Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A tree falls over

Tragedy struck for our little community today. A magnificent old Portia tree (Thespesia populnea, also known as Indian Tulip Tree or Pacific Rosewood) which was growing outside our apartment building toppled over. It was tall and like all Portia trees, it had a wide canopy. Wonderful to pause under in the blistering hot summer days!

More than anything, it gave a degree of privacy to the residents of the buildings around it. Like most Mumbai apartments they're too close for comfort and the thick leafy branches of the Portia tree curtained off each building from the other.
For me on my higher floor, I was on eye-level with all the birds that flitted in and out, drinking the nectar and eating the fruit of the Portia tree. It was a constant source of entertainment.
And the green! What a soothing wash of green to calm the eye and mind.

Some months ago the place where it was growing was the site of much redevelopment and the area around the tree had been claimed as a road. In an attempt to save the tree, a low wall was built up around it, filled in and finally concreted over. Whoever did it must've thought that would make it more firm.

For the last 2 days, Mumbai has been seeing a lot of rain and just as it petered out and the sky was clearing up, there was a loud crash. Everyone from all the buildings around ran out . What a sad sight! Our beloved tree was tilted over dangerously with the roots snapped off on one whole side, and the concrete slab propping it up like on of those leaning-boards you hear of actresses using between shots..

Is the redevelopment to be blamed? I'm more inclined to think that the fault lies in its branches. Since there was a building too close to its western side, the branches on that side were pruned more harshly than the others. As a result it got a slightly lop-sided effect. Shorter branches on one side and longer heavier branches on the other. And following 2 days of heavy rain, I think it just toppled over onto the heaver side.

I wonder whether it can be saved...
Maybe if the newer, thinner branches are pruned off, the tree will not be so top-heavy or lop-sided. Then if a big pit is dug the tree can be lowered into it and there is still hope for it?

What would you do? Keeping in mind, of course, that fancy tools and equipment are not an option...


  1. Sunita,
    Very sad to see this, but somehow I doubt the tree can be saved. I check back in to see the outcome.
    Sorry to hear that you've lost your lovely green screen.

  2. Oh, how sad. I would like to think that saving the tree could be an option. It would probably depend on the root damage...but maybe there wasn't much if it's just leaning over?
    Replacing the tree may not be what is possible with local development. If I had a vote - it would be to save her. A tree that harbored so much life and was so useful must be a female.

  3. It is always sad to see trees falling, especially when good memories are associated with it.
    Is this what we call 'poovarasu' in malayalam. The leaves look very familiar. We used to make 'naadan' whistles with the leaves :-)

  4. Oh dear! Let us hope that the relevant authorities will attempt to save this tree. Arbor day has just gone and saving and planting more trees on the planet should be still fresh in the minds of the planners.

  5. Sigh! It feels terrible.
    Pruning of large trees is something that is often missed, and needs attention. Delhi has its share of green and lost a whole lot of trees to the winds and rain this year besides the metro construction caused massive felling of trees.

  6. Hi Sunita~~ First, my condolences, a tragedy indeed.

    I agree that lop-sided pruning was a contributing factor but during my classes with tree-advocates at OSU Extension, I was taught that you never want to cover the roots with concrete or even too much soil. It will smother the roots and damage the tree's integrity. From the looks of things, this tree was cemented nearly up to the trunk, not a good thing. I hope if the tree can be saved, the cement will be chiseled away to allow more airflow to the roots. --Just my two bits.

    Other than this disaster, I bet the rain was nice.

  7. I hope it can be saved!!!I found your suggestion very practical...it's sad to see a tree topple like this. And every tree is like a multi story building and a home to many, many animals, birds and insects!

  8. Alice, seeing the amount of root damage, even I'm a bit apprehensive but I'm trying to stay optimistic. I'll really miss the privacy it used to give us. Now I'll have to go buy some thick curtains which will drastically cut down on the cool breeze we were so used to.

  9. Stephanie, I'm afraid that the only thing which keeps it from falling completely over is that cement slab. Somehow that has not crumbled but is remaining intact and so the tree is leaning on it. If you see the last photo, you'll see what I mean.
    I agree ... I'm sure she was female too :)
    I have a horrible feeling that they may just decide that this was providential and the best option is to get rid of the tree. I really, really hope not!

  10. Bindu, I was not sure what it was called in malayalam so I did a Google check and you're right. It is the same tree.
    Incidentally, I also found out that it has medicinal qualities too . If you're interested, this is the site I visited : http://ayurvedicmedicinalplants.com/plants/2379.html
    And this is the first I've heard of whistles being made from its leaves... how interesting! I really wish you could show me how. I love learning what I call "nature crafts"

  11. Helen, I hope so too. But there is a big space crunch with many households buying new cars and parking is at a premium. I have a horrible feeling that they will just decide to do away with it.

    Urban Green, I was actually very impressed with Delhi's green cover on my very short trip there last year. True, I didn't move around much but when I did, I saw many more trees in one little area than I could dream of seeing in all of Mumbai's suburbs, I think!
    Development seems to be eating into the green cover so much that I sometimes think it should be called un-development!

  12. Grace, that cement has been irritating me from the time it was laid down! Initially, the tree grew in a 6'-wide flower-bed. Later the road was widened so the flower bed lost out and the tree was left on its own at the side of the road.
    I heard to day that the cement job was done because cracks started appearing soon after this. They left just a narrow opening on top and the rest was cemented over (on the surface only). I wish they had got someone more knowledgeable to do this.
    You're absolutely right... the rains have been a god-send but somehow this incident has become a dampener in more ways than one.

  13. Me too, IHM. It is such a grand, majestic-looking tree. Very old and like you said, visited by so many birds and other creatures.

  14. Its a sad thing. Im surprised as I often noticed that when trees are pruned from their branches they are done symterically to avoid these kind of problems.

    I guess the rain had added to the damage. Farewell to a lovely tree.

  15. hi,
    I am sorry about the tree. It looked so grean and lush.
    Having trees among apartments is a neat privacy arrangement. When that goes , the houses feel kind of over exposed. We feel the loss.

    We have a gulmohar in our front gate. It is a big tree and a bone of contention with the neighbours who wants it cut all the time. But all the cars are parked under it most of the time.

    Unfortunately the rains have played a villian and hte tree is breaking in instalments. I feel so sad. And the ugly neighbourhood is visible to upset me more!

    I also feel for the birds and squirrels. Poor things .

  16. Hi ,
    I think cuttings from thick branches ought to take root. I've seen it done on my road. Some enterprising individual actually took the the trouble to plant cuttings of this tree at five feet intervals outside his compound and they are all thriving today.
    Actually this tree is recommended for planting as an avenue tree but possibly it was the cementing which did it in !!
    In Chennai a motorist lost his life when a tree fell over and it had rained for only half an hour.This is a frequent occurrence in Chennai during rains and our rainy season has not even set in!!!
    In fact, I have a Spathodia and copper pod outside my compound and both are not recommended as avenue trees....
    Shall keep you all posted on their status in the coming months....

  17. Oh, Sunita I am so sorry this happened! What a loss. We have a huge, ancient oak that provides much of the shady character for my garden. It's not in the best health but it "makes" the place what it is. I've said before and I mean it, that if it ever goes, I don't know if I'll be able to live there anymore. I hope something can be done for your tree. Are you set to become a tree-saving activist?

  18. Sorry that this massive beauty has left your presence. (((hugs)))

  19. I hope you can save it..it has such a history and meaning to you and your neighbours... :)

  20. Wow! I was never aware our humble 'poovarasu' had medicinal properties.Had a few of them back home in Kuttanad and this is a very common tree there.
    As for whistles - nip off the stem (the 'thandu' of the leaf), bend the pointed tip inwards, just the tip and it should be bent flat. roll it up from the tip tightly, the leaf will be conical in shape. Now try blowing from the tip, it took me a lot of tries to get the desired effect:-) Doesn't last long though.

  21. James, tht is what should've been done ideally. But in this case, like I said, there is a building which is too close on one side. As a result, the branches on that side were pruned more than on the others. And yes, the continuous rain for 2 days just added to all the problems for this tree.

    Hi Vetrimagal!You're right about the privacy. I suddenly find that people in about 10 different apartments can now see directly into mine through the kitchen window and through to my living-room! Not a pleasant discovery!
    Gulmohur is a complicated tree to have growing in residential areas. Its branches are so brittle that they keep breaking off and crashing onto whatever is beneath it but its flowers are so impossibly beautiful that just seeing them can lift your spirits for the whole day.
    Isn't it sad how the rain that we look forward to so much is the cause of the downfall of some of our beautiful trees?

  22. I'm sure they can be rooted, Arundati. This has to be one of the fastest/ easiest trees to grow, in the tropics at least.
    trees toppling over during the monsoon happens all the time in Mumbai too. Most of the roadside trees were planted at least 50 years ago when the roads were much narrower. When the roads are widened to make way for the growing traffic, these trees find themselves in the middle of the road and the ground around it has been macadamised. Not good!
    By the way, five feet intervals is way too little for this tree. Its branches spread very wide normally. Another tree near my apartment, has a spread of almost 40 feet on just one side!
    You must have a spectacular view, looking out at the Spathodia and copper pod! Hope they do well for you.

  23. Aah... so that's the story behind your name, Shady C! I did wonder ;)
    I know exactly how a tree with personality can lend character to a place. Take it out of the picture and all of a sudden, it is most uninteresting.
    Tree-saving activist? No, I dont think so. I would love to see this tree safe and healthy again but be an activist? No. I dont think I have enough expertise or experience in saving fallen trees. That should read 'no expertise' actually. All I can do is offer my opinion as a gardener and if necessary, help out. Does that qualify?

  24. Thanks, Rosey. She is down but not out yet, actually. The leaves are still fresh, buds are still blooming ... what a toughie!

    I hope so too, Wildlife Gardener! I havent lived in this neighbourhood for long. In fact, it's more of a stop-gap residence or a pied-a-terre for us. Yet this tree with all its character, has managed to take hold of us in ways that I never expected.

    Hi Bindu, thanks for the craft tutorial :) I must try it out.
    Kuttanad? That's one of the most beautiful places in Kerala! I love seeing the lush, velvetty paddy fields and... oh! the backwaters! Beautiful!

  25. That must have been such a shock and heart-breaker. I do hope that your efforts to save this lovely tree work. Trees are often tougher than we think - and if you say new leaves are still coming through, perhaps all is not lost. Good luck, and keep us posted on what happens.

  26. I always feel very sad when trees die - either naturally or by human hands cutting them off. It takes years for a tree to grow, but just a moment for it to die.

  27. Poor tree, I always find it heartbreaking when a special, older tree meets an untimely demise. I think it would be very difficult to save. Take a deep breath and remember that it's part of the growing cycle. The location sounds like it may no longer idea for a tree of such size? Perhaps you could help with replanting the spot? :)

  28. Kamini, this tree is tough! 3 days after toppling over and its still going strong. I hope it can be put back upright again even if they have to trim the branches. They'll grow back before we know it, I'm sure. I'm not sure about the roots though.

    Raji, I totally agree! Especially when you see a tree which is so wide of girth, you cant help but think of the years it must've spent just growing and growing.

    Rebecca, you're right. The location has become too human-ised (my word for it, sorry!)There doesn't seem to be any more room for trees to grow in Mumbai. All the space is being taken up for our human activities. And that is such a pity.

  29. hi sunita,wonderful blog you have.I am a horticulturist,but dont have a blog on plants and i think i should start one.ur blog is an inspirer.thnaks

  30. OMG, Lakshmi, please get started on one right now, will you? I know I'd love to read a garden blog by someone who has in-depth knowledge of plants.
    If there's anything I love as much as writing, it has to be being an enabler! ;D

  31. It makes me feel bad to se/read about fallen trees. Around the same time, our neighbour's really tall and-lade-with-fruit-papaya-tree fell over our wall. Nothing was damaged but somehow the area is quieter now because most of the birds used to congregate there.

  32. Kanak, that's sad! Watching birds on a fruit tree can be very entertaining. And it just makes it worse that the tree was filled with fruits at the time. I think birds mourn the loss of a tree more than we realise. When our tree fell, all the crows lined up on the cable wires next to it... it reminded me so much of a wake!

  33. Looks like the monsoon is really having its effect there. It must be heartbreaking to see a tree that you liked in your neighbourhood meeting its demise like this.

    I have not watched a single 20-20 match in the ongoing one....as I have been out in the wilds. It is difficult to cope with too many interests.

  34. This seems to be the final kick that the monsoon of 2009 gave us. After letting us down so badly this year, it had to go and do this! The monsoons are well and truly over for this year and we're baking in the October heat now.
    Mmm... I dont think you missed much, Amila! Between you and me, it must've been way more entertaining hunting for birds and bugs in the Sri Lankan jungle, and of course, dodging the mosquitos ;)

  35. Sunita, I finally ended up watching bits and pieces, but never in a planned way. For some reason that tournament did not ignite my interest as the IPL did. I absolutely love that Hindi song they play in that though.

  36. You plant new tree saplings to get back the green cover. You can consult with botanists to get info about what types of trees can be grown in that type area and cementing around the trees are the reasons for weakening the trees. Remove the cementing and plant new tree saplings, even it takes away your precious time littlebit, still you are doing great service to mother earth and for peole living there

  37. Ooops! Amila, I'm sorry I never got around to replying to you.

    Mahalakshni, thanks for writing in :) You're right, I wish that cementing had never been done in the first place. I dont think it can be undone now because it was part of a road widening project and there frankly isnt enough space for a tree to grow. Some Mast Tree saplings have been planted by the community gardener but I dont think they'll do well. I'm hoping they will, though.


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