A little girl in India in the 70’s during Christmas times always asked her mom why the Christmas tree in India different than the ones shown in the pictures of Christmas celebration in other parts of the world. Mother tried many times but a young mind could not understand the green message her explanation had. Though Christianity came to India in first century AD but the celebrations of early Christmas in India are not documented. The present traditions of its celebration were brought during the British rule of India where the addition of a tree in the celebrations was centuries later than the original Christmas.
Indians always have been lovers of nature and it reflected in their celebrations too. Coming back to the confusion of the young girl- ‘A potted living plant for a Christmas tree.’ Her mother always explained that living plant can be used for many years, it cleans air, repels insects and will reduce cutting of trees. A very green tradition of Indian Christmas. This type of Christmas tree was very popular in India till artificial plants came into market. People used to have this particular evergreen potted plant in their gardens, verandas’ or balconies. During Christmas it was decorated and kept inside. Lovers of artificial plants and decorations would always argue that synthetic trees can be used for several years, won’t require any maintenance and also avoid cutting down big trees but they forget one big downside-the composition of these trees is less than eco-friendly from the making to disposing it. Though synthetic ones can be used for several years no one would like to decorate a faded and weathered plastic plant after sometime.
The plant which was used for this purpose was Morpankhi (Thuja orientalis) a common bush also known as mayurpankhi belonging to the cypress family. A densely branched evergreen conifer it can grow 16 metres tall but is usually grown as a smaller, bushier shrub. The overall shape is conical. It has a straight reddish brown trunk with bushy branches which adorns sticky green cones. The leaves and the cones are highly aromatic and are recommended in various aromatherapies. Sap of the green cones is used as a sedative for cough and cold in hills. Boiled in water these cones provide blood circulation enhancer, stimulator and treatment of haemorrhoids. Giant squirrels feast on the dried cones. Its oils are mosquito repellents. Many villagers squash and rub the seeds on their skin to keep away mosquitoes. It’s also used in spa treatments. Homeopathy uses tincture made from its leaves in skin and hair care.
Tibetans believe that the smoke of dry cypress leaves summons holy sprits and use it in their chants. Western countries plant it in cemeteries as it’s considered the plant of the ‘God of Death’. Frankly when traditions and believes match there must be a logical reason and in this case my soul gets recharged by its smell only.
Cypress trees can be potted and made a houseplant too. Cypress trees help to moisturize the air and contribute to keeping it clean. They also release up to one liter of water a day which greatly increases humidity in the air. Much needed for dry winter days.
One of the best things about this particular tree that I like is that it grows very fast and needs very little maintenance. Grazing animals don’t damage it making it very popular for tree plantation campaigns. Being a very adapting plant it grows well in pots as well as on soil. It is sometimes used to form hedges, as it tolerates pruning.
It is found abundantly in hilly regions in India and grows well in cold weather (see photo). But I found it growing nicely in warm humid climate on the beaches of Goa last year (see photo). May be GOD decided to spread its benefits to the coastal people too. What’s stopping us to revert back to this green Christmas tree.