The most simple defintion of ‘flower‘ is colourful part of the plant also resonates as something colourful, delicate, fragrant. But nature is full of exceptions, because there are some flowers in the nature which are neither bright nor colourful and some without fragrance yet they play significant role in sustaining the ecology of a particular area. One such flower is the flower of ‘Oak tree‘ (Quercus leucotrichophora) commonly known as ‘Banj Oak’. The Oak trees growing in the lesser Himalayan hillside of Landour, Mussoorie are in full bloom alongwith the onset of the spring season.
Oak tree is a flowering tree species and they begin to bloom in the spring. The yellowish green flowers are mostly unnoticed because they appear like new unfurled leaves from a distance. After spending several months in cold winter and snow, the warm spring aids the blooming of flowers buds and leaves. The Oak trees are monoecious which means that both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are present on the same tree. The male flowers appear as strings of beads hanging (catkin) from newly developed branches.
While the female flowers are somewhat hidden near the base of emerging leaves resembling as that of leaf buds and can viewed better under magnifying glasses. The male flowers produce pollen, while the female flowers produce eggs that will be fertilized once the flowers are pollinated. The pollens sometimes cause allergy during the blooming season. The flowers of Oak tree are mainly wind pollinated, although I have observed honey bees hovering on the Oak tree flowers. Also, I have observed sunbirds, blue whistling thrush, woodpeckers, Langoors and monkeys near new leaves (purplish brown colour) and flowers of the Oak trees. Proper studies should be done to have better understanding of pollination ecology and behaviour of Oak trees.
These Oak trees welcome each day of mine with sweet Himalayan melodies of the birds and breeze. These Oak forests are home to different birds, butterflies and animals. With the onset of spring I observed something is very busy these days in the quieter side of the hillside of Landour. The nature’s visitors are becoming more frequent and curious to enjoy the beauty of the blooming flowers in the Oak trees.
The Blue whistling thrush wishes pleasant good morning through its melodious song, the sunbirds hop from branches and leaf to lead sometimes get puzzled in themselves. The chorus of the cicadas are also distinctively audible these days. The Great Barbet often comes to sit on the top branches of the Oak trees and sings it’s loud, unmusical call to mark its presence. The jungle cacophony continues till dark when Mountain Scops Owl whistles to its tune. Beside birds, different varieties of butterflies and moths also do pay visit. The troop of Langoors and monkeys can often be seen relishing new leaves and acorns. Honey bees also hover around these freshly bloomed flowers.
Oak trees are members of Beech family are beautiful and marvellous trees. Besides being an ecologically important tree species, they provide food and shelter to hundreds of varieties of insects and animals. They provide fodder, help in water and soil conservation, sequester carbon. But somehow, this tree is facing challenges in its natural habitat due to human made reasons.The rapid urbanisation and expansion of the Mussoorie and adjacent areas is paving way for ecological as well as habitat degradation and the adjacent forests and environment are facing challenges.
Many foresters and researchers have found that there is high rate of mortatlity in some of Banj oak trees due to livestock grazing, lopping, extraction of fuelwood and various other biotic pressures. The mortality of this species is a matter of great concern which needs proper monitoring and research to find out the actual cause of the problem and also develop mitigation strategies to prevent the loss of the Himalayan legacy of Oak forests.