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Totally Terrific Tree Barks

Totally Terrific Tree Barks

There is one part of the tree that does not get as much attention as the other, ‘prettier’ ones such as the leaf, flower or fruit – the tree bark – the outer, usually brown covering of the trunk and branch. Did you know that the bark is actually two parts – the outer and the inner bark? The outer bark, which is the visible portion, is made of dead tissues, and acts as the first protective barrier between the plant and the outside environment. The inner bark comprises living tissues that transport food and water from the root to the leaves and back. It also acts as the next line of defence.

Check out the incredible diversity of these tree barks!


Photo: Dr. Anish Andheria.

The unique texture of this stem with needle-like thorns belongs to plants of the Calamus sp. They are climbers, which means, they need the support of either other plants or sturdy surfaces upon which to climb and grow. Their stems are also called canes because they are hardy and are used in making ropes, suspension bridges, furniture and walking sticks.

Coral tree:

Photo: Dr. Anish Andheria.

The conical spikes on the bark of Erythrina sp. send a message to ‘keep away’. And that is exactly what the spikes are there to do, intimidate and protect the plant from herbivores. Erythrina sp. are also collectively referred to as coral trees, possibly because many of them bear beautiful bright red flowers, which look like red-coloured coral stones!

Cannonball tree:

Photo: Shailesh Gupta.

The cracks, lesions and cuts on the bark of a cannonball tree Couroupita guianensis give it its distinct look. But, what’s really fascinating about the tree are its fruits that look just like cannon balls, a kind of deadly warfare weapon used during ancient times. Native to the Amazon rainforests, this deciduous tree grows up to 35 m. in height and has medicinal properties.

Silk cotton:

Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

A tree trunk covered in conical spikes! This silk cotton tree belongs to Bombax sp. As the tree wood is soft, these spikes help protect the tree from animals. These spikes usually drop off as the trees mature. Bombax sp. trees are among the largest trees in the plant kingdom, growing to about 30 to 40 m. tall. with a large trunk, the diameter of some extending up to three metres!

Glue Berry:

Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

The vertical patterns on this tree bark are easily identifiable. This tree trunk belongs to a flowering plant Cordia myxa. This deciduous tree is largely found in Asia. As the tree becomes mature, the cracks on the bark become starker. The bark powder is used to treat a variety of skin ailments and wounds.

Fig tree:

Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

Doesn’t this bark pattern give an illusion of a rugged mountainous landscape? This tree falls in the genus Ficus, which are collectively known as figs or fig trees. It grows in tropical as well as temperate regions. Many trees of this species are native to India. Their barks are highly regarded for their medicinal properties.

Indian elm:

Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

Doesn’t it look like the bark is peeling off like bad paint from a wall? This is an old Indian elm tree, also known as the jungle cork tree. It is a large, deciduous tree that grows to be around 18 m. tall. The greyish-brown bark covered in blisters starts peeling off as the tree ages. The bark is used to treat certain types of cancer, rheumatism and ringworm.


Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

This warty-textured bark is that of the pongam tree Pongamia pinnata, also called the karanj tree. Pongam belongs to deciduous forests, and grows fast and tall, up to 20 m. in height. The fluid extracts of this bark boast of sedative properties, which means it has a calming or sleep-inducing effect on the nerves in our body.


Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

The bark that you see above is of a tamarind tree Tamarindus indica, better known as imli. It is commonly used as a condiment in India, and in cuisines around the world. Native to Africa, this tree stands 24 m. to 30 m. tall. The bark is very effective when applied on mild wounds and for curing fever.

First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXV, No. 11, November 2015.


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