Advantage Albizia Saman from Madras – The Hindu

Chennai News

The first in a series of articles celebrating Madras Day looks at how an exotic tree species came to be accepted as our own

The first in a series of articles celebrating Madras Day looks at how an exotic tree species came to be accepted as our own

Trees routinely bump into pedestrians, with the “collision” hardly registering in the mind. The pedestrian usually sidesteps the tree and walks away without realising it. That may not be true of a few albizia saman trees on TTK Road, as also some on the other roads in the older and core parts of Chennai. When these trees were swaddling babes in a nursery, the metro was called Madras.

On TTK Road, now and again, an albizia saman (rain tree) would hog the pavement, having grown to monstrous proportions. Advanced in years, these trees flaunt trunks that have expanded sufficiently enough to render the walkway anywhere from “almost-unusuable” to “totally-unusable”.

Albizia Saman is an echo of a past wisdom — now much of it discredited — that dictated their use as avenue trees. In a report in The Hindu from 1988 that discussed the city corporation’s greening plans, Albizia Saman is mentioned in the same breath as a couple of indigenous trees. The rain tree had been accepted as their own, hence their continuing presence in huge numbers in these parts of city.

D Narasimhan, member of Tamil Nadu state biodiversity board notes that factors for which albizia saman, an exotic species, was favoured are: its wide-spreading crown, and the agricultural benefits if offered, which include its use as green-manure, fodder and its fruits, somewhat sugary, suit the diet preferences of quite a few animals. In a purely urban context, their fast-growing nature and huge crown made these trees attractive to city administrators.

Albizia saman may dispay size both where it meets the skies and the earth. However, even by albizia saman standards, what is happening on TTK Road is out of the ordinary. It is difficult to unearth what was at work when this rain tree was a sapling, and growing petiole by petiole.

Narasimhan notes the level of growth of an albizia saman achieves, and the proportions it assumes, are contingent upon local conditions, the nurture they receive from the soil, the nutrients and other factors.

To all appearances, these patches on TTK Road seem to meet these requirements.

And another factor could also have been in play: Unlike trees now, which are constrained by constant road-digging and concretisation, trees from Madras would have had more “leg room”, helping them grow unfettered.

Madras on the roadside

Though parked inches outside humanity’s everyday world, they serve people from those margins, functioning somewhat like frontline workers. They are the trees, the bus stops, stormwater drains and plaques, among others. In the light of the upcoming

Madras Day, through this month, The Hindu Downtown will feature example of these “frontline workers” who have a connection with Madras. They could be anything that served us, standing on the roadside, when the city was Madras, and continue to serve us in Chennai.

You may write in to us about them at [email protected]