Salai – Out of Box


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I am driving through Madhav[1] forests which are described in literature as ‘northern tropical dry deciduous mixed forest’. There are patches of ‘dry thorn forest’ also in the area. In general, there are patches of Kardhai (Anogeissus pendula) forests, Khair (Acacia catechu) forests, Salai (Boswellia serrata) forest, mixed forests, riparian forests etc.

But it is not as simple as that. It may be dry in context of moisture /water but otherwise, it is not as ‘dry’ as that. As we pass along, different locations have different conditions resulting in changing scene every minute. And if you look closer, that is beauty of our forests.

In April month, forest is ‘bone dry’. Except for patches along the lakes and water channels, most of the trees are leafless or with dry leaves. Nevertheless, each and every patch of forest amazingly sends vivid images to mind which get ingrained in the memory.

I realise, if we do not notice, this is simply a ‘jungle’.  But if we look with interest and open eyes, there are those trees, herbs, shrubs, grasses, flowers, leaves, fruits… Every species has different character – colour, shape, size, height, and trunk and leaf, flower, fruit, & wood….It does not end at that in a forest. Every species plays important role in the ecosystem.

Madhav area is mostly hilly with plateaus and nalas. The slopes are gentle and rarely steep. As we approach hill tops and higher plateaus, I am particularly fascinated to see patches of Salai forests. I have come across similar patches commonly in Sariska and Ranthambhore Tiger Reserves also.  Here I may say, Salai forest is no technical classification but for the sake of emphasis on Salai species, I am calling it so.

Salai shines out in the mix. It stands out with its colour, shape, size, height… It dominates the mix. Most of the Salai trees stand tall and branch higher up while, there are few which profusely branch at breast height itself. It’s a moderate-sized, deciduous tree.

Salai has shiny, bright, light golden look, making it stand out among the blackish trunks of Khair and Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) as well as inconspicuous cream-black Ghont (Zizyphus xylopyra). But in this mix competing for attention is Salai’s another neighbour, Dhaora (Anogeissus latifolia) with bright light grey colour smooth bark with whitish patches!

There are variations of creamish, golden, orangish or yellowish look of different specimens. Paper thin upper most layer of the golden bark is peeling off, all over, revealing very soft green hue and smooth texture of the inter bark. I get down, take a walk in few such patches, feel the thin bark and peel few of them and touch the soft, smooth inner greenish layer of the bark.

I know that the Salai wood is soft and used for making boxes and its gum is used for medicinal purposes. Internet sources reveal that Salai ‘is used in cheap furniture, ammunition boxes, mica boxes, packing cases, cement barrels, well construction, water pipes, matches, plywood and veneers.

‘The tree yields a yellowish-green gum-oleoresin known as salai guggal from wounds in the bark. This gum has an agreeable scent when burnt. The gum is called the Indian frankinscens and used in medicines, perfumery and for scented fumes, used for incensing and freshening the air. Gum is used in medicine against rheumatism and as diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory and astringent.’[2]

Crowning beauty of Salai is that it occurs in hard, sallow soils with poor moisture conditions. It’s an ‘out of box’ tree whose wood is used for making boxes.




[1] Madhav National Park, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, India