Sunday, November 23, 2003

Amla, jamun plants regain popularity

Satish Narula

An amla tree laden with fruit
An amla tree laden with fruit

Talk of the phalsa or khirni, and youngsters will look at you with a puzzled expression. The jamun, mulberry, amla, loquat and bael are today more or less forgotten fruits though at one time they completely ruled the markets. But the trend is changing now. Many home gardeners and orchardists have been evincing an interest in the cultivation and availability of these plants.

Almost all above-mentioned fruits are known for their immense medicinal value, which probably is the reason why these find mention in the old scriptures. 

The repeated picking of fruit that these plants entailed and also the perishable nature of phalsa, khirni, jamun, etc are the probable reasons that their cultivation became less popular. 

Dirtying of the floor at the time of fruit-bearing could also be reason for fruits like jamun making way for others. Huge tree size was another deterrent. But now the trend is being reversed.

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Jamun, known for the medicinal properties of almost all its plant parts, first grows into a huge tree and starts bearing fruit after many years. 

Earlier, the plants were raised from seeds (seedlings) having all those characters of late and less fruit bearing, huge tree size, and fruit with a dominant seed and less of flesh. But the introduction of grafted varieties has made all the difference. 

Such plants are produced after sustained and careful selection of varieties. A jamun plant in the home garden or mass plantation at a community place or along the border of orchards to serve as a windbreak can also provide additional income.

A rich source of Vitamin C, the amla is another tree that bears fruit profusely year after year with no alternate bearing habit. The fruit is non-perishable and is catching the attention of contractors too. 

The earlier plantations, like those of jamun, were all raised from seeds bearing small, glass marble-sized fruits used mostly for pickle-making. Improved varieties like Kanchan, Krishna, Chakaiya, NA-7 etc, whose fruit is bigger than a ping-pong ball, have potential buyers in pharmaceutical giants for making chyawanprash, trifla and murraba. These varieties are now grafted on seedling plants and have all the desirable characters of such plants.

Mulberry is another minor fruit that is perishable but very delicious. Every year, during winter, the tree sheds leaves and goes dormant. This is the time when it can be severely pruned to contain the plant size. 

This is also the time when the cuttings can be planted to give true to type fruit. The trees are also planted on the border as the twigs are sold for basket-making every year during winter. One can raise the trees from existing good-quality ones.

The loquat fruit is available in March-April, at a time when there is hardly any other fruit in the market. Nature makes bael and phalsa available in the summer months when these are needed the most. The sherbet made out of these fruits is so refreshing and revitalising. Phalsa can be reared as a bush in the backyard and can be headed back to a three-foot height every year. 

It is also propagated through cuttings in winter when the plant is dormant.

This feature was published on November 16, 2003