Characteristics of Sal Tree (Shorea robusta) in the Wild

Shorea robusta

Sal or Sakhua is a tree species native to the Indian subcontinent, from the southern Himalayas, eastern Myanmar, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. In India, its habitat extends from Assam, Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Shivalik Hill, and the eastern Yamuna.

In Nepal, sal trees are mostly found growing in the Terai region, especially on the Sivalik Hills in the subtropical climate zone. There are many protected areas, such as Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, and Shukla Phat Wildlife Reserve, where there are large forests of sal trees.

Sal tree is also known as Sakhua in northern India, other names also include Ral, Salwa, Sakhu, Sakher, Shal, Sal, Kandar, and Sakwa.

MISTAKE ABOUT SAL TREE
In Asia, the sal tree is often confused with the Cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis). Cannonball trees have been planted at Buddhist and Hindu sites in Asia in the belief that they are sal trees.

In Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other Theravada Buddhist countries, cannon trees are planted at Buddhist monasteries and religious sites.

In India, the cannon tree has been planted in the Shiva shrine and is called Shiv Kamal or Nagalingam because the flowers are said to resemble the Dragon's hood protecting Shiva's lingam.

An example of a cannon tree mistakenly named 'sal tree' is in the Pagoda of the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

In addition to the misinterpretation or misrepresentation of a sal tree with a cannon tree, a sal tree is also confused with the Japanese Stewartia tree (Stewartia pseudocamellia), which is called Shāra, by local people.

The Ashoka tree (Saraca indica) also contributes to confusion and is often said to be a sal tree.


Characteristics of Sal Leaf

Shorea robusta Leaf
Source : flickr.com/Shubhada Nikharge

The leaves are 10-25 cm long and 5-15 cm wide. In humid areas, the sal tree is green, but in dry areas or the dry season, the tree sheds its leaves, to be precise between February and April.


Characteristics of Sal Flower

Shorea robusta Flower
Source : flickr.com/Jeff Collman

The flowers stand on racemosa, the petals are finely veined from cream to yellowish color, and sometimes have a median pink stripe. Each flower is about 1-1.5 cm long.


Characteristics of Sal Fruit

Shorea robusta Fruit
Source : flickr.com/vajira sirimanne

The fruit has wings, 1.2 cm long, and has a stylus 1.2 cm long at the end. Sal fruit ripens from late May to July.


Characteristics of Sal Tree

Shorea robusta Tree
Source : flickr.com/Jeff Collman

The sal tree grows as a medium-sized tree, it can reach a height of 30-35 meters with a trunk diameter of up to 2.5 meters.


SAL TREE BENEFITS

The sal tree is considered important in India for its hard, durable wood texture. Due to the strength of the wood, salwood is often used for construction, especially in the manufacture of doors and windows.

Dried sal leaves are the main source for the production of the leaf plate known as Patravali in northern and eastern India.

Segarnaya leaves are used to serve fast food (processed betel) and snacks.

The sap of the sal tree is used as an ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, is burned as incense in Hindu ceremonies, and is used for caulking in canoes and boats.

Sal seeds and fruits are a great source of vegetable fatty oils. The oil from the extracted sal seeds can be used as cooking oil after going through the refining process.

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