It was one fine evening, I was taking a brisk walk amidst forest fringe village of a remote district of Assam, India. The weather was pleasant and I could feel the cold breeze coming from the mighty river Brahmaputra, which can be seen from a distance.
Through the lush green fields, I could see some trees in the vicinity. Oh! It’s a Broken Bone tree, I was filled with excitement. It was for the first time I saw the ‘Tree of Midnight Horror’ also known as ‘Broken Bones tree’ or ‘Tree of Damocles’, scientifically known as ‘Oroxylum indicum’ in its natural habitat.
There are various beliefs and thoughts associated with this particular tree. Some say that, during dark nights when there is thunderstorm and lightning bolt, the tree casts horrifying images, and so the name ‘Tree of Midnight Horror’. While others say that, the large leaf stalks wither and fall off the tree and collect near the base of the trunk, appearing to look like a pile of broken limb bones, hence also known as ‘Broken Bone’ tree. The long fruits curve downward and resemble the wings of a large bird or dangling sickles or swords in the night, resembling “sword of Damocles”. In India its also known as ‘Bhootvriksh’ which literally means ‘Ghost tree’. This tree is also planted in different parts of the world as an ornamental tree species, for it’s peculiar appearance.
I found a small pathway leading to the tree and to my astonishment, no sooner I reached the tree, one of the dangling pods burst opened with white papery seeds fluttering like butterflies gliding with the wind and dispersed long distance. I was wondering with amazement as if the tree welcomed me. The tree has thin papery seeds which are creamish white in colour and are also known ‘Muhudie’, or the tree butterfly (mu means tree; hudie means butterfly). As a token I collected few seeds and the long pods of the tree.
Oroxylum indicum has its mention in many ancient texts. In Buddhism, this tree has special mention. The tree bears fruits in the form of long flattened pods which bears many flattened papery seeds arranged in flaky sheets which are used during rituals as an offering to gods. The flowers of the tree has typical smell as that of raw papaya and are pollinated by bats. The tribals and rural people in Assam believe that pods hung on kitchen walls or near dining area help prevent choking while eating food in elderly people.
This night blooming tree has immense medicinal value. The plant has anti-cancer, anti-tumour and antimicrobial properties. It is believed to be prescribed to treat toothache, rheumatism, wound, splenomegaly, gastralgia, dysentery, cholera, loss of appetite and fever. Besides, the decoction of the bark is known to cure gastric ulcer, mouth cancer, scabies and other skin diseases. The paste in the neck and throat area for quick relief of tonsil pain, and it is also applied on the wounds of animals to kill maggots. The long pods are used to kill crabs in paddy fields. But, for some reasons, this tree is endangered, vulnerable and threatened in different parts of Indian subcontinent.
The sun was slowly setting down and I hurried my steps back through the paddy fields. Ofcourse I collected some seeds and pods of this mysterious tree. The moist and humid air was filled with the smell of leaves and grasses composting and frogs croaking in the marshy waters.The vast open paddy fields with lush green cover, some egrets and kingfishers waiting patiently to catch fish. I once again looked back at the tree and made my way back home. Destiny has its own course, who would have known that in future I will complete my doctoral research thesis based on this particular tree species.
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