walking on the Ridge near Sardar Patel Marg for nearly forty years now. For most of this time, I
knew very little about the trees and shrubs that I saw there. The neem was probably the only tree I could recognize at a glance.
I learned to tell the flame of the forest in bloom, but would have struggled to
recognize it outside the flowering season. To my untrained eye, the Ridge was
just a wild-looking place in the middle of the city, with lots of thorny trees
something happened. It was late winter in 1995 - 16 February, to be precise. I
know because I wrote it down. It is a time of year when most shrubs and trees
on the Ridge have been bare for many weeks. On this particular day, I noticed
that every dry twig had sprouted a tiny, pale green affirmation that it was
still alive - little, glinting points of life, especially noticeable when a
bush was backlit by the sun. It was like a hidden trigger had been pulled to
produce the magic of a fresh shoot, not just on one plant, but everywhere I
looked. I felt specially privileged, as though the forest had allowed me in on
a secret event in its biological calendar.
back, I am sure this was the exact moment when my interest in plants began. My
earliest photographs of Delhi trees were taken in the rainy season of 1997. It
must have been sometime just before then that I decided to learn as much as I
could about Delhi’s trees and begin the research that led to this book. As I
learned more, I began to lead walks on Sunday mornings, exploring gardens and
semi-wild places with groups of tree-spotters. And that is how this book slowly
gathered unstoppable momentum.
I had no
idea, at first, how hard it might be to track down the identity of every tree
in Delhi. Native trees and those from other parts of India are
not usually a problem. Unlike a natural forest, cities accumulate many
ornamental trees from other parts of the world with a compatible climate. Over
time, some exotic trees - like the bottlebrush and silky oak - prove their
adaptability and ornamental value and become like cliches
of the cultivated landscape. No problem identifying those trees.
fail to do well or reach full potential and are then discarded. It is these
unsuccessful, forgotten exotics that can pose a challenge. I came across a
small tree in Sundar Nursery (Nizamuddin)
that had me puzzled for years. It had feather-compound leaves with crowded,
leathery leaflets and I never found it in flower. I felt certain it wasn’t an
Indian tree. But where do you begin to look up the identity of an exotic tree?
Without flowers, how do you assign it to a botanical family? Even if you figure
out what family it belongs to, which Flora do you consult?
upon the same tree accidentally in the Sydney Botanic Garden three years later.
The Sydney tree was tall and wide-spreading and bore little
resemblance to the runt in Sundar Nursery, but
something about its blunt, crowded leaflets was familiar. I brought back a leaf
with me to make sure, and it was only then that I knew for certain that the Sundar Nursery specimen was a carrotwood
tree from south-eastern coastal Australia.
it get there? Was it one of the trees that Percy-Lancaster, Delhi’s
Superintendent of Horticulture, planted in the 1940s? Possibly.
But it wasn’t the only one. In Sundar Nursery too I
found a lone, forgotten specimen of a coca tree from the Peruvian Andes. I
found 2 delicate-leaved Brazilian ironwood trees with wonderfully mottled bark;
a magnificent khaya or Senegal mahogany; a
broadleaved bottle .tree, also from Australia. Each one had to be tracked down
it is, then - the result of a lot of detective work plus some straightforward
persistence and foot-slogging. 252 trees in all, plus-minus a
few subspecies. Many common ones, a few that
are the only representatives of their kind in the city, and a whole lot of
trees neither common nor rare. Could I possibly have accounted for every single
species of tree there is in Delhi? Probably not. It is
more than likely I have missed a few trees skulking in private gardens or out-of-the-way
places, and I hope readers will write in and tell me if they know of missing
trees that belong in this book.
What is a tree?
The parts of a tree
How to use this book
The leaf scheme
Delhi as a habitat for trees
Delhi’s Natural ecology
Where exactly is the ridge?
Native trees or the Delhi ridge
Avenue trees in the New capital
The afforestation of the
Where to go tree spotting in Delhi
Kachnar - or bael-like leaves
Back of the book
Relating to the character, uses or distribution of
Relating to the identity, taxonomy or name of a tree
List of species
Art & Culture (744)
Emperor & Queen (484)
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