How would you like it if travel brochures listed Chennai’s magnificent trees as landmarks, and travel operators conducted tours of public trees? Check out these grand trees of the city. Maybe, you’ll start a campaign to declare them as heritage ‘sites’.
Remember Woodlands Drive-in that had visitors streaming in for coffee, conversation and the leafy canopy of ancient trees? When it morphed into Chemmozhi Poonga, some trees were ‘excluded’ into the parking lot. This is where you’ll find brave Arjuna aka Neermaruthu. Horticultural experts noticed cement around its base, and had it removed. Arjuna picked itself up and has sprouted branches at the base. “In its 100-plus years, the tree has seen more cine-artists and song/scriptwriters in its shade than the interiors of studios,” says Dr. T.D. Babu, member, Nizhal.
Only a thin tar-line separates it from the Metro construction site at May Day Park, Chintadripet, but that hasn’t dampened the spirit of this lush, flourishing Neerkadambai (Inland Mangrove). Growing in swamps and dry river-beds has made this variety tough, but send a prayer it should survive. You’ll find its name popping up in religious literature and its flower being used in traditional medical recipes for cough and cold. Try identifying its siblings in Nageswara Rao Park or Navalur.
For a lesson in architecture, meet this banyan at SEZ, Perungalathur. With its many-splendored branches, it stands tall and well-proportioned. During its 100 years, the tree has withstood branches being pruned (spreading branches drop roots) simply by throwing prop roots around the trunk to stabilise and strengthen it — its circumference is now about eight metres. A parking shed has come up in its shade, and the cool breeze it offers on a hot afternoon invites troops of monkeys. A public project is coming up on the road. Will this gentle giant survive the threat?
Across the city
You’ll know why it is called Mull Arasan if you look closely; its grey-brown bark is covered with sharp spines. But, why is it also called a sand-box tree? The spines keep monkeys off this Amazon tree, and its small, pink, pumpkin-like fruits are inedible. Extracts from its bark are said to cure skin disorders. The Anna University, Central Polytechnic and Krishnamurti Foundation campuses have a sand-box tree each. Sadly, the one outside CPT, Rajiv Salai, has boards nailed to it, a clear case of abuse.
You can’t miss this one opposite Bodyguard Muneeswaran Koil on Pallavan Salai. If its botanical names Baobab and Yaanaippuli aren’t exotic enough, this African import is also called ‘upside-down-tree’. The thick trunk and root-like branches might have given it this name, but myth has it that it kept walking away when God made it, so he planted it upside-down. There are well-grown specimens in the compounds of Andhra Mahila Sabha and Theosophical Society, but the 100-year-old, 30-ft one on Pallavan Salai sees more action — with people and vehicles swarming under it. But, how many know they are taking shelter under one of the Famous Five of Africa?