The Guardian Tree or ‘NAGALINGA’. believed to be a native of the Central American rain forests, nobody is sure how or when these tall, spectacular beauties arrived in the Indian sub-continent. While some scholars say they were brought by European traders, others propose a more ancient migration route.
The tree could have been a native of an ancient land mass connecting Asia and the Americas several millennia ago, that later separated into the Continents that we know today. Bengaluru and Chennai were once famous for their NAGALINGA avenues, very few of which survive today. There are bound to be at least a couple of them in every neighbourhood though.
Known as Mallikarjuna, Lingada Huvu, Nagasampige and Kaman Gola around India, the trees are commonly planted as GUARDIAN TREES around Shiva temples and Buddhist shrines, as they hold special significances in the mythologies of both religions.
They are also called CANNONBALL TREES in English, because of their spherical woody fruit that fall to the ground with a loud crash as they ripen. The strong-smelling pulp of the fruit is edible, but with caution, as it’s known to cause allergies. It is used in traditional medicine as a disinfectant and an anti-depressant. The pulp is sometimes fed to pigs and poultry as an anti-helminthic.
If you want one of these beautiful trees in your neighbourhood, you will have to remember that it is going to be an enormous tree, and you’ll need to make sure there aren’t any overhead cables and things obstructing its growth.
Collect one of the fallen fruit and scoop out its translucent bluish pulp. Separate the black oval seeds from the pulp and dry them out in the shade. Plant them in partial shade, and water them daily until the seedlings are about a foot high. Plant them out in the sun, with plenty of room for them to grow tall and big. If you can’t find any ripe cannonballs, you can just as easily take a woody cutting from the top of the tree and plant it out in the sun. And, in just a few years, you’ll be the proud parent of one of these beautiful, mysterious trees, that will be the talk of your neighbourhood for years to come.