Saturday 22 October 2016

Speaking Of Golden Boughs

A spectacular book on the jungle trees of India
Jungle Trees Of Central India: A Field Guide For Tree Spotters
By Pradip Krishen
Penguin | Pages: 400 | Rs. 1,499

Pradip Krishen has followed up his celebrated book on trees in Delhi with this spectacular book on the jungle trees of India. What started as a casual interest, nurtured on jungle walks dec­ades ago in the Delhi Ridge, and later in the forests around Pachmarhi with his tree guru, Nishikant Jadhav, has culminated in a painstaking labour of love.


On a comprehensive tour of the vast central Indian landscape, the author introduces its various forest types, ranging from sal and teak to savannah woodlands and thorn forests. He also explains, simply and effectively, the complex responses of the trees to the changing seasons—such as the timing of shedding leaves, flowering, formation of fruit and seed dispersal. He delves into the history and present status of the forests of central India, giving new insight into the problems of forest management. He also highlights the alarming reality of our biodiverse forests being rapidly replaced by a few timber-yielding species, and its dire consequences.

Krishen has used local names in his descriptions of trees, which require the reader to make an effort to familiarise, although scientific names and synonyms are also given. Using beautiful colour schemes and thumbnail keys, he has given a comprehensive pictorial guide for tree spotters that will aid in identifying trees based on their bark, flowers, fruit or leaves. The confusion in identifying two similar-looking trees is sorted out by pointing out subtle differences. The complex subject of classification and naming of trees has been simplified and made interesting.


The book’s biggest draw is the 2,018 photographs that even the most uninspired reader would find stirring.

There is also an interesting account on the ongoing war over the name ‘Acacia’ between the botanists of Australia and those from Asia and Africa, most recen­tly at the Botanical Congress in Sydney in 2011. As the dust settled, the Australians had appropriated the right to use the name Acacia for a large group of trees of the wattle family, despite a bitter contest from Asian and African botanists. I fir­mly stand behind the author, who has stuck to the use of the term Acacia to describe our group of thorny trees. The new possible substitutes, such as Vachellia or Senegelia, are unfamiliar and may not be acceptable despite the scientific verdict. Besides, ‘Acacia’ has sneaked into the vocabulary of even the uninitiated and hence is here to stay.

Jungle Trees of Central India is exquisitely designed and the photographs of some of my favourite trees, especially Haldu (pg 140), Anjan (pg 288) and Baheda (pg 184), are stunning and ethereal. Few are aware that taking good photos of trees is difficult; those who have tried it—like this reviewer—will admit that often the results are disappointing. Perhaps the biggest achievement of this book is the mind-boggling collection of 2,018 photographs that will stir even the most uninspired reader. It will be a daunting task for anyone to match its scientific accuracy, quality of pictorial presentation and depth and range of information—a must for any nature lover and a valuable tool for anyone with an interest in identifying trees. Indeed, Krishen’s own previous book is the only one that I can think of which comes close to matching his latest one.

(Vyas is a Supreme Court lawyer, wildlife activist and tree-lover)

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