My earliest memories of Khejri trees are from the driving trips made to Shekhawati in Rajasthan during childhood years. Khejri trees were ubiquitous after a drive of 70 Km from Jaipur. The semi-arid landscape on either side of a single lane road was dominated by Khejri trees. Often, the trees were in a pruned state.
Akada shrubs, Neem and Khejri trees was all one could see for miles. A couple years later as a stamp collector, I secured a stamp issued by India Post featuring Khejri tree.
The scientific name of the Khejri tree is Prosopis Cineraria. In India, it is also known by many other names such as Shami, Khijro, Jhand, Jat, Khar, Kanda, and Jammi depending on the region. In Rajasthan, it is called as Khejri or Khejro. Khejri is the most dominant tree of the region; and for this exact reason, Khejri is called the state tree of Rajasthan. It was decalred state tree in the year 1982-83. The tree is also present in the Middle East region and is called Ghaf Tree.
The tree is not easy to spot in cities like Jaipur due to rapid urbanization. The Forest Dept. has preferred decorative and flowering trees like Gulmohar and Golden Shower Cassia tree over native species. One can surely find the Khejri tree in the suburbs and villages near Jaipur.
The tree is closely tied to the history of Jaipur. During the days of royalty, the king would worship the Khejri tree on the day of Dussehra at Dussehra Kothi in Jaipur. The rulers of Jaipur were Kacchawa Rajputs, the descendants of Lord Ram. It is believed that Lord Ram worshipped a Khejri tree before the final battle with King of Lanka, Ravana. In this battle, Lord Ram killed Ravana. Dussehra is one of the festivals that predates Diwali and is a celebration of this win by Lord Ram. This tradition of worshipping the Khejri tree in Jaipur royalty nevertheless continues in a modified and scaled-down manner.
Its leaves resemble Gulmohar leaves and are similar to the ones found in other trees of the same family like Babool, Sickle bush tree, Prosopis Juliflora or Vilayti Babool. All these belong to the Fabaceae family. Here are a few pictures of leaves from this family.
The spikes in Khejri are very small and appear as a single unit. It sheds its leaves in January and new ones appear in February-March. The fruit appears between May-July in the shape of a slender stalked pod measuring between 7-20 cm. Initially, it is green in color and later turns into the brownish shade.
The Khejri tree used to play a vital role in the economy of villages and rural areas. The leaves are used as fodder for cattle and therefore one observes the tree in a pruned state. A single tree provides approximately 60 kg fodder for cattle annually. The pruning is also done to enhance tree growth at the start of the winter season. Apart from this, leaves also make for excellent compost. The wood from the tree is used for preparing food as firewood.
The texture of the bark of the Kheri tree is quite similar to the one in the Neem tree – rough and cracked. The dried fruit of the tree is used as Sangri. People who appreciate Rajasthani food must have heard of Ker Sangri. While Ker grows on a bush, Sangri is derived from the Khejri tree. It fruits in summer. Sangri is a pendulous bean-like pod. These pods are used as fodder. Some documents suggest that the bark of Khejri was used as a flour during the Famine of Rajputana in 1869. Even today the bark is used in treating many skin conditions like leprosy, boils, and itching. It is used in treating asthma in Ayurveda. The flowers of this tree are consumed by pregnant women along with sugar. The farmers are happy to have this tree in the field because its root enriches the soil, thereby helping increase the crop yield.
The tree is a hardy tree that requires less care which explains why it can be easily sighted in Thar desert. It can survive in cold & severe hot conditions with a temperature range of 5-47 C. The tree is well known for its ability to bind the soil. Its roots can attain a considerable depth in search of the water sources. Khejri tree is found in areas that receive annual rainfall less than 75-80 cm. This is one of the secrets for its survival in the hot and harsh climate. As per a report by Central Arid Zone Research Institute in 2015, the Khejri tree is gradually losing its ground. The area covered by this tree has come down significantly. It is being said that in the past, this tree was found in Punjab. But with increased water availability, the scenario has changed. It is unlikely to be found where the annual rainfall exceeds 100 cm. A number of reasons are being provided against this phenomenon but these are just theories. We still don’t know the exact cause. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that changes in the lifestyle of the rural areas from agrarian to modern are one of the major causes. New sources of water, availability of modern fertilizers have brought in changes bound to impact old ways. Even then, a significant landscape in Rajasthan is covered by the Khejri tree. The tree takes a long time to grow and unless we plant a lot more trees now it is unlikely the situation will change. Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) in Jodhpur is involved in doing reasearch on the Khejri tree.
Check out other stories in the Trees of Jaipur.
It is unfortunate that the state forest department hasn’t been a catalyst in promoting this tree. We have seen ill-effects of the flawed policies adopted by Forest Dept. during the last few years by promoting imported trees like Israeli Babool and Australian Eucalyptus. Both these trees have been counterproductive leading to more harm than gain. In the case of the latter, the soil underneath would turn infertile. Local trees support the local ecology but imported trees don’t. Khejri tree is linked with many historical events like Chipko Movement started by Sunderlal Bahuguna in the 1970s. It is being stated that this movement itself was fuelled by an event that took place in the early 1700s in Jodhpur. A king ordered the cutting of Khejri trees; the local Bishnoi community opposed the movement to retain them from felling. During the Chipko movement or Chipko Aandolan, people in Uttarakhand started hugging trees to stop woodcutters from cutting trees. Unfortunately, despite decaring Khejri as the state tree of Rajasthan, the government hasn’t anything. The government did not declare cutting of this tree a punishable offence neither planned for the planting of Khejri trees. During the famine of 1899, many people survived by eating the bark of this tree.
Read complete posts on trees found in Jaipur – Trees of Jaipur