The 3.4 hectare Botanical Garden at the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding is home to over 100 Indian and exotic trees and is a source of invaluable data, writes K. Jeshi

The Thiruvottukaai tree is straight out of a painting — a slender brown trunk streaked in green. The green comes from the round fruits it bears on its trunk. It is just one of the many rare trees at the Botanical Garden of the Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding. The aacha tree or the kodi maram stands tall. It must be over 60 ft tall.

The 3.4 hectares is home to over 100 Indian and exotics tree species, bamboo shoots, varieties of cacti, and medicinal plants. A walk through the garden provides ample scientific and popular information about them. Rows of tamarind trees at the entrance give way to the yellow gulmohar or the copper pod. Then there are the spotted gliricidia or seemai agathi whose leaves serve as green manure. Another tree, acacia melliflera, is bushy, has spiny branches and yellow inflorescences, and is a preferred tree for afforestation. The karuvelam is a nutritious fixer of soil, its leaves serve as fodder for goats. Its twigs are used as a tooth brush as it contains tannin that has cleansing properties.

Medicinal plants

A dedicated medicinal plants corner has adathoda vasica or adathodai (malabar nut), a shrub. It has dark green leaves and spikes of white flowers. The leaves are used to treat bronchitis, asthma and cough. Curry leaf plants are a plenty and the leaves are used to treat skin diseases and control cholesterol. There is nochi, mylangi, kadukkai (whose pods are dried, powdered and used to treat indigestion), kodukkapuli, sakkarai kolli, and paambu kaala chedi (leaf extract is used as anti-venom). Among the mixed tree species, there is the Indian rosewood tree whose timber is used to make musical instruments such as the piano and flute. The neervadalam provides wood for the toy industry. The soap nut tree or poovenkottai tree which bears brown pods finds use in a number of herbal products such as shampoo. At some places, the garden soil is coated with layers of soft green and grey twigs from the casuarina trees.

I listen to the call of chemboth, koel and the peacocks. Resident birds such as the golden-backed woodpecker, drongos, mynahs, Indian tree pie, spotted owlet, and migratory birds such as Asian paradise flycatcher are often spotted here.

The garden also houses a nursery with orchids and medicinal plants. The bitter leaves of siria nangai are believed to cleanse the liver, the insulin plant that helps control diabetes and the karpooravalli whose aromatic leaves find medicinal uses. The tree cover includes pungan, poovarasan, mayil kondrai, divi-divi tree with fragrant pale yellow flowers (that yield the nectar for honeybees), hop tree with ornamental red pods and the Iluppai tree with its pink flowers. The extract from the sweet iluppai flowers are used to make candy.

Captain Temple, a British Army Officer is buried at the garden. He was assigned the task of combating Tipu Sultan, and was killed while on his horse. It was his wish to be buried here along with his horse. Check out the ghost tree or adansonia digitata, a rare tree.

I walk past red bougainvillea blooms, red hibiscus, pink aralis, and breathe in the heady nannari.