Autumn hues

By TheHindu on 25 Nov 2016 | read

SPREADING CROWN Terminalia catappa (Indian Almond); (below) the edible fruit

The Indian Almond is a common tree, planted for shade and colour

Terminalia catappa (Indian Almond), commonly known as Naattu Vaadham, is a member of the Combretaceae family and is indigenous to the Andaman Islands and Malaysia. The generic word Terminalia, is from the Latin word terminalis meaning `terminal' because the leaves and flowers are borne in clusters at the tips of the twigs and catappa is the Malaysian vernacular name of this tree.Terminalia catappa is a tall, handsome deciduous tree reaching a height of 30-50 ft, forming an upright symmetrical silhouette when young but later, developing a spreading crown. The leaves form a rosette at the end of a branch and are shed twice a year. The branches are arranged in tiers giving them a pagoda shape. Small, white, star-shaped flowers are borne in re-curved terminal axillary spikes.The fruit is a slightly flattened, indehiscent drupe which matures from green to yellow to red during summer. The outer husk is a corky fibre, which encloses the edible almond-like kernel inside. The fruit is rich in tannic acid and can stain pavements and sidewalks when it falls. Although its flesh is edible, it is the almond-like nut that is usually eaten, raw or roasted, and tastes like hazelnut. Terminalia catappa, a mangrove associated species, is grown along the coast to arrest erosion. The timber is useful in house building, general carpentry, and for making rafters, posts and beams. The leaves are used for treating rheumatism and, in South India, an ointment is prepared from the leaf extract for treating scabies, leprosy and other cutaneous diseases.The tree exhibits myrmecophily, an association with various species of biting ants which inhabit the hollow twigs of the tree. While the tree provides these creatures with a home, the ants in turn may protect the tree from insect pests.Terminalia catappa is a common tree, planted for its colour and shade. The large, glossy-green leaves change to beautiful shades of red and yellow before falling in winter, sometimes making one wonder whether it is autumn in Chennai.PAULINE DEBORAH & RIDLING WALLER