“Nature Strikes Back” – The Raintrees of Bombay


Update for month ended 31 July 2014

Hot summer afternoons are when these trees are fondly sought after, but not so in Mumbai 2014. A record two hundred plus of these century old giants were slayed in one swoop – not by an axe or a chainsaw or the indiscriminate road widening, but by a natural disaster that dug its heels into the bark of the tree and sucked out every drop of its sap. This was the attack of the mealybug, a white, cottony looking insect. The attack was swift and with no predators in sight, these killing machines had a gala time spreading from tree to tree, suburb to suburb. The heavy rains in 2013 ensured that the moist condition, which the mealybugs love, remained for long – to let these killing machines suck out all the moisture, sap and every other drop of life from the trees. And with no-one paying any attention to the falling leaves, and drying boughs, the attack was slow, steady and sure. Before the next summer was here, the trees were bare branches, mere black skeletons of their otherwise green and burly selves. And then some of the branches started falling off and insensitive municipal staff just went off hacking the rest of the trees. But some of the trees survived the summer. The heat and strong sunshine of Summer 2014 perhaps helped the trees from their killers. The ants returned to the tree trunks for shelter from the sweltering heat and found their meals in the mealybugs. And these killers were killed. And when the rains were delayed, it looked like these trees would also perish for want of water. But no – the reverse seems to be happening. The raintrees started sprouting fresh leaves and slowly regenerating itself. The healthier trees grew more leaves to provide some shade to the other drier ones and what looked like an episode from “Nature Strikes Back”, the avenues started looking like their name – leafy and green. The dead trees, though, are gone, but before drying out and dying, these trees dropped a few seeds to the ground beneath their wide canopies of branches. The heavy rains in 2014 are helping nurture some of these seeds that will hopefully take root near its father tree and some day in the future, young lovers will sing ditties around their thick trunks or just shelter themselves from the harsh summer suns. Meanwhile, the ants are still there to help keep the mealybugs at bay.

After the sharp fall around July 11 – to below 25000, the SENSEX seemed to suddenly regenerate. Not unlike the raintrees on D Street. The D Boyz had eaten their crunchy snacks under the shade of these trees and perhaps attracted the army of ants to feed on the fallen scraps. This mess creation was, in a quirky sense, a boon to the trees, as the ants ate their way up the mealybug-infested trunks and helped revive them in the bargain. The greening branches helped turn the street green and the SENSEX did not want to be left behind as it climbed up to a lofty perch of 26245, before readjusting from the flimsy top branch to settle at 25894. (We hear that the D Boyz shook the trees a bit to unsettle the SENSEX which finally settled at 25480 on 1 August).

The mealybugs strangely found its way to my 11th floor windowsill garden. And it trained its eyes on the colourful hibiscus shrubs that blossomed every other day. I carefully tried to clean these sticky cottony insects that chose to inhabit on the lower side of the leaves. But they would return with a vengeance attacking the buds. I tried spraying them with my organic pesticide (tobacco infused water) – which used to do wonders to rid plants of aphids. But these stubborn killers had their way when they devoured the red hibiscus. I was not one to let them kill my little garden, so I took a harsh step. I trimmed my yellow hibiscus shrub – such that it had no leaves, or buds, just plain twiggy stems and waited through the hot summer. And when the delayed rains started pouring from the skies, the green leaves sprouted (smaller than before, but there nevertheless). And yesterday, the missus was surprised to see a blossoming yellow flower when she watered the plants in the morning.

It is wonderful at times to see the positive side of Nature Strikes Back.

What are your stories of “Nature Strikes Back).

Have a great weekend and week ahead … cheers

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