I associate the autumn season in Delhi with the Saptaparni tree (Alstonia scholaris) also called White Cheesewood, Milkwood Pine, Blackboard Tree and Devil’s Tree. The volume of green canopy, covering a large area of land, makes the district park different from the parks in the residential area. The hue and scent of the park changes with the the changing season.
In summer the neem trees in Delhi are bright and full of life. In rainy season the park become greener as the dust from the foliage is washed away by the rain and the grass grows taller. Now the autumn is here and the trees circulate the cool breeze with a tinge of perfume of their flowers.
Residential areas have blackboard tree lined on either side of the road. While passing through the roads in the evenings, the cool breeze scented with the strong, sweet smell of the blackboard flowers, soothes the mind. The beautiful smell is a pleasant companion for the festive fervor that is associated with October/November months.
How Saptaparni tree came to Delhi
According to records, the saptaparni was brought from the Himalayas and planted in residential areas in Delhi in the 1940’s. A tree that grows more than 30m in the himalayan forest has a stunted growth in Delhi.
In some places the saptaparni tree is also known as devil’s tree. There is a superstition that witches reside on the tree. And the enticing smell is used by the witch to woo passerby’s, so that she can drink their blood.
For me the saptaparni is a natural air freshener. It sweetens the atmosphere in the bright and colourful festive season of Diwali and Dusshera. The saptaparni also heralds the coming of the winter season. The perfumed tree is the most favourite season of the year for the delhiites.