As we become increasingly disconnected from nature, all the green spaces in our towns and cities matter.
In this weekly series, we try to bring back the beautiful synergy we have had with nature, by looking at the green diversity packed in our cities, often hiding in plain sight.
While this is, by no means, the final word on the true tree wealth in our country, the hope is to spark a sense of curiosity and a love for discovery.
And what better place to start, than from the 'City of Pearls', Hyderabad.
The Tales of Trees
A history through the green-scape of Hyderabad
Hyderabad became the first city in India to be named as a Tree City of the World. With this, it has joined 119 other cities from 63 nations.
Its most iconic tree however, is ironically not an indigenous one. The Hatiyan-ka-Jhad or the 'elephant tree', is a Baobab tree that is nearly 430 years old, which is native to Madagascar. It is believed that the tree was planted by wandering friars during their stay at Golkonda, several centuries ago.
Since then, this magnificent tree has witnessed the reign of rulers from the Qutub Shahi's to the Nizams. The Baobab trees can be found around different parts of the city and in many places, they are worshiped as a 'Kapavriksh', or a divine wish-fulfilling tree.
The Erstwhile rulers of Hyderabad were well-known for their love for trees. They planted trees at many avenues and all the mosques around the city. It is believed that the branches of the trees on the avenues were used as lamp-holders to illuminate the streets. The "Baghs" or the Gardens were another major contribution by these rulers. A few notable Baghs in the city include Basheer Bagh and Bagh-e-Aam amongst many others.
Along the broad walkways, during the dying hours of the day, looking at the trees like Sterculia foetida, also known as the 'Adavi Badam' or Wild Badam, makes one think that these avenues were made just to soothe our eyes. With the changing seasons, the leaves change colors, making it even more beautiful.
Hyderabad is home to a diverse range of flowering trees. Some of them include the indigenous varieties like the Casia Fistula also known as the Golden Shower, with its distinctive yellow flowers and the famous Delonix Regia or the Gulmohar tree, native to Madagascar, with its bright red flowers, which bloom during the sweltering Hyderabad summers.
Many trees commonly found around the city were brought from neighboring countries. The ‘Kanchanamu’ or the White Orchid, which blooms during the months of January and February is one such example. They are so common that they are found in the gardens and along the roads.
Evergreen trees like the Neem are found scattered around the city, beside shrines like those near the Golconda fort.
Trees often map the history of a city; Hyderabad is no exception. The Saviour Tree, an old tamarind tree at the Osmania Hospital is well-known for providing refuge to many people affected by the devastating floods of the Moosi River in 1908. Sacred figs can be found around the city, generally flanking temples or mosques adorned with holy symbols, reminding us of their heritage.
A tree isn't just a tree. Each one is a reminder of the history of the place it was brought from, the place it grew, and everything in between. It speaks of the way we have treated our surroundings, our endless need to control spaces, to decide which trees should grow and which shouldn't. In our ever-growing urban spaces, they stand as the last reminders of our distant pasts and our uncertain futures.