Jungle Trees Of Central India
A FIELD GUIDE FOR TREE SPOTTERS
Bittu Sahgal reviews Jungle Trees of Central India by Pradip Krishen.
Author: Pradip Krishen
Published by: Penguin India
Price: Rs. 1,499
I thought Pradip Krishen’s Trees of Delhi would be a hard act to follow, but he has outdone himself with Jungle Trees of Central India. The book is brilliant in its presentation and scientific in its outlook. All this while choosing to creatively front the entire manuscript using the most frequently used local names of trees, which he expertly supplements with botanical nomenclatures and pithy personal descriptions.
Every once in a while a book comes about that opens windows to the natural world in ways that are botheye-opening and easy to follow. This is just such a book.
Dedicated to “all the people who live in and depend on the forests,” the author introduces us to his manuscript with as direct a statement as you could ask for: “I like trees. Especially wild ones.” He goes on to add: “I feel a deep empathy in their company. I touch them and delight in their tints and perfumes… I don’t expect you, dear Reader, to feel the same way I do about trees. But I hope that if you wanted to, this book could help you arrive at a vantage point similar to mine without the effort it took me to get here.”
Refusing to be bound by the dictates of botanists who argue about what exactly constitutes ‘a tree’ Krishen disarmingly writes: “I have relied on my own instinctive sense of whether or not a plant seems tree-like… No footrules and measuring tapes. No rigid criteria… I am not a scientist by training or aptitude. I have felt free, of course, to ferret and delve into the right botanic literature. This book owes everything to generations of botanists, foresters and wildlife-wallahs who have paved the patch for what we now know – or think we know.”
It comes together very well. It’s an attractive book that is profusely illustrated. The navigation tips at the very beginning of the book are interestingly written… and they actually do help you get more out of this mammoth labour of love. It’s also a very credible book that marries conventional taxonomy with colloquial name-references. I found myself flipping frequently through the book, including late at night, because I chose to place it at my bedside for a full week before starting to write this review.
Apart from the very intuitive arrangement of information and the easy to understand, but very reliable texts, the quality and impact of Jungle Trees is greatly enhanced by Kadambari Misra’s design. She has managed to organise text and visuals such that each page intuitively guides the reader to salient information, not an easy task when dealing with a bewildering variety of descriptions including barks, leaves and fruits of different sizes, colours and textures.Sample a few descriptions:
Ber Zizyphus mauritana
Seasons: Leaves are renewed fairly quickly after leaf-fall in March April or early May. Flowers appear in September-October, sometimes twice a year with an early flush between April and June. Fruit ripen sometime between mid-December and March.
Tendu Diospyros melanoxylon
Seasons: Leaves are evergreen or only briefly deciduous at some point between March and May. The leaves turn bright yellow before falling. New leaves are bronzy khaki or dusty pink in April-May. Flowers appear in May-June. Fruit ripen in May-June of the following year. Tendu can reach a height of 22 m. on porous soils in sheltered valleys.
At 400 pages it does add weight to my already heavy backpack, but it will surely be with me when I next visit the Kanha, Satpura, Bandhavgarh, Melghat, Pench, or Nagzira Tiger Reserves.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 2, April 2014.