From our Herbarium: The Sacred Arjuna Tree

 

terminalia_arjuna_flower2
Terminalia arjuna

Pitchandikulam Forest Virtual Herbarium is a unique online catalogue of plants from the native evergreen forests of the coastal area of Tamil Nadu. Here we introduce the beautiful and sacred Arjuna tree, one of the nearly 200 species currently available to view in our collection.

Botanical name: Terminalia arjuna

Family: Combretaceae

English name: Arjun Tree

Indian names (phonetics):Tamil : Marudha maram; Hindi : Arjun;Kannada : Maddi, nirmatti; Malayalam : Nirmarutu; Marathi : Arjun, jamla; Sanskrit : Arjuna;Telugu : Erramaddi, vermaddi

Sharing its name with the warrior hero of Mahabharata, one of the most iconic figures in ancient Hindu mythology, Arjuna is a truly remarkable tree. With its majestic presence and a broad, oval crown, it is widely planted in parks and avenues for its large shade and beauty. It is often found and planted along river banks and helps to reduce soil erosion.

Considered to be one of the sacred trees of India, it is mentioned in many ancient stories and legends, and has a symbolic significance in Vedic astrology- it is associated with the constellation Swati, whose presiding deity is Vayu (the lord of the winds, the father of Bhima and the spiritual fatof Hanuman). It is believed that those born under the Swati star should plant and take care of Arjuna trees. The leaves and flowers of Arjuna tree are offered to the lord Vishnu and Lord Ganapati on several religious occasions.

A native of the Indian subcontinent, the Arjuna is  also found eastwards in Myanmar and southwards in Sri Lanka. It occurs along the river banks and streams in north and south India. The generic name Terminalia is derived from the Latin ‘terminus’ or ‘terminalis’ (ending), referring to the habit of its leaves being crowded at the tips of the shoots.  The name ‘Arjuna’ for the tree occurs in the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda and means “white” or “bright”, probably denoting its creamy-white flowers or the shining quality of its bark. One of the tree’s Sanskrit names is ‘Kakubha’ which, inter alia, means “beauty” or “fascination”; it also means “several flowers held together in a cluster”.

Arjuna is an important Ayurvedic plant and has been used in traditional medicine since ancient times. All parts of the tree -the bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit – are known to have medicinal value, although the bark is most commonly used therapeutically.

Botanical information

Terminalia arjuna is a large-sized deciduous tree growing up to 30-35 m high. It has a massive and fluted (sometimes buttressed) trunk and a large and spreading crown.

Bark: Smooth, pale greenish-grey, flaking thinly to reveal colours varying with the size of the tree and time of year.

Leaves: Smooth, leathery, dully shiny, arranged opposite each other or nearly so. Blunt or only slightly pointy at apex, shalowly heart-shaped at base. Margins often faintly, bluntly toothed.

Flowers: Tiny, creamy yellow, crowded in long spikes, no petals; flower  cup and long stamens prominent. Some people notice a pleasant honey-scent- others wrinkle their noses at the smell!

Fruit: An ovoid, fibrous woody nu up to 6sm long, with 5 thin, flat ‘wings’ running along its length. Green at first, ripening deep brown, tinged with rust.

For full botanical description of Arjuna tree see Pitchandikulam Herbarium

 

Medicinal uses

The bark of the Arjuna tree contains calcium salts, magnesium salts, and glucosides. Juice of its leaf is used to cure dysentery and earache. Arjuna helps in maintaining the cholesterol level at the normal rate, as it contains the antioxidant properties similar to the Vitamin E. It strengths the heart muscles and maintains the heart functioning properly. It also improves functioning of cardiac muscle. Arjuna is used for the treatment of coronary artery disease, heart failure, edema, angina and hypercholesterolemia. Its bark power possesses diuretic, prostaglandin enhancing and coronary risk factor modulating properties. It is also considered as beneficial in the treatment of Asthma.

The use of Arjuna bark powder as an astringent and diuretic finds mention in Charaka Samhita. Vagbhata, a disciple of Charaka, was the first to recognize the cardioprotective property of the bark in his treatise Ashtānga Hridayam some 1200 years ago. Traditionally, the drug has been administered as an alcoholic decoction of the stem bark (asava),or taken with clarified butter (ghrita) or boiled in milk (ksheerpaka).

terminalia_arjuna_habit1

Other uses of Arjuna

In addition to its sacred significance, incredible health uses, and the beauty of its shade, this versatile tree has many other practical uses.

Timber: Sapwood (peripheral wood in which living cells are active, and the sap still flows) is pinkish white; heartwood (core part which has no living cells, and in which the sap has stopped flowing) is dark brown, very hard, lustrous and coarse-textured. Timber is mainly used locally for carts, agricultural implements, water troughs, boats, tool handles etc.

Sericulture: Arjuna leaves constitute one of the major feeds for the tropical tasar silkworm. Tasar silk production is believed to  be very ancient since there is a
reference to it in the Ramayana: Rama’s nuptial gifts to Seeta included tasar silk!

Fuel: Wood makes excellent firewood and charcoal, with calorific value of 5030 kcals/Kg(sapwood) and 5128 kcal/kg (heartwood).

Tannin: The bark (22-24%) and fruit (7-20%) are sources of tanning and dyeing material.

Please visit Pitchandikulam Forest Virtual Herbarium to learn more about Arjuna and many other species found in our forest

See also our previous article introducing our Herbarium here on this blog 

Other sources used in this article:

Remarkable Trees on NII Campus: 5. Arjuna, S. Natesh. Consultant Advisor, NII, New Delhi

http://www.ecoindia.com/flora/trees/arjun-tree.html

Trees of Delhi:A Field Giude, Pradip Krishen

 

 

 

 

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