TREEING OFF AT SAVISTA: The Khejri
The Khejri trees on the Savista estate that were pruned (and some pollarded) last winter, have all got back their dense green foliage. The sheep in the area are probably already eyeing their winter feed, and if there is a ‘social network’ that is active among them, the message has probably already gone out that Savista’s trees are looking good enough to eat!
Many guests ask us about this tree, since it looks even more interesting when it has been pruned. And you can see lots and lots of stark-looking trunks in the area during winter, the traditional pruning season! So we thought we’d start our “Treeing Off” section in this blog with a little bit about the Khejri.
The Khejri is an iconic tree of Rajasthan. It is so admirably suited to the ecology of the region that it has acquired a whole body of folklore and cultural significance for the local people.
It is drought and frost resistant and can withstand the most extreme of temperatures. Its deep and extensive root system stabilizes the soil in the face of fierce desert winds. Its tough roots travel long distances below the ground in search of the tiniest drops of water. This water is carefully absorbed by every part of the tree until it reaches the miniscule green-yellow leaves. The leaf-size is clear evidence of evolution at work, because the foliage stays green round the year. Being a legume, the Khejri fixes nitrogen in the soil, and the nutritious fallen leaves further fertilize it. Hence farmers ensure that these trees are spaced out across their fields.
Every part of the Khejri tree is useful to the local animal and the human population. The leaves that serve as both fresh and dry fodder are relished by the local sheep and camels. The generously-tufted branches provide welcome shade. The trunk is virtually termite-proof and is used in house-construction. The bark is used for the preparation of local medicines in the ancient Ayurvedic tradition, for common respiratory and stomach infections. The fragrant resin makes for excellent firewood. The green beans are cooked into a delicious vegetable dish; they are dehydrated by villagers for use through the year, and are also fed to farm animals in drought conditions.
So iconic is the tree that no Rajasthani wedding feast is complete without the vegetarian dish Khair Sangri prepared from the Khejri’s green beans. And it is treated as sacred by the legendary environment-worshipping Rajasthani agricultural community called Bishnois (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishnois). We’ll leave that for another post ☺ .
Savista has over 150 Khejri trees, and many of them are several decades old. New trees can be seen coming up here and there all over the estate, born from fruits dropped by birds who feed on the beans. Every three years, in the winter, Savista’s Khejri trees are pruned by rotation, in keeping with local farming practices. Migrant sheep farmers offer to do the pruning, in return for being able harvest and bag the leaves which serve as a nutritious fodder for the sheep. The small twigs are used by them as firewood. During the pruning period, they live with their flocks on the host farm, and the animals’ droppings act as fertilizer for the soil.
At Savista we use the chopped branches to light our autumn and winter fires – in some of our guest rooms which have fireplaces, in our dining room and bar lounge, and for the evening bonfires around which guests share drinks and swap stories on chilly evenings.
Botanical info: Prosopsis Cineraria, species of flowering tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. Native to arid zones of West and South Asia, such as the Arabian and Thar deserts. Other common names are Ghaf (Arabic), Sangri (Rajasthani), Kandi (Sindhi). State Tree of Rajasthan and Provincial Tree of the Sindh Province of Pakistan.