Have you met the freshwater mangrove tree at May Day Park?

Studying this barringtonia acutangula that stands at this popular park in Chintadripet, a conservationist points out that space needs to be freed up for this tree both on the earth and in the air

March 04, 2024 09:50 am | Updated 09:51 am IST

A barringtonia acutangula, a freshwater mangrove tree, at the May Day Park. The image was taken on February 29, 2024

A barringtonia acutangula, a freshwater mangrove tree, at the May Day Park. The image was taken on February 29, 2024 | Photo Credit: PRINCE FREDERICK



In the south-eastern corner of May Day Park in Chintadripet stands a barringtonia acutangula tree with gnarled branches and a striking buttress. It is a freshwater mangrove tree, one visitors to the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary would be familiar with. In that avian environment, the barringtonia acutangula trees would stand in knee-deep water, spaced apart to the extent that each tree would come across as an islet of green. On their branches, those trees would cradle the young ones of painted storks and a couple of other big-bird species.

There is no water cooling the feet of the lone barringtonia acutangula tree at the park in Chintradripet. That is hardly a matter of concern though. Its design allows it to thrive in soggy earth, but it can hold its own in dry earth. Around its dry feet, the tree looks upon a concrete pathway that takes a curve to avoid a collision course with it. And when it looks up, it is not treated to the idyllic sight of huge birds raising their young, but to a sight of growing canopies of young trees that would soon vie bitterly for air space.

T.D. Babu, a naturalist and a member of tree conservation NGO Nizhal, points out that the presence of concrete, even with that evasive curved course, does not signify an ideal situation for the tree.

Besides that, Babu underlines a problem well above terra firma: with trees having been planted in close proximity, the barringtonia acutangula can in time be overshadowed by the canopies of the emerging trees. The tree should have been allowed to stand in splendid isolation, Babu stresses.

Babu recalls that at the height of Metro Rail work, metal barricades had come up so close to the tree that they were literally breathing down its trunk.

‘Make heritage trees known’
Heritage trees need to be protected where they are found and nowhere else. The “where” would often denote a busy road or a market place. Tree conservationist T.D. Babu remarks that a heritage trees needs to be declared a heritage tree and the local civic administration needs to install a plaque near the tree that throws light on its significance, including its connection to the landscape it is found in. That is the only way these trees can be protected — getting the general public to be aware of what it is and what it signifies for the land.

“We found the tree during a study around 2013. Following completion of Metro Rail work, when the boundaries of the park were redrawn, the tree found itself with enough space around it. The compound wall was quite a distance away. But then, trees were planted around it, which is the factor now threatening to cramp it for air space. On the earth, the concrete pathway is a cramping presence. It should be cut short at a point much before it gets anywhere near the tree.”

Babu believes this tree could have grown naturally, and was not planted by human agency — his assumption is buttressed by the fact that barringtonia acutangula is an indicator species found in the floodplains of rivers.

Adds Babu, “This area would have once been the floodplain of the Cooum, and this tree would have grown there as a result of that.”

Two freshwater mangrove trees experience the bustle in Sholinganallur

On Ponniamman Koil First Street in Sholinganallur, two barringtonia acutangula trees are tucked away behind carts and kiosks. Hard of texture and twisted even in the trunk, both trees wear their age and character like a badge of honour.

Two freshwater mangrove trees at Ponniamman  
Koil First Street. The image was taken on March 1, 2024

Two freshwater mangrove trees at Ponniamman   Koil First Street. The image was taken on March 1, 2024 | Photo Credit: PRINCE FREDERICK

T.D. Babu, naturalist and a member of tree conservation NGO Nizhal, notes these trees are a throwback to the time when the tracts on both sides of Old Mahabalipuram Road were marked by agriculture.

These craggy and gnarled look likely comes from having spent much of their formative years in a watery environment, says Babu. He elaborates that these two freshwater mangrove trees suggest they would have in times past stood in an irrigation area or something of a irrigation tank.

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