Lychee -Nelli
Lychee -Nelli

Jayantha Jayewardene takes a stroll around the sprawling gardens of the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour in Bauddhaloka Mawatha, identifying its trees, their history and uses

The Anglican Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour is located on Bauddhaloka Mawatha, which was once Buller’s Road. When I was a schoolboy, the land on which the Cathedral now stands was the yard of Socoman and Co, a French firm who were working on the Greater Colombo Water Project. There was a Golf Links adjacent to this yard, where the BMICH now stands. This Golf Club does not exist now and the golf links have been built on. The Cathedral stands on a land area of a little over 10 acres. The Cathedral was consecrated on November 7, 1973.

Many species of trees have been planted in the Cathedral gardens. They have been planted in sections. The sections are (a) flowering trees on the sides of the front lawn and on either side of the front entrance, (b) medicinal trees on the BMICH side continuous to the road leading out of the premises, (c) fruit trees, (d) spice trees, (e) beverage trees such as tea, cocoa and cinnamon, (f) different palm trees and (g) important timber trees in a woodlot. There are around 150 different species and more than 600 trees planted in these premises. This paper deals with some general and medicinal trees. The other sections will be dealt with later.

Many species of trees have been planted in the Cathedral gardens, mainly by Vimal Pieris, who looked after the gardens for over 35 years. This article describes a number of species growing there now. Since the Socoman’s yard had many heavy vehicles, there was a lot of oil that had drained into the soil and contaminated it; Vimal had to excavate this soil from each planting hole, take it away and put in new soil in which plants would grow. There still is contaminated soil in some areas.

1. Pink Trumpet Tree (Tabebuia avellanedae)

This tree was presented by Smedley, wife of the then British High Commissioner, when the Cathedral was first built. At the beginning, the side branches of the tree were trimmed, as a rule, before the start of the Southwest monsoon in order to balance the tree and protect it from wind damage. When this balancing was not done, the tree has fallen over. The main tree died as a result. Fortunately, there was a small shoot near the root, which was collected by Vimal and planted in a poly bag. When the tree was about 2 1/2 feet, it was planted close to where the original tree stood. The new tree is about 20 feet tall now. This tree grows well in South America. In Sri Lanka, it does not get into full bloom but blooms only in sections.

2. Roughbark Lignum-Vitae or Gaia wood (Guaiacum officinale)

This tree is also called the ‘Tree of Life’. All species of the genus Guaiacum are now listed in Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as a potentially endangered species. A natural resin can be extracted from the wood; this resin has a lubricating quality and was used in the shipping industry for the construction of the main bearing in the final drive of the propeller shaft of ships. The wood is also resistant to salt. It is the fourth-hardest variety of wood as measured by the Janka hardness test. It is the national flower of Jamaica. Members of this genus have a variety of uses, including lumber, for medicinal purposes and as ornamentals. There are three trees in the Cathedral garden also brought by Smedley.

3. Rosalee or Indian Rosewood (Dalbergial atifolia) [Sinhala: Kalumara, Tamil: Karunthuvarai, Iraavadi]

This tree produces a hard, durable, heavy wood, when properly cured, is durable and resistant to rot and insects. There is a single tree of this species here. This plant was brought from India by Dr. Vivekanandan, the then Silviculturist of the Forest Department and given to Vimal Pieris. The Coconut Research Institute at Lunuwila has a tree of the same species but with a different form of leaf. These leaves are broader than those of the single tree at the Cathedral.

4. Red Sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) [Sinhala: Rath Handun]

This tree is not indigenous. However, there is one tree presented by Lyn de Alwis, former Director of Wildlife and the Zoological Gardens, which he had brought from India. This tree is valuable because of the rich red colour of its wood. The wood is not aromatic but has a pleasant smell when powdered. Red Sandalwood is used in India in traditional herbal medicine as an antipyretic, anthelmintic tonic, for dysentery, as an aphrodisiac and a diaphoretic. These trees need a lot of light to grow. The tree in the Cathedral is 20-feet tall.

5. Kolon (Adina cordifolia) [Sinhala: Kolon, Tamil: Kadambai]

The two trees growing here of 30-feet and 20-feet, were planted by Vimal Pieris. Kolon timber is used for boat building since the timber is resistant to marine borer. The juice of the bark is applied externally to kill worms found in sores. Sometimes the crushed leaf of this tree is used for ‘nanu’ in the Sinhala New Year festival and the leaves are used to stand on during the oiling the head ceremony.

6. Ath Demata (Gmelina arborea) [Sinhala: Ath Demata,Tamil: Kumil and Kumalan]

Maybe it is called Ath Demata since the trunk of the tree resembles the leg of an elephant. The two trees in these premises are 50-feet and 20-feet tall. The fruit is used as a dye and the bark and roots are used for medicinal purposes.

7. Ceylon Satinwood (Chloroxylons wietenia) [Sinhala: Burutha, Tamil: Mutirai and Vaaimaram]

Because of its high quality timber, this tree has been cut down indiscriminately and is now becoming rare in the wild. All the Pew chairs in the Cathedral are made of satinwood. Owing to its extreme durability of satinwood, it was selected for the construction of the first bridge across the Mahaweli river in 1826. When the bridge was removed in the last century, much of the wood was found to be in excellent preservation and was then made use of to make furniture.

8. Calamander (Diospyros quaesita) Also called Coromandel. [Sinhala: Kalu Medhiriya]

The name calamander seems to have been derived from the Sinhala name. Calamander is a species of tree endemic to Sri Lanka. The wood is black and hard like ebony. It is a beautiful wood since it has streaks of brown mixed with black. One tree here is 15-feet tall. This species is on the IUCN list of endangered trees. The Dutch when they held the maritime provinces felled a large number of Calamander trees to make furniture.

9. Diya Na (Mesua thwaitesii)

Endemic to Sri Lanka. In the most recent revision, Diya Na is named as Mesua thwaitesii and Na as Mesua ferrea. The stem of the tree is separated by protruding vertical streaks. The tree here is 15-feet tall. All parts of this tree are used for medicinal purposes.

10. Wewarana (Alseodaphneseme carpifolia) [Tamil: Kanaippirandai]

It is a tree endemic to Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. This tree is 20-feet tall. This species is under threat in the wild, mainly due to habitat loss. It is found mostly in the Badulla area. It is also called ‘Rani’ because the timber has a wavy grain like a lady’s hair.

11. Helamba (Mitragyna parvifolia)

Native to India and Sri Lanka. Used in native medicine and also for its fine timber. The juice of the fruit augments the breast milk in lactating mothers. Lots of places in the dry zone are named helamba. (E.g., Helambewa, Helambagaswewa, and Helambawatta). This indicates that the tree is a part of village life.

12. Lychee (Litchi chinensis)

The tree here is about 20-feet tall. Lychee is native to the Guangdong and Fujian Provinces in China. Lychee is a popular dessert prepared in many forms. Lychee seeds contain methylene cyclopropyl glycine which can cause low blood sugar. These trees require a cool and dry climate to set fruit.

13. Ceylon Ironwood (Manikaran alexandra) [Sinhala: Palu, Tamil: Ulakkaippaalai]

There are two trees 30-feet and 15-feet tall in the gardens. When the Palu is in fruit in our jungles, many species are attracted to it. The fruit can be eaten fresh or dried. This fruit is especially popular with the bears, which climb the tree and gorge themselves on the fruit. Monkeys, bats, giant squirrels also eat the fruit off the tree. The bears allow many of the fruits they harvest to fall onto the ground. These are picked by deer, wild boar and porcupine that cannot climb the tree. The fruit is an intoxicant.

14. Spanish Cherry (Mimosa elengi) [Sinhala: Moonamal, Tamil: Magizhammaram]

There are two trees here about 20-feet each. Moonamal is used in medicine and also as an ornamental flowering tree. The fruit is edible and is used in traditional medicine. Its timber is valuable. The tree gives a thick shade and the flowers are fragrant.

15. Aralu (Terminalia chebula) [Tamil: Kadukkai]

The tree in the gardens is 40-feet tall. It is a deciduous tree in that the leaves fall off annually. The fruit is used as the main ingredient in the Ayurveda formulation of Tripala, which is used for kidney and liver dysfunctions. Dhobies (launderers) use this stain as an ink to mark clothes.

16. Bulu (Terminalia bellirica) [Tamil: Thandri]

The tree is 60-feet tall. The fruit, seed and stem are used for medicinal purposes. The wood is used in heavy construction. The nuts of the tree are rounded but have five flatter sides.

17. Nelli/Medicinal Nelli (Phyllanthus emblica)

There is one tree in the gardens, which is 15-feet tall. Dried and fresh fruits of the plant are also used for medicinal purposes. All parts of the plant are used in various Ayurvedic medicines and herbal preparations, including the fruit, seed, leaves, root, bark and flowers. The fruit is sour and astringent in taste, with sweet, bitter and pungent secondary tastes. It has a very high concentration of Vitamin C.

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(To be continued)











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