I find bright yellow flowers – small woolly balls – spread all over I go – dust tracks, on side of roads, bushes … I am in Ghana with a forester friend, Sunayan Sharma. As we drive through the Park to a have a macro view, I notice trees are decked with bunches of yellow balls. It is clear that this tree species is typical of Ghana. Incidentally, Ghana is known by other names also, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan). I like the name Ghana as that’s the tradition name of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Talking of name, common name of the tree I am talking about is Babul. From literature, I find ‘the species is Acacia nilotica and it is indigenous to the Indian Sub-continent as also in Tropical Africa, Burma, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and in West and East Sudan. In India, natural babul forests are generally found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Karnataka.’ All said and done, it is commoner than common trees of India.
Frankly, it does not carry any impressive image in literature. I recollect an old say, quoting my mother who used to say, “Boya paid babul ka to aam kahan say khaye.” That is, ‘if you have sown a babul tree (which is all over thorny) than how can you expect to get mango.’
You may wonder, ‘Then, why I am talking about this tree? What is so great about it?’ That’s valid questions but during my two days in Ghana, I learn the importance of the species and it really amazes me. Yes, that is why, I decide to look at it closely.
We take a walk behind Shanti Kutir, the Forest Rest House in middle of Ghana. The area which used to be a complex of wetlands is now dry. There are no birds – not literally but in the context that it used to swarm with thousands of birds of more than 100 species. It is now grassland-cum-woodland. I notice Babul is conspicuously present all over. I further notice, most of the trees along the dust track are not standing. The stem could not bear the load and most of the trees are lying down of one or two stout branches. This might have been for decades but it has not impacted the growth of the trees in any way! A similarity that comes to my mind is that instead of standing, a man is inclined on a bed sideways, with thick pillow tucked in between an arm and body so that the upper part the body is inclined at an angle to bed.
It’s leisurely walk and no serious birding. Soon it’s twilight. We find a bench facing a patch of grassland. We are tired and it feels better to sit down and remove camera bag weight from shoulder. I have some fixed up stuff in my bag and we chill, as kids say. I am sure we are prefect picture for a postcard of two old, as well as, old friends enjoying a carefree life. After a while I notice, the forest beyond the grassland is really thick. I ask, “Sunayan Bhai, what’s that.” He replies, “Our same old Babul.” I could not believe babul can stand so tall and thick as well. Mostly, I have noticed, the tree is scattered and ruggedly shaped or rather shapeless.
Sunayan has been the director of Ghana about a decade ago. He knows the forest closely. While discussing the character and usefulness of the species, I find it amazing. In nutshell, ‘It grows in varied soil conditions. It flourishes even in alkaline soils. Even the existence of saline water in the sub-soil is not injurious. It’s almost evergreen. It is a domestic tree and villagers like to plant it around their houses, wells, compounds and in the agricultural fields. Almost every part of the tree finds some use. The tree is highly versatile.’ Furthermore, this tree is largely used in Ghana by several species of birds – egrets, herons, storks… – to develop mass nesting areas, called heronry. OMG! It’s all in one.
Next morning, we visit the core of the core of Ghana – Sapan Mori. It is pronounced as Saapan Mori. Saapan means ‘of Snake’ and Mori means a drain. Here these drains have sluice gates which have been installed in whole area to regulate water in wetland complex. At Sapan Mori too there is one such sluice gate. Probably, here, there is more concentration of water snakes in the channel!
On both sides of the narrow dust track, there is mix of wetlands, marshes, grasslands, swamps. I recollect in good old days, about three and a half decade ago, we used to see few Siberian Cranes here which, alas, is no more so. Now, we do see a pair of Sarus Crane, our domestic crane, which is also our tallest bird. Sarus too is not common these days.
Coming to the subject, there are trees scattered in swamps and wetlands and you will be surprised to know that these too are mostly Babul. They can tolerate partial submergence for some part of the year and get along. The good part is, they are very important for birds – nesting, perching and roosting. Sunayan Bhai adds “inclined trees at the edge of the water are the nesting places for birds like White Breasted Water Hen, Dabchick…”
This can go on but I will like to conclude, Babul, the commoner, is certainly special for Ghana. I am sure, you will agree.