Characteristics of Ghaf Tree (Prosopis cineraria) in the Wild

Prosopis cineraria

Ghaf (Prosopis cineraria) is a species of tree in the family Fabaceae. It is native to arid regions of Western Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, India, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Prosopis cineraria were first published in 1753 under the name (basionym) Mimosa cineria by Linnaeus in Species Plantarum, Volume 1, 1753, p. 517. A new combination for Prosopis cineraria (L.) Druce was published in 1914 by George Claridge Druce at the Botanical Exchange Club and Society of the British Isles (Report), Volume 3, Issue 5, p. 422, published in 1914.

 

Today the Ghaf is the national tree of the United Arab Emirates.

 

Through the Give a Ghaf campaign its citizens are urged to plant it in their gardens to combat desertification and for their inheritance. The desert village of Nazwa in the UAE is home to the Al Ghaf Conservation Reserve.

This tree can withstand extreme droughts and is a well-established introduced species in parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.

The Ghaf tree is also long-lived, one example of a large and famous Ghaf tree is the Tree of Life in Bahrain. The tree is about 400 years old and grows in the desert with no clear source of water.

THE STORY OF THE GHAF TREE

In 1730 AD, the village of Khejarli near Jodhpur in Rajasthan was the scene of violent environmental confrontations. Amrita Devi and her three young daughters gave their lives in an attempt to protect some of the Khejri trees that Maharaja Abhay Singh ordered to be felled to make way for his new palace. This led to widespread defiance in which 363 people died trying to save the tree.

In the 1970s, the memory of this sacrifice became the beginning of the Chipko movement.

 

GHAF TREE IN RELIGION

The Ghaf tree is highly regarded by Hindus and is worshiped as part of the Dusshera festival. This tree becomes important during the tenth day of the Dusshera festival when it is celebrated in various parts of India. Historically, among the Rajputs, the ranas (who were high priests and kings) performed worship and then a stallion which was the sacred bird of Lord Rama.

In the Deccan, as part of the ritual of the tenth day of Dussehra, Marathas used to shoot arrows at tree crowns and collect fallen leaves into their turbans.

In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas spend their thirteenth year of exile disguised in the kingdom of Virata. Before going to Virata, they hang their heavenly weapons on the Ghaf tree to keep for a year. When they returned after a year, they found their weapons safe in the tree branches. Before taking their weapons, they worshiped the tree and thanked them for keeping their weapons safe.

 

MISTAKES ABOUT THE GHAF TREE

Some unconfirmed references regard Acacia ferruginea as a tree that is revered and worshiped on the day of Vijayadashami. However, according to historical references, Prosopis cineraria is a tree known as Banni mara and also a tree that has a special place in Mysore Dussehra where it is worshiped on the day of Vijay-Dashami.

This tree is often confused with the Chinese lantern tree (Dichrostachys cinerea) because it is similar. However, they can be distinguished from the flowers. The Chinese lantern tree has pink and yellow or bi-colored flowers, while the Ghaf tree has only yellow-beige flowers.

 

The Ghaf tree is known by different names throughout the western and northern regions of India, for example, Shami in Maharastra & Uttar Pradesh, Jammi in Telangana & Andhra Pradesh, Khijro in Gujarat, Khejri in Rajasthan, Janti in Haryana and Jand in Punjab.
 

Characteristics of Ghaf Leaf

Prosopis cineraria Leaf
Source: inaturalist.org/john_pereira

The leaves are bipinnate, with 7 to 14 leaflets on one to three pinnae each. The leaves are very small, 4-15 mm long and 2-4.5 wide.

The leaves of the ghaf tree can be used as fodder for livestock such as camels, goats, and donkeys.
 

Characteristics of Ghaf Flower

Prosopis cineraria Flower
Source: inaturalist.org/milindgirdhari

The flowers are small, stems 1-2.5 cm long, each flower 1.5-2 mm long, and yellow-beige.
 

Characteristics of Ghaf Fruit

Prosopis cineraria Fruit
Source: inaturalist.org/ahabib

The fruit is pods, hanging, slender, 18 cm long with a stalk 1-2 cm long. Each fruit contains 10-15 seeds. The brown seeds are ovoid and flattened with a length of up to 6 mm.
 

Characteristics of Ghaf Tree

Prosopis cineraria Tree
Source: flickr.com/Drew Gardner

Ghaf grows as a small tree that ranges from 3-5 meters in height. This tree is often found in very dry areas, with rainfall as low as 15 cm per year, but is an indication of a deep water table.

The structure of the roots is long and well developed, the growth of the tree above the ground is relatively slow, but the roots very quickly descend into the soil to reach the water to a depth of up to 35 meters. The depth of the roots is what allows the Ghaf tree to survive even in a very arid desert area.

The bark is rough and wrinkled, while the wood is rather hard, and durable enough but not much use for construction. The ghaf wood is only used for tool handles and charcoal.

 

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