Butea monosperma (Lam), kuntze belongs to the family Fabaceace, is also known as ‘Flame of forest’. The genus Butea named after the Earl of Bute, a patron of Botany and monosperma, meaning ‘having one seed’. It is said that the tree is a form of Agnidev, ‘The god of fire’. The Palash is sacred to the moon also and it is said to have sprung from the feather of falcon of a impregnated with the soma, the beverage of gods, and thus immortalised. It is used in Hindu ceremonies for the blessing of calves to ensure their becoming good milker. It is found all over the Indian subcontinent. The tree is considered as multipurpose tree (MPT) as this tree provides shade, habitat for organism, soil improvement, income source for local habitat, firewood and variety of metabolic chemicals, which may be used in the form of home remedies and traditional medicine. Palash tree serves livelihood support to millions of poor farmers in states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Vernacular names in India SANSKRIT : Palasa, Kimshuka, Raktapushpaka HINDI : Dhak, Tesu ENGLISH : Bastard Teak BENGALI : PalashGUJARATI : Kesudo MARATHI : Kakracha TELUGU : Mooduga, palasamu TAMIL : Parasa KANNADA : Muttuga MALYALAM : Brahmavriksham, kimshukam PUNJABI : Dhak, palas Classification The family Fabaceae comprises of 630 genera and 18,000 species. Palash belongs to genus, Butea. The genus comprises 4 to 14 species viz; Butea monosperma (Syn. Butea frondosa), B. parviflora and B. superba etc.
Butea monosperma Lam. is a woody, deciduous tree, Butea superba is a woody climber and Butea parviflora also known as climbing Butea. Distribution Butea monosperma Lam. grows throughout the Indian subcontinent specially in the Indo-gangetic plains. This is a moderate sized deciduous tree which is widely distributed throughout India, Burma and Ceylon extending in the North West Himalayas as far as Jhelum except in very arid parts. It is common throughout the greater part of India up to 1000 MSL and higher in the outer Himalaya, Khandesh Akrani up to1200 MSL and hill of South India up to 1300 MSL. Ecology B. monosperma is a tree of tropical and sub-tropical climate, found throughout the drier parts of India, often gregarious in forest, open grasslands and wastelands. It is a characteristics tree of the plains, often forming pure patches in grazing grounds and other open places owing its ability to reproduce from seed and root suckers. In its native habitat, most of the rain is received during the monsoon season,while the autumn and summer months are generally dry.
The tree is very drought resistant and frost hardy, although the leaves turn white and fall off. It can thrive in area where annual rainfall is 450-4500 mm. It grows on very wide variety of soils including shallow, gravelly sites, black cotton soil, clay loam and even saline or waterlogged soils. Seedlings thrive best on a rich loamy soil with pH 6-7 under high temperature and relative humidity. Morphology It is an erect, medium-sized, 12-15 m high, deciduous tree with a crooked trunk and irregular branches. It grows slowly and attains a height of about 5 to 8 m and diameter of about 20 to 40 cm when it matures at the age of about 50 years or so. Its wood is greenish white in colour, soft and weighs about 14 to 15 kg per cubic foot. The bark is ash colour. The leaves are compound, with three leaflets. The leaves have 3 foliate, large and stipulate, 10-15 cm long petiole. Leaflets are obtuse, glabrous above finely silky and conspicuously reticulate, veined beneath with cunnate or deltoid base. Flowers are large in a rigid raceme of 15 cm long, 3 flowers together form a tumid nodes of the dark olive-green velvety rachis.
Corolla of flowers are orange or salmon coloured, keel semicircular, beaked, veined 3.8-5cm long, clothed outside with silky and silvery hairs. Calyx is about 13 mm long, dark olive-green, densely velvety outside, and clothed with silky hairs within: teeth short, the 2 upper connate, the 3 lower equal, deltoid. These flowers start appearing in February and stay on nearly up to the end of April. The size is nearly 2 to 4 cm in diameter. These tend to be densely crowded on leaflet branches. The flowers on the upper portion of the tree form the appearance of a flame from a distance. The fruit of palas is a flat legume. Pods are stalked12.5-20 by 2.5-5 cm, thickened at the sutures. Young pods have a lot of hair, a velvety cover and mature pods hang down. The seeds are flat from 25 to 40 mm long, 15 to 25 mm wide, and 1.5 to 2 mm thick. The seed-coat is reddish -brown in colour, glossy, and wrinkled, and encloses two large, leafy yellowish cotyledonsPropagation Natural regeneration by both seed and root suckers is profuse. The flower of palas starts appearing in February and stay on nearly up to the end of April/ Birds are the chief pollinators. Fruiting takes place during March-April. Fruits ripen in the month of May-June.
The seeds are the major source of natural reproduction. Freshly harvested seeds are viable mostly. Artificial propagation is chiefly from direct-sown seeds, sown 25-30 cm apart in lines 3-5 m apart. If the seeds are soaked in water before sowing it will give a better result. Germination, which starts in about 10-12 days, is completed in 4 weeks. Fresh seeds have a good germination capacity (about 63%) at optimum germination temperature of about 30 ºC. Root suckers and nursery seedlings can also be used for propagation. Because of the good coppicing power of this species, it is also a reliable m e t h o d of natural propagation. Uses The all parts of palas tree have been used by tribal people for different p u r p o s e since long. The leaves, bark, flowers,roots are used in Unani, Ayurveda and Homeopathic medicine and has become a cynosure of modern medicine.
Flower The flowers of Palas are used for worshipping god as well used as floral adornment by tribal girls. For the chemical Isobutrin present in flowers, are used for natural dye extraction. Flowers are useful in diarrhoea, astringent, diuretic, depurative, tonic, leprosy, skin diseases, gout, thirst and burning sensation. Leaves The leaves of Butea monosperma are used for thatching by tribal people. The leaves are very good and cheap material of organic mulching. The leaves are also used as anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antitumor, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, carminative, antihelmentic, appetizer, astringent and aphrodisiac. Besides medicinal uses it is also having the economic use for making platters, cups and bowls. Roots Roots are useful in filariasis, night blindness, helminthiasis, piles, ulcer and tumours. It is reported to posses antifertility, aphrodisiac and analgesic activities. Bark The stem bark is useful is useful in indigenous medicine for the treatment ofdyspepsia, diarrhoea, dysentery, ulcer, sore throat and snake bite. Bark fibres are used for making cordage. Wood Wood is used for well curbs and water scoop. It is a cheap board wood.
Wood pulp is suitable for newsprint manufacturing. Butea is also a host to the lac insect, which produces natural lacquer, liver infestation disorder, gonorrhoea, wound infection. Seeds Seeds of B. monosperma is used in inflamation, skin and eye diseases, bleeding piles, urinary stones, abdominal troubles, intestinal worms and tumours. When the seeds are pounded with lemon juice and applied to the skin they act as a rubifacient. Gum or resin A red exudate is obtained from the bark, hardening into a gum known as ‘butea gum’ or ‘Bengal kino’. It can be used as a dye and as tannin.Other uses Erosion control In India, farmers frequently use B. monosperma to stabilize field bunds. Ornamental B. monosperma is planted as an ornamental because it flowers with a profusion of bright orange, rarely sulphurcolored flowers. Tree Management B. monosperma is moderate in its demand for light. Although it can withstand some dense shade, dense shade suppresses its growth. The trees pollard and coppice well and produce root suckers freely. They can also withstand heavy annual lopping. Under dry land conditions and in its natural habitat, coppice management yields roughly 100 kg/tree of air-dry fuel wood every 5 years. If allowed to grow, trees attain a height of 3-5 m and diameter of 15-20 cm in 10 years. Plantations can be established on irrigated as well as rain-fed land. Pests and diseases Seedlings and saplings are browsed and damaged by cattle. Rats and porcupines feed on fleshy roots, killing the sapling. Several defoliators belonging to the families Eucosmidae, Lasiocampidae, Noctuidae and Sphingidae have been recorded. Insects of the family Coccidae feed on the sap. Larvae of some insects of the family Lycaenidae feed on the flowers.
Xanthomonas buteae causes black leaf spots, which in severe infection cover the entire leaf surface and cause premature defoliation. Phomosis butae and Pseudodiplodia butae have also been recorded on the leaves. n Tamasi Koley, Assistant Director of Horticulture, Raghunathpur Subdivision (Govt of West Bengal) Dr Puja Sharma Assistant Professor, Dr Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry