Friday, 28 September 2012

The African connection to Hyderabad biodiversity: Baobab, Spathodea and their mystical attraction

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 27: Hyderabad does not just boast of its famous
localities, African Cavalry (AC) Guards and Habsiguda (named after
Abyssinia or Ethiopia), but it has also enriched its biodiversity
thanks to its “African connection”.

The Nizams had employed soldiers and servants from Africa and some of
them had brought “flora mementos” with them to Hyderabad. The
best-known flora or tree memento is the baobab tree, native of
Madagascar. Popularly known as the elephant tree or Hati ka jhar, the
baobab is now an endangered species in Andhra Pradesh. Outside
Hyderabad, the tree is revered as “kalpavrisha” in parts of the State.

Two of these kalpavrisha were felled down during four-laning of
Vijayawada-Hyderabad national highway and laying of outer ring road in
Hyderabad. Now only four baobab trees remain in the state, one of them
in Golconda fort. Baobab is scientifically called Adansonia digitata
and many people believe in Andhra Pradesh believe it has magical or
mystical powers. These trees are more than 150 years old.

Another African tree quite popular for its lovely reddish-orange
flowers is Spathodea campanulata or African tulip tree. Though it is
an alien invasive species, it failed to spread vast in the State. Its
existence is also threatened. A number of bird species depend on this
African tree.

Says Dr Shaik Mahmood, head of the department of botany, Nizam
College, Osmania University, “these exotic plant species have made
Hyderabad their home town. They are of great environmental and
taxonomical importance and add to the local biodiversity. We need to
protect the remaining endangered trees from extinction”.

Besides those from Africa, the gardens of Hyderabad have
wholeheartedly welcomed beautiful plants and trees from the Americas
and Australia. They have now become part of the city’s flora.
Jacaranda mimosifolia with blue bell-shaped flowers is a garden beauty
in the city. It is a native of South America and has powerful
antimicrobial activity, killing bacteria and other microscopic
parasites in the body.

The famous non-African exotic plant that has been localized with
Indian names, “Gul Abbas” and “Chandrakantha”, is a geneticist’s
favourite. Popularly known in English as four O’ clock plant,
Mirabilis jalapa is a garden delight as the colours of its flowers
change without any explicit reason. It was incidentally this plant, a
native of Mexico that has given scientists an insight into mutations
or sudden genetic changes in plants and animals.

South American Albizia samak and Australian Schefflera actinophylla
have also made Hyderabad their native city.

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