the test!

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  2. A beautiful tree, the teak tree. You can tell such an interesting story, if you were my botanics teacher I would go back to botanics! I have seen one of those giants in the botanical gardens in Cairns. It was flowering at the time. It was a marvelous sight. All your photos and text are so enjoyable.

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  3. What a neat tree. So glad you made a safe exit and were not harmed. Mother nature sure has a way of pruning trees.

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  4. Thank God. You had a lucky escape. The parrots are so colourful. How nice, if they can come to my garden. I think I have seen teak trees flowers around here too. Does the tree go bald after all the flowers have dropped off? From my observation, some types of trees will even shed all their leaves during a certain time of the year, even in a tropical climate.

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  5. That rain looks good Sunita please send me some! Never knew that teak trees grew that tall and what a great tree for the birds.

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  6. You're so right, Sunita. Though the tree itself doesn't look all that charming, it's flowers are sure to attract people. When they're in full bloom, I see hordes insects hovering over the bouquets of 'em. Our neighbor has two of these, but unfortunately, due to no-maintenance, it looks pathetic now.

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  7. Donna, you're so right! That's what struck me at first too.

    Thanks, Becky.
    Did you keep your parrots indoors? I know how noisy they can get. Every year great flocks of them descend during the cashew season and their squawks and screeches announce their arrival from half a mile away! :)
    I really hope you're right about my teak trees being survivors. I planted them when my son was 6 months old and that has made a very emotional bond.

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  8. Trudi, its always such a pleasure seeing you here ... your comments always make me smile :)
    Me a botanics teacher? Well, I loved Biology, but as a teacher I think I'd be too impatient ( ask my children!).

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  9. Tina, I think I definitely used up one of my lives that day ! You're right about Nature's way... somehow or the other things do get done, don't they?

    Autumn Belle, the parrots are really amusing. They raid all our fruit trees but usually I just let them be. They give me more entertainment than blockbuster movies and hours of mindless TV-watching.
    Yes, in the dry season the leaves do fall off and make the whole place very messy. Each leaf is so big that they're not easy to ignore.

    Helen, you mean the rain clouds haven't reached you yet? How tardy of them! i know just how it feels to be waiting endlessly for a bit of rain to come your way :P
    Oh yes, the birds love the teak trees. Apart from that great vantage point, the leaves are like a banquet for all the insectivores.

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  10. Chandramouli, the teak tree can look very unkempt when the bugs get to them. I think they must be very tasty because a lot of moths have their larvae feeding on them. The ideal way to grow these trees is to prune off the initial branches so that it develops a thick straight trunk but that is easier said than done when they grow so tall.

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  11. I agree with Trudi, Sunita. Your posts are always very interesting and educational. I think you'd make a great teacher! :)
    I'm glad you were out of the way when that branch fell. Scary, to say the least!
    Amazingly tiny flowers for such a big tree!
    I love seeing your colourful birds.

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  12. Thank God that you moved away at the right time from under that tree. Somehow I feel that nature does take care of its subjects while doing the 'pruning' work. I have a couple of full grown, unkempt eucalyptus trees in my lawn, and a thunderstorm or heavy rains - this monsoon has made me forget what heavy rains are - do give anxious moments, but till now things have been safe.
    Beautiful photographs and lovely words to go with them...as usual:-)

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  13. Oh what a charming post, Sunita! I loved every photo and was glad you came inside when you did. You have shown us views of the teak tree's leaves and flowers that we never would have seen. Always such a pleasure to visit you. :-)
    Frances

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  14. I feel for you losing part of a tree you love... we get terrible ice storms here and bang boom all during the night reveals in the morning many downed limbs... some the size of large trees, when falling off a two hundred year old Rock Maple. Of course that is young for your trees there. Just love your parrots!

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  15. What an amazing garden and how well written about and photographed. Sunita,thanks for sharing.All I know of Mumbai are the high rises and apartments, where is this garden tucked away?

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  16. Thanks, Kerri. It's nice to have such supportive friends! :)
    The flowers are quite unusual, don't you think? Sometimes the wind blows down the whole panicle with the fruits attached . Its so pretty!

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  17. I hope so, Green Thumb! Many of my orchids are kept in the shade of my coconut trees and I'm always afraid that I'll get bopped on the head with a falling coconut or a heavy leaf one day!
    How're you doing with the monsoon-watch? The rain gods seem to be taking a coffee-break here too :(

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  18. Thanks, Frances :)
    I've never seen the flowers on the panicle before this myself so I thought it would be interesting to post about it.

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  19. Carol... a 200-year old Rock Maple? Wow! I've never seen maple trees before except in photos but they look beautiful. I can't begin to imagine what a 200-year old one will look like. It must be truly magnificent!
    Ice storms must play havoc with all your plants... how do you manage to maintain such a beautiful garden year after year?

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  20. Hi MangoLeaf (what a great blog name!), it's nice seeing you here :)
    Mumbai is one of the most surprising cities; it has super-luxury apartments as well as the most heart-breaking slums. It has densely crowded roads with buildings that have windows opening literally into each other. And then it has acres upon acres of lushly vegetated wildlife sanctuary that is teeming with wildlife, including leopards! Simply amazing!

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  21. Oh, I'm so glad there was no mishap!

    We had a tree fall on our road, and it was very heartbreaking.

    And I love the new blog look! Could I enquire as to what template this is, and would you mind if I tried it too!!??

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  22. Absolutely fascinating post, Sunita. I loved reading about the teak trees and your picture of the monsoon rain put our UK showers into perspective.
    I don't know if you read my post about it, but we get ring-necked parakeets here in the garden in London. At first we were thrilled by the novelty, but it didn't take long before we started to get a little bit fed up with all the screeching.

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  23. FlowerGirl, did the tree fall during the monsoon? Its really sad when that happens isn't it?
    Re: the new blog template, this one is called Minima Stretch. Just go to your Blogspot Dashboard and you'll find 'Pick new template' under the Layout tab. You can choose Minima Stretch there if you like it (make sure you download and save your current template first just in case you later decide you liked the original look).
    If you check my Chai 'n Spice blog you can see Minima Stretch with the sidebar on the left-hand side instead. I'm still not sure which one I prefer. I think design-wise the left sidebar makes more sense maybe. What do you think?

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  24. Thanks, Victoria! Its great seeing you here :)
    My mother is in London right now and my brother who's travelling with her, tells me that she's totally overwhelmed by the gardens and flowers! The weather however has her curling up under a blanket even during the day. Tropical blood!
    Of course, I remember your post with the parrots and, if I'm not mistaken, I think I did comment there. Parrots are really noisy, aren't they?

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  25. Thanks Sunita, shall look for it - I like the "stretch" of it....most templates end up looking long and narrow!

    Left or right...cant say...maybe the left looks better?

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  26. Me too, FlowerGirl! :)
    I used the plain Minima template earlier and I would look at all that blank space on the left and think,"what a waste!"

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  27. Well I am glad you got safely indoors. You have beautiful teak trees and I am sure the birds love you for growing them. Those are cute little purse fruit.

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  28. Thanks, Jessica :) I have to tell you though, that they're still babies by teak tree standards.
    I'm so glad the birds lik hanging out on my teak tree. It gives me a great chance to enjoy them. I really must get a better camera with a more powerful zoom which'll help me share better photos of them!
    Purse fruit ... what a cute way of calling them :D

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  29. Lovely post as always, Sunita. I love how you bring your garden to life. Living in a 29th floor apartment with a few struggling plants, I live vicariously through your verdant paradise!

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  30. I was fascinated with the beauty and variety of flowers you have displayed in your posts. And I enjoyed the new (to me)information about growing a teak tree. Thanks!

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  31. hanks, Kamini. But... 29th floor? Wow! Do you get to see angels zipping around outside your window? ;)
    I'm sure alpine plants must feel right at home in your apartment!
    Okay, I'm just joking, but I can't even begin to imagine living so high up. I have a severe vertigo problem!

    I'm so glad you liked this post, Shari :)

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  32. hanks, Kamini. But... 29th floor? Wow! Do you get to see angels zipping around outside your window? ;)
    I'm sure alpine plants must feel right at home in your apartment!
    Okay, I'm just joking, but I can't even begin to imagine living so high up. I have a severe vertigo problem!

    I'm so glad you liked this post, Shari :)

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  33. I'd know those flowers from a mile ;) ... aaahhaahaa ... no but seriously ... the teak is sure one of my fav trees .For the simple reason I can't get over the leaf size ... the dried ones always make me feel like the are a beautiful piece of art ... even as a kid I'd stick it up on my room walls ... 'She's nuts' is often the reaction I used to get ... but I just love teak leaves ...especially the dried webby look :)

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  34. I just found your very interesting blog. Already I am transfixed. A simple story - with great photos - of a teak tree. I have seen the wood but didn't know that it had such a busy life. The fruit is especially delightful. Thanks, I'll be back.

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  35. Rajee, you're welcome to come over next April - May and take away as many truckloads of teak leaves as you wish! Thats when the leaves drop all the place and drives me mad because just one leaf is so huge that the whole place looks messy (but honestly, I'm more worried about what could be lying under those leaves, hiding in its cool shade!)
    But yes, apart from that I think they're quite awesome too :)

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  36. Hi Stephanie! I'm so glad you liked The Urban Gardener :)
    I use a lot of teak wood in my home too(not from my trees, they're too young)and I really like its rich appearance.
    The fruits are really special, aren't they? I also like to use the dried panicles (after the flowers have fallen off) in floral arrangements. They look really elegant and last for ages.

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  37. Yep! Cool is the perfect word for it! :)

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