May is the month when the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) yields fruit—those yellow-orange ball-shaped fruit, the size of golf balls. It’s that month when the sun is really, really harsh. It also happens to be the month when most deaths due to the heat wave occur. It’s not the month when you would like to venture out in the open (contrary to the claims by sun-screen TV commercials).
If you do, do venture out early in the morning or late in the evening and tilt your neck towards the sky while standing below a tall kadamba tree. I’m sure you’ll see a marvel. The crown is a canopy of branches, like an outstretched palm with leaves sprouting all around, as if an umbrella held over you. If you lie and stretch yourself (not possible because kadamba trees are used as avenue trees in cities) you’re likely to be awe-struck by what I call the nature’s wonder. The marble-white of the sky peeping through the speckles of green, reminding you of an embroidered sari you inherited from your grandmother.
A favourite of Lord Krishna, kadamba tree and its flowers is consider a universal favourite among the Gods. In fact, the Mother Goddess Durga is said to reside in a kadamba forest—for she is lovingly called Kadamba Vana Vāsinī.
The fresh leaves are edible and a favourite fodder among cattle. The ornamental tree, used for soil reclamation sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy.
The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, this tree can grow best in alluvial sites like river-banks and in the transitional zone between swampy, permanently flooded and periodically flooded areas.
Come rains, the branches lashed by wind the kadamba fruit–by now ripe and coloured bronzed brown– drop on the earth, one by one. In the mornings you’ll see scores of them lying around. Of them, some will grow to be a tree continue the life cycle.
Adivasis of Chattisgarh believe that planting kadamba trees closer to lakes, rivers and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity.
Rabindranath Tagore mentioned the kadamba in one of his poem: Badal diner prothom kodom phul.
You offered me your first yield,
The fragrant Kadamba of monsoon
For my part, I bring you
My rainy tunes.
I have shielded them
With cool shadows, dim skies,
My first lyrical fruition
I know today offers you abounding harvest
But tomorrow will leave you bare
And so each monsoon,
My songs will come to life,
My boat will be heaped with your honour
My melodies, echo your glory
Riding on tides
Of your lost remembrance.
English Translation courtesy Anjan Ganguli (GEETABITAN)