As spring sets in, the road from Shidlaghatta to Bangalore is awash with Muthuga

Flame of the Forest

The bright red flowers attract bees, as well as several species of birds. Mynahs flock to the trees early morning attracted by muthuga flowers, which provide food for the fliers. Next come the crows, who virtually push out the mynahs off the tops of the trees.

Interesting, as long as the mynah flocks remain, no other species of birds nears the trees as it is mating time for the mynahs.

Parakeets, bulbuls, sunbirds and others birds come to the trees one after the other in flocks. Bees and honeybees too do not let go of opportunities to suck the nectar from the salmon red flowers.

The tree

The muthuga tree, whose botanical name is butea monosperma, is a deciduous tree growing mostly in the dry season, to a height of about 15 metres. The flowers, which are about two-and-a-half centimetres long, are bright orange-red in colour, which adds to their attractive quality against the clear blue skies in February and March.

The rich coBLazing red: A muthuga tree in full bloom at Chowdasandra Gate in Shidlaghatta. DH photoslour has earned the flowers the title ‘Aranya Jwale’ or ‘Flame of the Forest’. It is, however, interesting to note that the muthuga is believed to be an accursed form of Agni, the Hindu God of Fire.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, Kaladhar, a teacher, explained that the muthuga leaves are trifoliate (three petals), which, people believe, represent the Hindu Trinity.

The trees have crooked branches and trunks. “A boy undergoing the sacred thread ceremony is handed a branch of the muthuga tree as a stick, indicating he is now a Brahmachari. The wood is also used during homas,” he added.

Riches

The muthuga tree is a source of timber, resin, fodder, medicine and dye.

The leaves of the tree are mostly leathery in texture and cattle generally avoid eating the leaves. However, the dried leaves are stitched together to makes plates to serve meals in, in many homes and on religious occasions.

“The blooming of the flowers coincides with the Holi festival, and the colour obtained by treating the flowers is used to play Holi.”

Medical uses

“The resin, also known as Bengal Kino, has astringent qualities and therefore is used by druggists. The leaves, flowers and seeds of the tree too are used to prepares several kinds of Ayurvedic medicines,” said Kaladhar. The resin is also used by leather workers because of its tannin.

“The birds, butterflies, honeybees and bees that come to the trees for feasting and mating symbolise a symbiotic relationship- an important lesson for mankind,” he added.

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