Tree bay SVL Nagar in Sulur is home to more than 40 species of trees, and many birds and butterflies.

“The yellow blooms of the kani konnah appear right in time for Vishukani,” says A. Sukumar, as he takes me on a tree tour around SVL Nagar, a residential area in Sulur, spread over five-and-a-half acres. A retired superintendent of Central Excise and Customs, Sukumar is the secretary of its Residents Association. Sukumar, when he moved to SVL Nagar in the 1980s, took it upon himself to green the campus, that today is home to 45 species of trees. Trees skirt a playground as well as an acupressure walkway.

He points out the athithi maram saying how its fruits attract a great many number of birds that nest on it. I also see neem trees, badami, pungan and nagalingam or cannonball tree. A tall and elegant tree with a greyish broad trunk that tapers to the top and is the devil tree, he says. The fruit tree has red blossoms and Sukumar shows the pearl-like seeds inside the flower that give it its name, the pearl fruit tree. On the silk cotton tree or the ilavan panju, I can spot a number of brown pods that hold within them the soft white cotton and seeds. “Parakeets visit these trees and tap the pods looking for seeds. They also feast on the fruits of kodukkapuli tree,” he explains.

Red-vented bulbuls, white-headed barbets, shikras, tree pies, purple sun birds, purple-rumped sun birds, and tailor birds are regular visitors. A number of fruit-eating bats inhabit the Iluppai tree, says Sukumar and adds that the Iluppai flower and fruits are bitter and used for medicinal purposes.

A cloud of common rose butterflies flutter around the lantana flowers. “During the butterfly migration between December and January, the place is a riot of colours and we can see a number of butterflies including the plain tiger, common rose, crimson rose, common crow, tailed jay, common grass yellow, great eggfly, red pierrot, blue tiger and others,” he says. The tall Asoka trees attract the tailor jay butterflies that forage on the leaves and birds such as flower peckers, drongos, coucal (chemboth) and koels are abundant here.

Speaking of trees with medicinal uses, Sukumar points out the Poovarasan tree, bearing yellow flowers. The skin of its fruit is used to treat skin diseases. The area also has native species such as ilandhai, banyan and tamarind. “Many birds nest on ilandhai trees because the thorny branches protect their nest from snakes and rats. And the gum which oozes out of the trunk traps insects and ants easily, which are food for many birds.”

There is also a small temple and a number of trees such as the thoongu vaagai or the rain tree, naval, mango, peepul, banyan and vilvam. “The rain tree is so called because when you stand under the tree, a chill drizzle falls on you,” he says. Just as I exclaim, ‘how lovely’, he laughs and says, “ It’s nothing but the excreta of grasshoppers and locusts that live there.”

How green is your neighbourhood? Write into feedbackcbe@gmail.com if you know of any individuals, institutions or colonies that take pride in their trees.