A wide variety of trees and flowering plants is found in and around Shillong but there was not enough documentation of the local flora in all these years. The Silviculture Division under the Climate Change, Research and Training wing of the Department of Forests and Environment has recently released a book, called Trees of Shillong, written by taxonomist Dr HB Naithani, a retired scientist from FRI (Dehradun), and R Nainamalai, former divisional forest officer who was posted in Shillong.
The book, which was released by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma during the Cherryblossom Festival, lists 206 varieties of trees, some of which are “endangered”.
Former range officer P Kharbuli says the book was not part of any particular project but the result of a few enthusiasts’ keenness to study the greenery around. He informs about another book, Important Tree Species of Meghalaya At A Glance, that was published in the mid-nineties.
“Dr Naithani was in Shillong for a separate project. He was quite interested in studying the trees of the region. So I accompanied him. I am not sure how long but it took us several years to work on this. Also, we had to wait for the flowering season to identify the plants. We had to consult the BSI (Botanical Survey of India) too. There are more species than what is listed in the book,” says Kharbuli.
According to Kharbuli, some like Ilex khasiana and many species of Magnolia (except champaca) are endangered. He believes the book will make people aware of the environment and encourage them to preserve and protect the trees. “The mindset that there is a need to protect trees should be inculcated from childhood and it is our duty to teach our children about protection and preservation of the biodiversity,” he adds.
Sunday Shillong presents details of some trees as described in the book.
1. Syzygium tetragonum
The Khasi name of the tree is dieng-soh-umkynthei or dieng-soh-thiang-um. This ornamental tree can grow up to 25 m and its crown is ovoid, compact and dense. The flowering and fruiting season is May-July and can be found in the Botanical Garden. This species can also be seen in other parts of the North East, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.
2. Magnolia baillonii (Pierre)
The tree, which is called Bol-mring in Garo, grows up to 25 m and its branches are rusty pilose. The flowering and fruiting months are May-July and July-August, respectively. In Shillong, one can find the tree in the Botanical Garden. Besides Meghalaya, it is found in Assam, Mizoram, Manipur and Myanmar.
The wood of the tree takes a good polish and is used for planking, doors, windows, furniture, turnery articles and toys, among other things. The fruits are eaten by squirrels, hornbills, hill partridge, bulbuls and many other birds.
3. Sambucus javanica Bl.
The tree, commonly known as Himalayan Elder, gets its name (Sambucus) from sambuke, a stringed musical instrument, parts of which were sometimes made from the tree. It grows up to 8 m and has a large pith. One can spot the tree in Lady Hydari Park and Forest Colony. The flowering season is May-December. The tree has various uses. Its leaves are eaten as vegetables and its roots have medicinal value. It is usually planted as an ornamental tree near houses.
4. Pyrus pyrifolia
It is often called sand pear, Chinese or Japanese pear or country pear. In Khasi, it is called sohphoh-nongkhlaw. The tree can grow up to 15 m and can be found in Upper Shillong, Raj Bhavan, Lady Hydari Park and Mawlai. Sand pear is a native of China, Japan and Myanmar. Its fruits are hard and gritty and are suitable for canning or culinary purposes. The fruits are eaten by bats, squirrels and civets.
5. Eurya cerasifolia
The name comes from Greek Euro, which means broad or large. The tree is 2-7 m tall and can be found in Botanical Garden. The flowering time is from September-October. The wood of the tree is reddish white and is used for firewood and charcoal. The tender leaves are cooked with meat and the fruits are eaten by birds.
6. Lyonia ovalifolia
The oval-leaved staggerbush is called diengla-samiang or jirhap in Khasi. It is a shrub or tree and can grow up to 10 m. Its stems are twisted and the bark is reddish brown and rough and sometimes has regular vertical furrows 2-5 cm apart. The flowering and fruiting time is May-July and November-December, respectively. The tree can be seen in Shillong Peak and has various uses. The well-seasoned wood is suitable for turnery. Infusion of young leaves and buds is used for cutaneous problems. The root is used for cuts, sprain, scabies and rheumatism. The leaves are insecticidal and contain a toxic substance called andromedo toxin. The honey from the flowers is also poisonous.
7. Cinnamomum tamala
The bay leaf tree is called dieng-latyrpat, dieng-myrawkasla-tyrdop or dieng-sia-sia in Khasi. The flowering and fruiting season of the tree, which grows up to 15m, is December-August. In Shillong, bay leaf tree is found in Raj Bhavan, Ward’s Lake and Botanical Garden. The leaves have commercial value. They are carminative and are used as a spice. They also help in colic and diarrhoea. The bark is a common adulterant of true cinnamon. Both the leaves and the bark yield essential oils. The fruits are eaten by bears and birds.
8. Itea macrophylla
Itea is the Greek name for willow and is applied to hill genus on account of quick growth. It is called dieng sohtareshangum, dieng-lamethel or dieng-lich-dieng-la-myllon in Khasi. The tree can grow up to 10 m. While the flowering months are May-June, the fruiting season is October-November. It can be found in Ward’s Lake, Botanical Garden and Ryndangbriew. The wood is used as fuel and the bark is recommended for dysentery.
9. Jacaranda mimosifolia
The 10-25 m tall tree is found in abundance in the city. It is a native of North West Argentina and Brazil. The flowering and fruiting seasons are March-May and November-December, respectively. The bark and leaves of the tree are used to treat syphilis and blennorrhagia. The wood is used in carpentry. The trees are also planted for ornamental reason.
(Text & photos from Trees of Shillong)