Characteristics of Bael Tree (Aegle marmelos) in the Wild

Aegle marmelos
Bael or Bengal Quince is a tree-shaped species that can withstand the harsh environment, native to tropical Asia.

The bael tree is usually cultivated in the yard without treatment and the fruit is harvested. The tree itself is still closely related to Wood-apple (Limonia acidissima).

In Bali, this tree is called “Maja”, in India it is known as “Bael”, and internationally it is called “Bengal Quince”.

CONFUSED NAME: On the island of Java, Indonesia (perhaps elsewhere) the bael tree is often confused with the Calabash tree (Crescentia cujete) because they are very similar, even though they are different types.

 

MYTH OF BAEL TREE
In Indonesian history, Bael / Maja is associated with the origin of the name of the Majapahit kingdom, a kingdom that stretched across the archipelago from the XIII-XV centuries.

It is said that Raden Wijaya, the founder of the kingdom, received a plot of land in the Tarik area (the exact location is still being debated). While building the area, some of his men ate the fruit of the Maja. It so happened that the fruit you ate was bitter. Therefore, the area was then called Majapahit or Wilwatikta (wilwa = maja, tikta = bitter).

 

HISTORY OF BAEL TREE
Bael is valued and used in Hindu rituals. Bael is considered one of the sacred trees of Hindus just like the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa).

The earliest evidence of the importance of bael in religion appears in the Shri Shuktam of the Rig Veda which reveres this tree as the residence of goddess Lakshmi (God of wealth and prosperity).

The bael tree is considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Sati. This tree is usually planted in the grounds of Hindu temples and side by side with other sacred trees.

It is believed that Lord Shiva loved the bael tree, its leaves, and fruit and still plays a major role in its worship.

In the traditional practice of Hinduism and Buddhism by the people of Newar, Nepal, the bael tree is part of a fertility ritual for girls known as “Bel Bibaaha”. When a girl marries, the bael fruit is stored safely, and if the fruit never cracks, the girl will never become a widow, even if her human husband dies. This is a ritual that guarantees high status for widows in the Newar community, Nepal, compared to other women.

 
The bael tree can grow in harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, for example, 49 °C in the dry season to -7 °C in the winter. It can also grow at an altitude of 1,200 m above sea level.

In Southeast Asia, the bael tree can only flower and bear fruit well in the dry season. The bael tree can adapt to various types of soil such as slightly wet swampy soil, dry soil, and slightly alkaline soil.

 

Characteristics of Bael Leaf

Aegle marmelos Leaf
Source : flickr.com/Dinesh Valke

The leaves are trifoliate, alternate, each leaf measuring 5-14 x 2-6 cm, ovate with a sharp or pointed tip, and a rounded base. Young leaves are pale green or pink in color, downy, while adult leaves are dark green and very smooth. Each leaf has 4-12 pairs of side veins joined at the edges.

 

Characteristics of the Bael Flower

Aegle marmelos Flower
Source : flickr.com/Deepa Mohan

The flowers are 1.5-2 cm in size, pale green or yellowish in color, have a sweet aroma, appear in short, unbranched clusters and droop at the ends of twigs or in the armpits of the leaves.

The bael flower usually appears with young leaves. The petals are flat with 4-5 small teeth. Each petal is 6-8 mm in size overlapping the bud. Many stamens have short filaments and are pale brown, short anthers. The ovaries are bright green with an inconspicuous disc.

 

Characteristics of Bael Fruit

Aegle marmelos Fruit
Source : amritam.it

The bael fruit usually has a diameter between 5-12 cm, round, thick, and hard skin that does not break easily when ripe. The outer skin of the fruit resembles wood, smooth, green when the fruit is young and turns gray to yellow when ripe.

It takes about a year for the fruit to ripen on the tree.

Inside the fruit are 8-20 pieces filled with aromatic orange pulp, each with 6-10 or 15 flat oval seeds that are about 1 cm long each, hairy, enclosed in an adhesive bag, and transparent mucus that hardens when dried.

 

Characteristics of Bael Tree

Aegle marmelos Tree
Source : inaturalist.org/people/aniketshrivastava

Bael is the only member of the monotype genus Aegle. It is a small shrub or tree that can grow to 10-12 meters tall with thin, drooping branches and a slightly shabby crown.

The bark is pale brown or grayish in color, smooth or finely cracked and peeling, and straight spines 1-2.5 cm long. The stems secrete a slimy sap when cut or injured.

Today the bael tree is cultivated in Sri Lanka, Tamilnadu, Thailand, and Malaysia.

 
BENEFITS OF BAEL TREE

The fruit can be eaten fresh from the tree or after being dried and processed into various foods or drinks such as juice, candy, toffee, pulp powder, or nectar.

The leaves, bark, roots, fruit, and seeds are used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, although there is no clinical evidence that this method is safe or effective.

 

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