Trees and religion: Jainism

See part V of this series here.

Jainism, a religion from the Indian region, is also worthy of note within this series, despite being one of the smaller major world religions. Its origins are debated, as to whether the ancient Vedic religion pre-dated it or not (Shah, 1998), though such origins are clearly beyond the scope of this post. Therefore, with specific focus on the stance Jainism takes on the natural world, and specifically trees, one can observe that the stance adopted is one of marked non-violence (ahimsa) – greater than that of both Buddhism and Hinduism, in fact (Altman, 2000; Hall, 2011). The rationale behind this assessment – provided originally by Mahavira (the eminent ‘teacher’ of Jainism) – of plant life is that, because plants are able to respire, metabolise, reproduce, and die, they are living. In turn, plants are considered to possess independent life souls, which are encased within their physical structure (Arumugam, 2014; Tobias, 1991). Trees may even have multiple souls (Fynes, 1996). Such souls can be reborn into the body of an animal, and even a human – the reincarnation process is not limited to humans and animals (Hall, 2011). However, a soul can only be liberated following an existence in the human form.

Jain literature does however indicate that plants are not necessarily intelligent (though they can feel karmic emotions, such as anger, passion, and pride), and thus the acquisition of resources for life processes is perhaps only a survival instinct (Hall, 2011). Regardless, because the religion adopts the outlook of not harming living beings, plants (including trees) are not to be unjustly harmed. Fruits and other materials can, of course, be harvested from trees (Jainas are vegetarians), though the trees themselves cannot be uprooted, as this kills them (Altman, 2000; Sims, 2016). Unlike both Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism also has no God – worship is considered something that interferes, and runs counter to, nature. Instead, as Tobias (1993) and Long (2009) write, Jainas revere. Trees are not excluded, in this regard. Mahavira speaks of trees as having inherent beauty, and instead of seeing them as suitable for their timber that can be used to construct buildings and other objects, they should be seen as “noble, high, round, with many branches, beautiful and magnificent” (Chapple, 2001).

Within the Jain religion, the following trees are considered to be of great importance: the acacia (Vachellia nilotica), bel (Aegle marmelos), bodhi tree or pipal (Ficus religiosa) and other figs (Ficus spp.), kadam (Neolamarckia cadamba), mango (Mangifera indica), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), and teak (Tectona grandis), amongst others (Begum & Barua, 2012; Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991; Chapple, 2002). With regards to the bel (Aegle marmelos), it it understood that the 23rd Jain teacher (the one before the eminent Mahavira) gained enlightenment under the tree (Ariharan & Nagendra Prasad, 2013). The pipal (Ficus religiosa), another highly-regarded tree, may act as a symbol of the Jain religion (Choudhury, 2012). Such aforementioned tree species, in addition to others not mentioned, may therefore reside within and around Jain temples (Kiernan, 2015; Lal et al., 2014).

ranakpur-jain-temple
The Ranakpur Jain Temple, which sits amongst wooded hillside. Source: Pilgrimaide.

In some instances, Jainas may also partake in the planting of trees (notably on degraded land), and perhaps most notably of the tree species seen as worthy of particular reverence. However, Jain monks and nuns may refrain from planting trees, as in disturbing the soil to plant a tree they may kill various soil micro-organisms, which goes against the non-violence aspect of the religion (Altman, 2000; Arumugam, 2014; Kiernan, 2015). On a similar level, monks and nuns will have a very strict vegetarian diet, because their holy scriptures forbid the consumption of raw plants. Of course, this means such individuals cannot even eat fruit, and as this is not wholly practical, there are deviations from the rule (Hall, 2011). Nonetheless, it does demonstrate exactly how highly Jains regard plants.

References

Altman, N. (2000) Sacred Trees: Spirituality, Wisdom & Well-Being. USA: Sterling Publishing.

Ariharan, V. & Nagendra Prasad, P. (2013) Mahavilva-a sacred tree with immense medicinal secrets: a mini review. Rasayan Journal of Chemistry. 6 (4). p342-352.

Arumugam, D. (2014) The perspective of environmental protection in Jainism: special reference to the concept of Parasparopagraho Jivanam. Global Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies. 3 (1). p25-45.

Begum, S. & Barua, I. (2012) Ficus species and its significance. International Journal of Computer Applications in Engineering Sciences. 2 (3). p273-75.

Chandrakanth, M. & Romm, J. (1991) Sacred forests, secular forest policies and people’s actions. Natural Resources Journal. 31. p741-756.

Chapple, C. (2001) The living cosmos of Jainism: a traditional science grounded in environmental ethics. Daedalus. 130 (4). p207-224.

Chapple, C. (2002) Jainism and Ecology: Nonviolence in the Web of Life. USA: Harvard University Press.

Choudhury, J. (2012) Tree worship tradition in India and origin of Jagannath cult. Odisha Review. June 2012. p55-57.

Fynes, R. (1996) Plant Souls in Jainism and Manichaeism The Case for Cultural Transmission. East and West. 46 (1-2). p21-44.

Hall, M. (2011) Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany. USA: Suny Press.

Kiernan, K. (2015) Landforms as sacred places: implications for geodiversity and geoheritage. Geoheritage. 7 (2). p177-193.

Lal, H., Singh, S., & Mishra, P. (2014) Trees in Indian Mythology. History. 12 (29). p16-23.

Long, J. (2009) The Paradoxes of Radical Asceticism: Jainism as a Therapeutic Paradigm. In Derfer, G., Wang, Z., & Weber, M. (eds.) The Roar of Awakening: A Whiteheadian Dialogue Between Western Psychotherapies and Eastern Worldviews. Germany: Ontos.

Shah, N. (1998) Jainism: The World of Conquerors, Volume 1. UK: Sussex Academic Press.

Sims, L. (2016) Jainism and Nonviolence: From Mahavira to Modern Times. The Downtown Review. 2 (1). p1-8.

Tobias, M. (1991) Life Force: The World of Jainism. USA: Jain Publishing Company.

Tobias, M. (1993) Jainism and Ecology. In Tucker, M. & Grimm, J. (eds.) Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy and the Environment. USA: Bucknell Press.

Advertisements
Trees and religion: Jainism

Dispersal and types of spores of Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)

So this is a very quick one but I wanted to share it as it’s actually really cool. As I am reading through Fungal Decomposition of Wood, on page 149 the authors detail that Ganoderma lucidum produces two types of spore from its basidia during its reproductive phase (where a fruiting body is present). Specifically, when the fruit body is young, thin-walled basidia are produced that germinate very readily on any suitable wood substrate that they may land upon (which is a slim chance anyway), though as the fruit body ages the type of spore differs to become much thicker-walled and – if it is to have any decent chance of germinating if it were to land on a suitable substrate – must first pass through the gut of fly larvae.

Of course, this differentiation in spore type (by where the former spore type is dubbed a ‘proterospore’) has implications for effective dispersal. The former thin-walled proterospores are to have a principal means of effective dispersion via air currents, and may indeed be released during the summer months when it is drier and therefore wind dispersal is more effective (assuming we apply a crude phenology to Ganoderma lucidum, and posit that a hymenium is produced and releases spores by summer time – late June through to late August). However, the thicker-walled spores produced in later stages of the fruiting body’s life (being an annual bracket, it will often senesce come late autumn, generally-speaking) would require either larval tunneling through the mature fruiting body and consuming spores along the way (which they then deposit elsewhere on possibly suitable wood substrates) or by larvae consuming spores where the spores were deposited by the air currents / other means. Larval tunneling could also take place after the bracket’s senescence, when some spores will still probably be ‘trapped’ within the tubes.

ganoderma-lucidum-carpinus-betulus-1
Three Ganoderma lucidum sporophores growing out from ever-so-slightly buried wood of Carpinus betulus. This old stump supported a good many more sporophores of this species.

If we are to accept that mature and active fruiting bodies are more likely to be host to tunneling insects, by virtue of: (1) the fruiting bodies being often sufficiently larger in size to allow for effective tunneling in a sheltered environment not at much risk of suddenly being aborted by the ‘parent’ mycelium and also possessing a greater supply of nutrients, and (2) because they have been in the environment for a longer period of time (thereby overlapping with ovipositioning of more insect species and generations), the second type of spore production actually makes logical sense. Furthermore, climatically-speaking, rain usually becomes ever more frequent as we approach late summer to early-mid autumn (when the Ganodermas are often still very much active, and the annual brackets of Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma resinaceum are typically fully mature – if not close to becoming so), and therefore wind dispersal perhaps becomes ever more challenging for polypores that depend upon dry conditions in which they can release spores effectively. In fact, and again it’s only my hypothesis, but as rain can drive spores onto and into the ground (as they are caught up in rain droplets, etc), the dispersal of these thick-walled spores might also provide them with the chance to be consumed by soil-dwelling insect larvae or ones that forage close to the ground, in place of upon fungal fruiting bodies or within their direct vicinity. When we note that Ganoderma lucidum can also fruit out from underneath the ground, it gives this theory time for a little more consideration. Thus, the potential scope of insect consumers increases quite extensively.

The caveat here is, as is most certainly evident, a lot of my own thoughts have expanded upon the initial statement in Fungal Decomposition of Wood. Thus, I may be spouting utter nonsense! Regardless, I hope it stimulates some thought, which is the most critical thing. As this book was written almost three decades ago and the research into Ganoderma lucidum spores was first published in 1982 by Nuss (cited below – it’s in German), there may have been developments since then that further explain this biological characteristic. At the very least however, this demonstrates that a spore is not just a spore, and that the mycological world is admirably complex.

ganoderma-lucidum-carpinus-betulus-2
Another series of Ganoderma lucidum upon the same Carpinus betulus stump, in the UK. This image was taken on 9th September 2016, as was the first image.

Sources:

Nuss, I. (1982) Die Bedeutung der Proterosporen: Schlußfolgerungen aus Untersuchungen an Ganoderma (Basidiomycetes). Plant Systematics and Evolution. 141 (1). p53-79.

Rayner, A. & Boddy, L. (1988) Fungal Decomposition of Wood: It’s Ecology and Biology. UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Dispersal and types of spores of Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)

Perenniporia fraxinea not on Fraxinus sp.

It’s fair to say that the epithet fraxinea is not indicative of the quite broad host range of this fungus. Granted, the same can be said about many other fungi, including Rigidoporus ulmarius and Pleurotus dryinus, and perhaps that’s one of the things we have to watch out for when it comes to identfying fungi on trees (and more broadly). Dealing specifically with Perenniporia fraxinea, which probably doesn’t have a common name, I want to share what other hosts I have come across that display signs of colonisation by this fungus (specifically, by identifying the fruiting bodies on the trunk and buttress area). This is, after all, an important aspect of tree management, and pin-pointing where fungi may occur outside of their suggestive range (by virtue of their epithet) is critical as a consequence. The mycological world loves to throw us curve-balls, and therefore we must be able to catch them when they are indeed thrown.

For the sake of ease, I have segmented the below pictures into headings detailing the different host species of Perenniporia fraxinea. I hope that some readers, either now or those who find this via a search engine in the future, find this of use – particularly those in the UK. However, before that, I shall list the host genera Ryvarden & Gilbertson list in their publication European Polypores (note this applies to all across Europe): Aesculus, CastaneaCeltis, Eucalyptus, Fagus, Fraxinus, Gymnocladus, Juglans, Olea, Malus, Platanus, Populus, Prunus, Robinia, Quercus, Salix, and Ulmus.

Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore)

perenniporia-fraxinea-acer-pseudoplatanus-1
Only once have I come across Perenniporia fraxinea on sycamore and that was down in Dorchester, UK.
perenniporia-fraxinea-acer-pseudoplatanus-2
This sporophore as a bit of a mess, with regards to its morphology. Nonetheless, it had a hymenium, and was thus not an anamorph.
perenniporia-fraxinea-acer-pseudoplatanus-3
Thankfully, the other side of the same sycamore sported a more typical bracket-shaped specimen. Note the white spore around the bracket.
perenniporia-fraxinea-acer-pseudoplatanus-4
And a cross-section showing the distinctive context of Perenniporia fraxinea, including the fresh yellowish growth.

Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut)

perenniporia-fraxinea-aesculus-hippocastanum-1
Again, only once have I observed this association. In this case, the horse chestnut was a monolithed specimen, and the sporophores were on the inside of the tree.
perenniporia-fraxinea-aesculus-hippocastanum-2
Trying to hide in frass and white-rotted woody material!
perenniporia-fraxinea-aesculus-hippocastanum-3
A cross-section, once again, reveals this fungus as Perenniporia fraxinea.

Fagus sylvatica (beech)

perenniporia-fraxinea-fagus-sylvatica-1
Three times have I witnessed this association on beech, and this was the most recent and the finest example of the bunch. Some great buttressing, too – as is so frequent on mature beech, which look like they’re essentially being ripped out of the ground in which they sit.
perenniporia-fraxinea-fagus-sylvatica-2
A closer look at this tiered specimen, complete with white spore dressing the buttress root. Upon cutting this one for a cross-section, it exuded a nasty ‘juice’.
perenniporia-fraxinea-fagus-sylvatica-3
Note the context, which is very distinctive of a specimen that has had its most recently growth ‘spurt’ mature – i.e. it lacks the yellow-orange rim.

Populus spp. (poplar)

perenniporia-fraxinea-populus-nigra-1
Both Populus x canadensis and Populus nigra ‘Italica’ are hosts I have seen Perenniporia fraxinea on within the genus Populus. Here, I share the better example of the two from the Lombardy poplar. A cracking buttress root there!
perenniporia-fraxinea-populus-nigra-2
On one side of the base we see this collection, all of which are laying down some very fresh growth.
perenniporia-fraxinea-populus-nigra-3
And on the other side some equally fresh growth spurts are taking place. Very photogenic!

Quercus robur (English oak)

perenniporia-fraxinea-quercus-robur-1
Having shared some other examples of Perenniporia fraxinea on oak, I wanted to share a newer example from last week. Three times I have seen this fungus on oak.
perenniporia-fraxinea-quercus-robur-2
Here we can see it’s certainly a sporophore with many years’ growth. This time around, a small layer underneath has been added.
perenniporia-fraxinea-quercus-robur-3
The white spore is so distinctive here, and the upper surface is covered in algae, etc.
perenniporia-fraxinea-quercus-robur-4
And a shot of the hymenium for good measure.

Robinia pseudoacacia (false acacia / black locust)

perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-1
Robinia pseudoacacia is the second most common host after ash, in my experience (seen it a total of five times on this species). This is an example from earlier today.
perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-2
Here we have a sporophore right at the base.
perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-3
And some further up – albeit, much smaller, in this instance.
perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-4
A closer inspection of two very good-looking sporophores.
perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-5
And a closer shot of the one at the base – including the white spore once more.
perenniporia-fraxinea-robinia-pseudoacacia-6
And finally the context, as is typical of this fungus.
Perenniporia fraxinea not on Fraxinus sp.

Bees’ nest extrusion from an ash tree

As it’s raining I thought I’d liven up your day with another blog post. How kind!

When I was up at Hatfield Forest a few weeks ago, the group I was a part of spotted an odd extrusion from a cavity high up in an ash tree. Initially we thought it was a peculiar fungus, though upon zooming in with cameras we established that it wasn’t a fungus, but – after help from a few contacts – part of a bees’ nest.

It appears that the woodpekcer cavity was too small to accomodate the entire nest, and thus this extension of the nest – either to store food or for where larvae will be born and grow – was produced, due to the amenable conditions (warm and sheltered – this ash was a woodland edge tree and the nest faced in to the woodland).

Undoubtedly, it’s a curious thing. Quite alien, in fact. Granted, it’s a great example of ecological succession within a single tree limb: after the woodpecker leaves, bees enter. Who knows how this cavity will further rot in the future, and what else shall use it once the bees no longer have a use for it. I’d also hazard a guess that Inonotus hispidus decay is abundant in the area, so perhaps the limb will even fail around this area. Who knows…

They live!

ash-tree-bees-nest-honeycomb-1
Looking up into the lower crown of this majestic ash tree, we can spot to the right hand side…
ash-tree-bees-nest-honeycomb-2
…something quite freaky! Is it a claw? Is it a geocache?
ash-tree-bees-nest-honeycomb-3
No, it’s part of a bees’ nest. Such a ‘lovely’ texture to it, too!
Bees’ nest extrusion from an ash tree

New publication: Trees – a Lifespan Approach

Two posts in a day – what’s going on!?

A short one here, with an aim of promoting and sharing the release of a new e-book by some very well-known and well-respected individuals in the world of arboriculture. Trees – a Lifespan Approach is a relatively short (but very crucial) publication that has been in the works for over a year, and was released to the public a few weeks ago.

The publication informs the reader of how they can assist in caring for a tree across its entire life span – from the cradle to the grave, so to speak. More importantly, particularly for when a tree gets older and wanders innocently and eagerly into what we call ‘veteran’ territoty, it gives the reader information on what they can do to ‘help’ the tree, and more importantly why they should.

Ironically, a veteran tree displays many of the hazards we would not want to see in trees that aren’t veteran, and thus there is certainly more of a challenge in satisfying the need to keep the tree and the need to ensure the tiny chance of a person getting injured or dying as a result of branch and limb failure is made even smaller. Therefore, if we are to intervene, which is often something the law emplores us to do if the tree has a ‘target area’ that sees humans wander into it, we must do so responsibly and in a manner that will properly balance the varying demands from varying interested parties. Honestly, the most interested party is the tree itself, and this publication ensures that we do not lose sight of that fact.

parkingveterantree
Is this the best way to manage a future veteran tree? Perhaps not. Yes, the rhizosphere is partially protected, but talk about bringing people towards a potential hazard.

Granted, we won’t have veteran and ancient trees unless we properly care for the trees that are currently young to mature (in terms of relative age for the species). Consequently, what we get with Trees – a Lifespan Approach is a blueprint for care from – as I said a little earlier – the cradle to the grave.

Download this, share this, read this, and use this. And, I hope, await the print edition, too. I certainly am eager to begin reading this.

trees-a-lifespan-approach-book

New publication: Trees – a Lifespan Approach

Two interesting saprotrophic fungi of wood

With fungi still about in good numbers, not a day goes by when I don’t come across some ephemeral specimens. Below, I showcase two very unique-looking fungi, which are both saprotrophs of wood. It’s likely that – at least, if you’re in the UK – that you have come across both before. If not, then now’s the time to look!

Abortiporus biennis (the blushing rosette)

This dude is weird, and is so impossibly distinctive from other polypores that occur on dead wood (I have seen it on actual stumps and fruiting in grass, where it is feasting on roots below ground after the stump has either rotted away or been ground down) that you don’t even really need a microscope to discern it to the species level. In spite of its common name however, it doesn’t always look like a rosette and can instead adopt a quite obscure morphology where pores are on the upper surface and it stays as a whitish blob (sometimes exuding red liquid – notably when young). Thankfully, when it does achieve its ‘potential’, it becomes a very pretty polypore and releases a white spore that can be found to dust any leaves or blades of grass caught beneath the fruiting bodies.

For ease of understanding what I am on about, I have included both examples below so to illustrate the variability of this fungus. Also note that, when fruiting in grass, the roots it is devouring beneath the surface often leads to the fruiting body protruding out from the ground on a rather long stipe, which I have seen reach lengths of over 10cm.

I have not observed this species in a woodland setting as of yet. Instead, examples have all been limited to urban areas (including parks) where canopy cover is either non-existent or very sparse.

abortiporus-biennis-quercus-stump-1
In this scenario, we can spot six different fruiting bodies all appearing to sit on top of the grass. At this site, around four years ago, a large oak tree was removed. This fungus has thus colonised the roots left below ground, after the stump was ground down.
abortiporus-biennis-quercus-stump-2
As we can see in this image, not only has the fruiting body produced the more typical polypore form with a hymenium below and an upper surface with a different texture and colouration, but also – on top of that lovely growth (!) – a very large growth complete with pores atop.
abortiporus-biennis-quercus-stump-3
Another specimen has grown around blades of grass, thereby assuming them into its structure.
abortiporus-biennis-quercus-stump-4
This example displays the much more aesthetic form the fungus can adopt, though again we can see the growths atop that are more reminiscent of an anamorphic mass.
abortiporus-biennis-stump-1
On this stump (likely of ash) we can observe a few fruiting bodies of Abortiporus biennis, though with a very different appearance to those on the roots of the oak above. Here, the fruiting bodies are more bleached in appearance.
abortiporus-biennis-stump-2
An inspection of one of the fruiting bodies shows how bizarre its form is.
abortiporus-biennis-stump-3
A cross-section reveals a pinkish-white context with a tube layer ever so slightly darker. It smells very strongly of mushroom, and is slightly soft in texture.

Rhodotus palmatus (the wrinkled peach)

This gilled mushroom is found generally on elm, though can also occur on other hardwoods in the UK. Unfortunately, since Dutch elm disease battered our elm population, it has become a rather uncommon sight amongst the landscape. However, it can still be found, and in this instance I spotted a few of them growing on a cluster of downed elm stems.

This mushroom has a rather pleasant smell, is very soft and moist (almost akin to oysters), and when young has quite the artistic form (as we will see below). The stipe is usually offset, and the cap is a very soft pink (though fades with age, in this example).

rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-1
Rhodotus palmatus in its wider setting.
rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-2
We can see a larger specimen sitting beneath a much smaller one, in this image. Note the very soft pink colour.
rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-3
The gills beneath are not that densely-clustered and have a very soft pinkish colouration (much like the upper surface, though slightly paler). Because the mushroom emanates from the side of the elm log, the offset stipe curves upwards to ensure the gills are parallel with the ground.
rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-4
A younger specimen on another elm log very close by. Observe the very different cap appearance, both in it being somewhat pinker and decorated with a myriad of inter-connecting ridges.
rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-5
I admit it’s almost morel-like, at this stage in its life.
rhodotus-palmatus-ulmus-procera-6
Again, we can see the offset stipe and pinkish gills below. The cap surface also remains partially in-rolled, at this young age.
Two interesting saprotrophic fungi of wood

Trees and religion: Hinduism

See Part IV of this series on trees and religions here.

Hinduism, which also arose from the ancient Vedic religion, also placed marked value upon trees (and plants, in general). With regards to the philosophical outlook on plant life, in contrast with Buddhism, there is a clearer and prevailing view of plants being taken into moral consideration. Granted, it must be stressed, prior to further explanation, that Hinduism itself has at least six different offshoots that have distinct differences between one another, and therefore it is the core texts that are generally referred to (Hall, 2011). This clearer view on plant life is because Hinduism generally considers all beings as being connected via Brahman, and as a consequence plants possess consciousness and are therefore sentient (Framarin, 2014b), and trees are even self aware according to the Yogavasistha (Hall, 2011). Consequently, plants are part of the cycle of death and rebirth, known as samsara. Whether this is sentience in the human sense, or simply because plants are alive, is however questioned by in another text by Framarin (2014a). However, one can observe how trees, in particular, were considered to be able to experience happiness and sorrow, as detailed in the ancient Puranas (Dwivedi, 1990).

Regardless of exact outlook, the fact that Hinduism recognises plants as at least living beings has implications towards their attitude towards plants, which is one of non-violence. Despite this, in the case of whether a plant must be sacrificed to save a human, it is considered that humans have greater moral standing, by virtue of their heightened sentience and their mobility (Hall, 2011). This outlook may however only be more recent, as more historic Hindu texts suggest that all life is of equal sanctity and must be safeguarded (unless there is adequate justification to do otherwise), because only God has dominion over all life (Dwivedi, 1990). In light of the aforementioned, it is of little surprise that conservation issues are becoming more pertinent within Hindu cultures, and particularly within the middle-upper class societies that can afford to care (Tomalin, 2004).

dhanvantari
The medicinal deity Dhanvantari is associated with the neem tree. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

With specific reference to trees, it is not surprising that it is the religiously- and economically- important trees that are most actively associated with the religion and culture. To begin, it is however necessary to recognise that Hindus consider all trees to have a tree deity, which can be worshipped and provided with offerings including water and sacred threads. These tree deities do lead trees to adopt a position of significant religious importance (Dwivedi, 1990), though nonetheless, some trees will hold particularly acute religious importance; and notably those that have direct associations with principal deities. For example, Shitala (the goddess of poxes) is considered to reside within a neem tree (Azadirachta indica) – perhaps because neem has been used to treat an array of poxes and other illnesses for many centuries (Edwardes, 1922; Norten & Pütz, 2000) – and as a result the neem tree is considered sacred (Hall, 2011). The medicinal god Dhanvantari also has associations with the tree. In fact, the neem may even be of divine origin, as the Hindu demigod Garuda was thought to have spilled a few drops of the elixir of immortality onto the tree, on his way to Heaven with the elixir (Puri, 1999). Neem leaves may also be used to ward off evil spirits, immediately after childbirth (Edwardes, 1922).

neem-tree-leaves
Leaves of the neem tree are used for their medicinal value. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The goddess of fortune and prosperity, Lakshmi, is also found to reside within a tree – the sacred fig, or pipal (Ficus religiosa) (Hall, 2011). In fact, the three principal gods in Hinduism, Brahma, Shiva, and Vishu, all have associations with the pipal, and is subsequently worshipped every Saturday during the fifth Hindu month of Shraavana (de Cleene & Lejeune, 1999; Edwardes, 1922), and perhaps even every morning throughout the year (Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991). The gular (Ficus racemosa) also has associations to all three of these gods: the roots Brahma, the bark Vishnu, and the branches Shiva (Krishna & Amirthalingam, 2009). Vishu is also associated with the banyan (Ficus benghalensis) and sometimes wholly portrayed as the gular (Ficus racemosa) (Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991), whilst Shiva has associations with the bel (Aegle marmelos), where leaves are used to worship Shiva, in order to gain redemption from a sinful act (Jagetia et al., 2005; Niroula & Singh, 2015), and also maulsari (Mimusops elengi).

Rudra, who pre-dated Shiva and was a storm god, and who is now seen as perhaps interchangeable with Shiva, is also linked with the rudraksha tree (Elaeocarpus ganitrus). For this reason, those who worship Shiva will often adorn themselves with rosaries made with seeds of the rudraksha tree, during meditation (Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991; Garg et al., 2013; Naresh et al., 2013). Temples dedicated to Shiva will also be surrounded by five species of sacred tree, as detailed in the Puranas: the amala (Phyllanthus emblica), banyan (Ficus benghalensis), bel (Aegle marmelos), neem (Azadirachta indica), and pipal (Ficus religiosa) (Haberman, 2013). The avatar Dattatreya, who is considered to comprise all three gods Brahma, Shiva, and Vishu, is associated with the gular (Ficus racemosa), and this is not surprising as all three deities, individually, have links with this tree (Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991).

peepal-worship-hinduism
A Hindu woman worshipping the pipal (peepal) tree. Source: Hindutva.

Krishna, another important Hindu deity, has many associations with the kadam (Neolamarckia cadamba), and was, for example, understood to have greatly enjoyed its presence (Haberman, 2013). It is also a tree that Krisha grew up around, and into where he climbed after stealing the clothes of some very beautiful cowherd girls (Krishna & Amirthalingam, 2009). The banyan (Ficus benghalensis) was also said to have been linked to Krishna, by virtue of the fact it was the tree that was said to have saved his life during the world flood (Altman, 2000). Such aforementioned trees may also themselves be worshipped, for the god(s) that they represent (as the gods, according to the Puranas, could adopt the form of a tree), and this would be the case in particular when in rural and forested areas of India. In these instances, the trees may even have been caged, so to protect them from damage (Haberman, 2013).

Persisting with the religious aspects of trees within Hinduism, one can also observe how the planting of trees – particularly groves – is a highly important act worthy of marked religious merit (Coward, 2003; Edwardes, 1922; Haberman, 2013). At times, these groves may be planted in patterns that accord to the cosmic alignment of the stars, planets, and the Zodiac, as understood in Hinduism; as may temple forests, which frequent the Indian landscape serve multiple spiritual and religious purposes (Chandrakanth & Romm, 1991; Chandrakanth et al., 1990). These groves may also be more simple plantations, as is the case in eastern Kumaun, where the deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) has been abundantly planted beyond its natural range (Guha, 2000). Established groves within forests, such those of mangrove (Rhiziophora spp.) in Bangladesh, are also a site for prayer once per year, for Hindus of the lower castes (Khan et al., 2008). Where these sacred groves have been assumed from pre-dating cultures, unlike with Christianity, and to a slightly lesser degree Islam, their spiritual importance is conserved and the groves remain as places of worship (Ormsby & Bhagwat, 2010).

Trees may also be formally married to one another, in some instances. In fact, the creation of groves and the marriage of the trees within the groves to one another (some years later) is considered a particularly important custom within the Hindu religion, and cases of individual mango trees (Mangifera indica) being married to individual tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) are documented (Edwardes, 1922). Neem (Azadirachta indica) and pipal (Ficus religiosa) trees may also be planted so close together that they essentially grow ‘as one’. This ‘marriage’ of the two tree species is considered to represent the bonding of male (pipal) and female (neem), and if the unified trees are circumambulated after bath in the morning then they are said to cure sterility (Chandrakanth et al., 1990; Haberman, 2013). In some cases, these marriage ceremonies are incredibly grand (and thus expensive), such as when a neem and pipal tree were married in the Indian town of Palakkad – the neem was four years younger than the pipal, and was adorned with traditional wedding items. In this case, a Hindu priest was employed to undertake the ceremony, whilst an astrologer was employed to select the correct (appropriate) date (Haberman, 2013).

neemtreeandravitree
A pipal and neem tree that have been married to one another. Source: In India.

A variety of tree species have also historically been worshipped by individual tribes of the Hindu religion, across India. Specific tribes will attribute a specific group of tree species to their ancestry, including the banyan (Ficus benghalensis), kadam (Neolamarckia cadamba), mango (Mangifera indica), and shami (Prosopis cineraria), and the marriage of individual tribe members to those of different tribes can only occur if the two tribes do not share ancestral tree species (Edwardes, 1922). The trees sacred to the tribes will also usually not be cut down or damaged, and instead revered and protected.

The theme of trees and marriage in fact extends even further, when it can occur between a man (or woman) and a particular tree (of the opposite gender) (Haberman, 2013). This is usually a practice that occurs after an individual has been married twice already, as a third marriage is seen as inauspicious (and is also illegal in the Punjab). Therefore, instead of marrying a human for the third time, a Punjabi individual is married to a babel tree (Vachellia nilotica), and afterwards married to another human (for the fourth marriage). In the city of Chennai, a similar custom can be observed, and instead an individual is married to a serut tree (Streblus asper), that is then unfortunately felled, paving the way for a fourth marriage (Edwardes, 1922; Haberman, 2013).

Hindu brides may also, prior to marriage, assuming they were born under “inauspicious planets”, be married to a tree (which rids her of any ill-omens that may harm her husband), and then to the groom. Conversely, if a groom is found to have been born under very well-aligned planets, the marriage between him and his bride is sometimes compared to the bride marrying a fig tree (Ficus religiosa). The general idea behind why this marriage between a woman and a tree occurs may be, again according to Edwardes (1922), to “avert the curse of widowhood”, because the tree (groom) is always alive (hopefully!). It may also be to pass-off any bad luck onto the tree, which is, of course, not necessarily that good for the tree! On a more philosophical level, it also keeps alive man’s kinship with nature, which is important within Hinduism (Haberman, 2013). Hindu women, each year, will also fast and worship both the goddess Savitri and the banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis), in order to ensure their husband and sons have long and married lives (Wadley, 1980).

peepal-tree-marriage-hinduism
This pipal tree was married to a woman, and has been suitably ‘dressed’ for the occasion. Source: Homegrown.

On a more cultural level, numerous traditions can be observed with regards to the consumption or utilisation of certain trees, in accordance with particular calendar months. For example, in West Bengal, certain Hindu tribes do not consume fruits of the genus Zizyphus until after January’s full moon, nor do they eat mango (Mangifera indica) until after the Baruni ceremony in late March, or the fruits of the drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) until after the Charak festival in April. Other tribes refrain from harvesting the sal (Shorea robusta) until after the Salui festival in March to April, and the fruits of the karam (Haldina cordifolia) until after the Karam festival in August to September (Deb & Malhotra, 2001). It is most likely that these harvesting limitations are due to economic reasons, so that the trees are not adversely impacted prior to the time in which they provide the most value. Within other Hindu rituals and customs, there is also the overt declaration that trees that have been struck by lightning, display dieback in the periphery of the crown, contain many bird nests, or grow upon a sacred site, are unfit for use in the timber trade to make bedsteads, as they are wholly certain to bring ill health – and possibly death – to an individual (Edwardes, 1922).

On a symbolic level, within the Bhagavad Gita, which is a Hindu text, the upside-down tree mentioned by Krishna also has importance within the religion (Arapura, 1975). This tree’s roots are up in the skies, whilst its foliage is down upon the earth, and this is said to symbolise man’s origins (or roots) from divinity and consciousness (de Cleene & Lejeune, 1999). The suspended roots displays these origins of man, whilst the branches upon the earth detail the workings of the mind, which is vastly complex in composition and function. The leaves, which are attached to the branches, symbolise emotions and thoughts that man will experience, and their temporary nature, as these leaves are eventually shed and re-grown. However, these leaves also need the water and nutrients from the roots, which connects man back to divinity and consciousness (the roots in the sky – the spiritual world), from where the mind should be based and build from, in spite of the temptation to base conscious existence upon emotion and the material world (the leaves) (Prabhupada, 1989).

References

Altman, N. (2000) Sacred Trees: Spirituality, Wisdom & Well-Being. USA: Sterling Publishing.

Arapura, J. (1975) The Upside down Tree of the Bhagavadgītā Ch. XV: An Exegesis. Numen. 22 (2). p131-144.

Chandrakanth, M., Gilless, J., Gowramma, V., & Nagaraja, M. (1990) Temple forests in India’s forest development. Agroforestry Systems. 11 (3). p199-211.

Chandrakanth, M. & Romm, J. (1991) Sacred forests, secular forest policies and people’s actions. Natural Resources Journal. 31. p741-756.

Coward, H. (2003) Hindu Views of Nature and the Environment. In Selin, H. (ed.) Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature and the Environment in Non-Western Cultures. The Netherlands: Springer.

de Cleene, M. & Lejeune, M. (1999) Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe – Volume I: Trees & Shrubs. Belgium: Mens & Cultuur.

Deb, D., & Malhotra, K. (2001) Conservation ethos in local traditions: the West Bengal heritage. Society & Natural Resources. 14 (8). p711-724.

Dwivedi, O. (1990) Satyagraha for conservation: Awakening the spirit of Hinduism. In Engel, J. & Engel, J. (eds.) Ethics of Environment and Development: Global Challenge, International Response. USA: University of Arizona Press.

Edwardes, S. (1922) Tree-Worship in India. Empire Forestry Journal. 1 (1). p78-86.

Framarin, C. (2014a) Ātman, Identity, and Emanation: Arguments for a Hindu Environmental Ethic. In Callicott, J. & McRae, J. (eds.) Environmental Philosophy in Asian Traditions of Thought. USA: State University of New York Press.

Framarin, C. (2014b) Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature, and Philosophy. UK: Routledge.

Guha, R. (2000) The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya. USA: Oxford University Press.

Haberman, D. (2013) People Trees: Worship of Trees in Northern India. USA: Oxford University Press.

Hall, M. (2011) Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany. USA: Suny Press.

Jagetia, G., Venkatesh, P., & Baliga, M. (2005) Aegle marmelos (L.) Correa inhibits the proliferation of transplanted Ehrlich ascites carcinoma in mice. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 28 (1). p58-64.

Khan, M., Khumbongmayum, A., & Tripathi, R. (2008) The sacred groves and their significance in conserving biodiversity an overview. International Journal of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. 34 (3). p277-291.

Krishna, N. & Amirthalingam, M. (2009) Sacred Plants of India. India: Penguin Books.

Naresh, K., Mukesh, D., & Vivek, A. (2013) Rudrakha: A Review on Mythological, Spiritual and Medicinal Importance. Global Journal of Research on Medicinal Plants & Indigenous Medicine. 2 (1). p65-72.

Niroula, G. & Singh, N. (2015) Religion and Conservation: A Review of Use and Protection of Sacred Plants and Animals in Nepal. Journal of Institute of Science and Technology. 20 (2). p61-66.

Norten, E. & Pütz, J. (2000) Neem: India’s Miraculous Healing Plant. Canada: Healing Arts Press.

Ormsby, A. & Bhagwat, S. (2010) Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of community-based natural resource management. Environmental Conservation. 37 (3). p320-326.

Prabhupada, A. (1989) Bhagavad-Gita as it is. USA: Bhaktivendata Book Trust International.

Puri, H. (1999) Neem: The Divine Tree Azadirachta indica. The Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Tomalin, E. (2004) Bio-divinity and biodiversity: Perspectives on religion and environmental conservation in India. Numen. 51 (3). p265-295.

Wadley, S. (1980) Hindu women’s family and household rites in a North Indian village. In Falk, N. & Gross, R. (eds.) Unspoken Worlds: women’s religious lives in non-western cultures. USA: Harper and Row.

Trees and religion: Hinduism