Gentle Giants

By | July 25, 2021

Of late, I have been spending a lot of time observing trees. It doesn’t matter whether I walk, run, or drive on the road, my eyes inevitably follow the trail of trees on the side, making me marvel at the height, shape and the majesty of every big tree I see. Being part of Telangana ku Haritha Haram (Green Garland for Telangana) programme— a flagship initiative of the state government to increase the tree cover— gave me great insight into trees and their role in our society and environment. 

As I learned more and more about trees, what really struck me is the inferior status trees occupy in our imagination. 

We are endlessly captivated by different species of animals— Tigers, leopards, elephants, and rhinos have their own special niche in our books and documentaries. BBC, NatGeo and Discovery spend millions in filming the lives of these animals. But, when was the last time you saw a documentary on trees? When was the last time you went on a jungle safari and stopped by to explore a tree? Our jungle safaris are rarely about the jungle. 

All trees are viewed alike, as monolith structures with a trunk, a few branches, and some leaves. But if you observe closely, every tree has an incredible story to tell. The canopy, the crown, the shape of the leaf, the fragrance of the flower, and the softness of the bark convey interesting clues about its origin and life story. 

I believe some of our indifference stems from our lack of knowledge about trees. Studies have only begun to discover the astonishing social life of trees and how they feel and communicate with each other. Maybe once we understand their true significance, we wouldn’t be as disinterested. 

Be that as it may, the benefits of a tree for the environment and the society have been well established. Yet, tree plantation is often seen as a problem of the prosperous. But many studies have proved them to be a powerful tool to curb air pollution, stop stormwater runoff, and help in reducing the temperature in cities. Among all the tools we have, trees offer one of the highest ROI in terms of promoting public health. 

Many of us are earnest in wanting to plant a tree. But, before you plant one, there are a few mistakes you want to avoid, the most critical one being planting the wrong tree. Let me give you an example. 

You might have come across a tree species called Conocarpus Erectus which is pervasive in our towns and cities. If you knew the adverse effects of this tree, you would think twice before planting one.

Hence, knowing what type of tree you are planting, what it will grow into, its impact on the environment is as critical as planting a tree. Infact, in some cases you might be causing more harm to the environment than doing any good by planting a wrong tree. 

So, what’s a good tree to plant? – I’d say a tall (at least 5 ft) sapling of native variety. Why a native variety? Native varieties, by definition, have evolved to adapt to the local soil and climate. An exotic species, on the other hand, demands a lot of resources for its conservation. Some of them even impact the local ecosystem adversely. 

In the post below, I have compiled a list of common, native species of India along with their characteristics as well as the advantages of planting them.​​ By the end of this article, I hope to persuade you to plant one.

Banyan — Ficus benghalensis — Marri

Giant of giants. The immortal one. The national tree of India. 

Few sights are as majestic as a mature Banyan tree. It grows incredibly wide, with a canopy so dense that it houses an ecosystem within. Countless birds, bees, insects, and animals are sheltered by a Banyan. Its root system is like a reservoir, storing ground water and preventing surface water runoff. It traps UV light, provides shade and maintains a cool temperature beneath. Its benefits to the ecosystem are unparalleled. A Banyan is a fantastic tree to plant in parks, on the roadsides or in public institutions.

Yet, for some reason, a lot of misinformation has crept into our psyche and we don’t plant this tree anymore. It is quickly disappearing from our cities, villages and neighbourhoods. 

It’s time to bring back Banyan’s past glory.  If you are planning to plant one tree, let it be this one.

Make Banyan Great Again. 

Tamarind  — Tamarindus indicus — Chinta

A colossus. The Tamarind tree stands as a symbol of our culture, tradition and community. Though it grows slowly in the initial years, it is extremely resilient and has an average life span of 200 years! 

Tamarind trees are considered sacred— in the villages, you find people praying to deity placed under this tree. These trees also serve as important landmarks where the whole village community gathers to discuss social issues (called Racha Banda in Telugu). They are privy to the fiercest of debates and the deepest of conversations. 

Most of our parents’ childhood is associated with this tree. I remember my father telling me that when he was a kid, he could never imagine buying tamarind from the market. A single tree in the neighbourhood was enough to feed the whole community. 

Sadly, this tree, too, is fading out from our villages and towns. There’s never been a better time to plant them in big numbers. It can be planted in parks and homes, but the best place to plant it is on the road side. 

Mango — Mangifera indica — Mamidi 

Any celebration in the house means decorating the door frames with ‘Mamidi Toranam’. 

The tree grows immensely big, provides fantastic shade and produces fruits by the tonne. A summer saviour!

Ideal for plantation in open areas, homes and even on the road side. With the monkey menace becoming unbearable by the day, it will be a good idea to plant such fruit bearing trees en masse inside the forests. 

Jamun — Syzigium cumini — Alla Neredu 

Tall, evergreen, fast growing and fantastic. Jamun tree is a favourite of the squirrels and birds for the tasty fruit it produces.  The tree doesn’t need much maintenance except for occasional watering. It thrives in Indian climatic conditions. 

Besides being tasty, the fruit is rich in vitamins and antioxidants. 

Jack Fruit Tree — Artocarpus heterophyllus — Panasa

A medium sized tropical tree that can grow in the most difficult conditions with little water. Its leaves have a striking dark green shade with a stiff texture. If trees are rated by beauty, I’d rank this tree very high. I’ve taken to this fruit recently and it’s delicious!

The tree is well suited for planting in parks, gardens, homes and public institutions. 

Gulmohar — Delonix regia — Turai

In summers you might have seen many Indian streets and roads dotted with bright red flowering trees. That’s Gulmohar. If you are a 90s kid, chances are you would have probably used the tree’s flowers to play cockfight with your friends.

It’s a fast growing tree well adapted to Indian climatic conditions. It can be planted in our homes and offices, but the best place to have it is on the road side. The more trees there are in a series, the more stunning it looks.  

Copper Pod — Peltophorum pterocarpum — Konda Chinta

Many people confuse this tree for Gulmohar. But you can distinguish both the trees from three characteristics. 

Flowers of a Gulmohar are red and those of Peltophorum are yellow. Gulmohar’s tree bark is pale and smooth, whereas Peltophorum is rugged and dark. Also, the seed pod of a Gulmohar is much bigger.

This tree grows really fast and has a wide canopy, providing fantastic shade. 

Rain Tree — Samanea saman — Nidra Ganneru

The tree with the most stunning crown. Strong contender for the best looking tree. You’d be hard pressed to capture the whole tree with your mobile because of its immense spread. From a distance, the tree looks like a giant umbrella. 

Its leaves fold at night giving the moniker Nidra Ganneru in Telugu. I discovered recently how sweet its seed pod is. Try it next time!

This tree is not really native to India, but it has been naturalised after its introduction many decades ago. A rain tree grows unimaginably fast and is best suited for planting on the road side and large open spaces. 

Two rain trees on either side of the road is a beautiful sight to behold. Travelling under it feels like you are going through an indoor bio- dome. 

Indian Medlar — Mimusops elengi— Pogada

Elengi is evergreen, dense, scented, and absolutely stunning. A mature tree looks like a perfectly shaped globular ball. You can easily recognise its leaves from their wavy borders. The tree’s fruit attracts a lot of birds, bees and insects. It’s an average sized tree and is ideal for planting on the median, footpaths and narrow streets. 

Sacred Fig — Ficus religiosa— Raavi

The tree you’d find in every Hindu shrine. The tree under which Gautama Buddha got enlightenment. The tree whose exquisite leaf shape served as the design inspiration for India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. Perhaps no other tree is as embedded in Indian art, culture, tradition, and history than the Peepal.

Sacred Fig is both resilient and ferocious: You’d find a sapling coming out of a concrete corner and very often its roots penetrate rocks, crevices, and walls. 

You can recognise it from a distance from its light bark. It grows immensely tall and has a vast canopy, giving shade and cooling a large area underneath.  

When under a Peepal tree, close your eyes and listen to the rustling sound the leaves make at the slightest of winds. You have to experience it to feel it. Nature at its very best. 

Kadamba— Neolamarckia cadamba— Kadamba

Evergreen tree with a striking, large leaf. Doesn’t have a wide crown, but grows tall. Ideal for planting at home, median and road side avenue. It produces Kadamba fruit which is known for its medicinal properties. 

Bhagavata Purana has frequent references to Kadamba. Folklore has it that Lord Krishna is very fond of this tree. 

Indian Beech — Pongamia pinnata — Kanuga

Deciduous and flowering. In spring, when it wears new, glossy leaves, the tree looks stunning under the shining sun. Its little white little flowers dot the ground beautifully and when it rains, the flowers move like little boats in the stream. 

Its leaf is not eaten by cattle, making it suitable for planting on the village roads. It can even double up as a green fence around a structure. It’s a resilient species and can grow in a variety of soils. It has a lovely, dense canopy and gives good shade. 

Neem — Azadirachta indica— Vepa 

Abundant yet exceptional. 

It is known for its drought resistance and can survive in the harshest of conditions. Neem is known to trap particulate matter and protect against pollution. Given its resilience, it’s a fantastic tree to combat desertification. A mature tree provides great shade, reduces the ground temperature and surface water runoff. 

If you are unsure of choosing which tree to plant, just pick a neem tree and you’d be right. Neem can be planted in the backyard of a home, large open spaces, schools, offices, streets and on the road sides. 

Indian Almond — Terminalia catappa — Badam 

Easily identified from a distance because of its unique canopy. Its branches grow in tiers, resembling a person with outstretched arms. Because of its wide canopy, it’s a fantastic tree for shade. The tree is deciduous and the fallen leaves are red when shed, adding colour to the pavement. It’s ideal for planting at home and offices. 

Indian Mahogany — Swietenia macrophylla — Mahogany

Tall, fast growing semi-evergreen tree with lovely, glossy leaves. Its crown spread is narrow, making it suitable for plantation in the median and beside narrow roads. 

Flame of the Forest — Butea monosperma — Moduga

Wild and beautiful. Known for its stunning bright orange flowers. In full bloom, few other trees can match the beauty of a Moduga. 

In the jungle, among a spread of green, these trees stand out like a fire flame. This tree is an integral part of tribal culture: the colour extracted from its flowers is used as natural dye and for medicinal purposes. Its leaves are strung together to form a biodegradable plate. 

Because of its propensity to attract many species of birds, this tree forms a critical part of the local ecosystem. 

Golden Shower Tree —  Cassia fistula — Rela

In full bloom, with its dangling yellow flowers, this tree is a sheer delight.  Adds wonderful aesthetic to the town streets and your backyard garden. 

Indian Fig — Ficus racemosa — Medi Chettu

Being a ficus species, its roots spread wide in search of water. Each tree produces a mega ton of fruit. It’s a common sight to see squirrels shuttling along its branches. It’s a fast growing species suitable for planting in institutions, large open spaces and road sides. 

Indian Cork —  Millingtonia hortensis — Akasha Malle

Generally we’d associate flowering species with small shrubs, but Millingtonia is an exception. It boasts of towering heights and sweet scented flowers. It’s not for nothing that its name in Telugu literally means Sky Jasmine.

Plant them on either side of the road in a stretch and get blown by the aroma and beauty it adds to the street.


What we need in our cities and parks are trees, not small shrubs or exotic plants that please our eyes. Ornamental plants and decorative shrubs may have their place in the environment, but when the land is scarce and resources are limited, we need to prioritise tree plantation.

Unlike buildings, cars, and roads, trees are appreciating assets. We just need to find a small patch of soil and plant a sapling and take good care of it for the first two years. For this small investment, the compounded return a tree gives to society is just incredible. But I don’t want you to think of trees as some financial investment. 

Trees are much, much more than that. 

They are witness to our history, our traditions, our culture, our triumphs, and tribulations. When I look at them, what really strikes me is their patience. They are unhurried in their existence, unconditional in giving, and unshakeable in the face of adversity. There is so much that us humans can learn from trees. 

This monsoon, I sincerely urge you to desist from planting exotic shrubs and ornamental plants. Plant trees. 

As you age, you will see a part of yourself in these gentle giants. 

78 thoughts on “Gentle Giants

    1. Anonymous

      Sir, Information is very beautifully written.. Wonderful article.
      I would like to add one more tree – Dalbergia sissoo, known commonly as North Indian rosewood or shisham, very beneficial plant not only for environment but also for health.
      Thank you 🌿😃🙏

    2. Radha M

      Amazing pics and your notes also …..If time permits , mention about Eucalyptus tree ….

      1. Anonymous

        Only If the area has sufficient Ground water Table..This tree is certainly not good for areas with low rainfall as it needs lot of water…

    3. G praveen kumar

      Sir monkeys are coming on roads for food ,since our forests are not having fruit trees.and unfortunately they are more prone to accidents(death’s)
      This can be observed on kothagudem to yellandu road sir.

    4. Annu

      While reading this article i remembered my school days while planting giant trees in our school campus it feels like going back to school and see the gaint tree it has grown to . Thank you sir for this wonderful article i will try to plant a tree and also encourage others to make our earth green🙏❤️

    5. Shivangi Rawat

      It was a great blog sir 🌳!! I enjoyed reading it 🤗

    6. Glory Paleti

      How about Ashoka tree, sir?
      Wonderful article.
      Made us reminisce the importance of trees once again.

    7. Anonymous

      May be we will be able to relate more beauty by trying to understand the link we have with them, say tree of life within us..

    8. Madhu

      Dear Sir,

      Awesome writing about our true friends – Trees

      Thank you Sir !

      Could we include “Paarijaatam” tree, Lemon tree.

      “Paarijaat” is a beautiful and mysterious plant whose flowers fall to the ground after blooming.
      It is considered a flower fit for the gods.
      The word ‘Parijat’ literally means descended from or celestial.
      Flowers bloom at night and fall down from the branches in the first rays of light, leaving us wanting for more. It is also called as night-flying Jasmine and Coral Jasmine.

      The mythological story shows that Parijat is a heavenly tree brought to earth by Lord Krishna.

      Although the flowers are bitter in taste, they are used to cure a large number of diseases, such as the prevalent fever, sciatica and arthritis.
      The biggest enemy of this plant is water, which causes roots to rot and die. Periodically deep water, well-rotted manure, and prune pruning are enough for this plant to bloom and make your garden beautiful and fragrant.

      Best Regards, Keep writing and Keep inspiring .. Thank you Sir

      May God bless you all success and joy !

      1. Madhu

        Nature, Trees are like Mother !

        They give a lot to us with no expectations.
        Even, If we hurt them they do good in return,
        Many, we throw stones at Trees and they give back fruits, flowers, wood etc.

        There is a small story that – One day, an old man sowing mango seeds on side of road.
        A king who is passing by the route asked the old man – ‘ Why you are planting as you are already grew older and you might not be there the time when the tree giving fruits’
        The old man says, ‘the fruits he is enjoying today are the ones which were sown years back by his ancestors.. so he is sowing the plants for coming generations’.

        It is a great example which shows that everyone has to think about the future and sow the plants.

        Today, Trees are not only part of environment they are very much integral to human lives.

        It is high time to respect and protect Trees,
        Sow Plants and let us pray for the the Mother Earth, our beautiful Environment !

        “Pranamam Pranamam” to our Mother Earth and Mother Nature !

    9. Reena Bambore

      It took me to my childhood memories. Some of these trees were in my school, I have grown up looking at those trees everyday back then just loved the presence of Trees now worried about not seeing them often. Amazing Article. Mother Nature is full of love.

  1. Narayana reddy

    Seema thanged plant 4 avenue plantation and most survived plant

  2. Hema Challapalli

    Sir, I really loved reading your blog, looking forward to read more from you.

  3. Anonymous

    incredibly beautiful and insightful.. each blog that you write comes with a unique perspective ..

  4. niharika lakkoju

    Some important trees
    Silk cotton (Bombay ceiba) booruga
    Phyllanthus emblica (indian gooseberry) amla usiri chettu
    Neem (Azadirachta indica) vepa chettu

  5. niharika lakkoju

    sir while writing biological name 1st letter of 1st word (genus) should be capital
    and 1st letter of 2nd word (species) should be small.

    1. Sraavya

      That’s how sir wrote 🙄
      Anyways thanks for bringing this here, we got to learn a new thing.

  6. Niharika lakkoju

    Sir while writing biological name 1st letter of 1st word (genus) should be capital
    1st letter of 2nd word (species) should be small.

    1. Niharika lakkoju

      I forgot to mention while handwritten biological name should be underlined and when printed it should be italic.

  7. Anjali

    You really captured a paradise. 🌳🌺 May God bless you.

  8. Anonymous

    It’s not only blog sir, it’s great feeling towards nature and their greatness. God bless you sir.

  9. Renuka varshini

    Sir nenu 2023 lo upsc first attempt estunanu sir
    Vaste first mimalne kalusthanu sir
    Miru na inspiration sir
    Sir mi smile chala baundidi
    Always keep smiling sir
    Love and peace from my side sir

    1. Tharun

      Hii frd, nenippudu degree final year chaduvuthunnanu , nenu kuda 2023 lo upsc ki attempt evvalani anukuntunnanu please meeremaina konni suggestion evvandi, ala start cheyyali, munduga Evi chadavali please.

  10. Heda Lexa

    great round up!
    I visited southern Rajasthan recently and found a Kalpvriksha couple (male and female) with their own sacred groves. Grounding moment.

    also, there’s an app for identifying plants called PictureThis, for anyone who wants to pick up the tree-spotting hobby for themselves 🙂

  11. Anonymous

    The last few lines left a deep impression on my mind.I am sure from now on everytime I see a tree,I will be reminded of the soothing feeling I had while reading this article.Not only did your article inspire me to plant more trees but also reminded me to be mindful of my surroundings.Next time I go for a walk,run or drive,I am certain I will mindfully gaze at them,maybe touch their leaves,hug them and take with me some of their essence.Thank you for writing.Thank you for existing.Thank you for providing us with a new perspective and a new way to look at the world.

  12. Saikrishna

    Sir iam big fan of your articulation ,the way you weave the words takes readers attention and the knowledge of your expression is paramount..

  13. Imon

    Well basically I am really happy that someone has written so beautifully about trees.
    Without trees life is impossible.
    Being a student of agriculture ,in the first year of graduation we have the practical of identification of trees ,and with that we have to remember the scientific names n uses .I am recalling all that reading this article.
    Thankuu for presenting it so beautifully.


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