Standing tall and proud, like a sentinel, in front of the Quepem Police Station, is a tree which locals assert is one of its kind in Goa (which may or may not be true). Known all over Quepem as the ‘Goroginha Tree,’ it has an approximate diameter of over seven metres. Raghuvir Dalal, an elderly businessman from Quepem, fondly recalls having known the tree since his childhood days and estimates its age as being more than a hundred years old.
The tree has an extremely thick, bulging trunk and thin branches. The fruit, which resembles a lantern, is called The Monkey Bread. Inside, it has dry, powdery pulp, which is very much edible. The pulp is acidic, having lemon flavour, in which tiny black seeds are embedded.
Dr. Uma Masur, professor of Botany at Chowgule College, Margao, helped me in identifying the tree, whose fruit is a rich source of vitamin C and helps in curing scurvy and sore throat. The bark (fibre) can be utilized to produce extremely strong rope. Africans had this unusual practice of burying their dead in hollow trunks of such trees, where the bodies became dry without embalming.
Some astonishing facts can be found about this tree in the pages of ‘India’s Natural Wealth.’ Its natural habitat is reportedly the longest lived (c.6000 years). With age the trunk hollows out, to form a water reservoir, which is reported to store about 4,500 litres of water.
The tree’s long and elongated leaves are fed to horses and are said to be non-fattening and energizing. The fresh tender leaves are a good substitute for Spinach. Besides, the leaves have immense medicinal value and are used for a variety of inflammatory conditions, including insect bites and guineaworm sores. As a lotion, the leaves are employed in earaches and Opthalmia. The ash of the bark is also used as manure, since it is rich in potash.
All around us, like the Goroginha tree, there are many other trees with interesting stories, fascinating facts and medicinal values. In an age where hills are razed and trees are indiscriminately felled to make way for concrete jungles, Mother Earth’s green cover needs to be nurtured and protected. At all costs.
(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: March 2-8, 2007)