The Indian Forester, 4: 345-347 (April, 1879)

Seedlings of Duabanga on old Charcoal Kilns
J. S. Gamble, M.A., F.L.S.

Officiating Conservator of Forests, Bengal

While lately going through the Bamunpokri Plantation in the Darjeeling Terai, I was much astonished to find every here and there a small patch of seedlings of the Duabanga tonneratioides. This tree, the Lampattia of Nepal, Kochan of Assam, Baichua of Chittagong, and Myoukgnau of Burma, belongs to the natural order of Lythrarieae, and is readily distinguished in the forest by its large, curving, pendulous branches, with opposite, large, sessile leaves and terminal, big, fleshy flowers. But it is only lately that it has at all come into notice as being of any value. In Burma it is very little used, almost never in Chittagong. Mr. Mann, in his Assam List of 1872-73, speaks of it as having an inferior timber, sometimes used for canoes, and occasionally for ordinary domestic purposes, so that in reality it is only in the Darjeeling District that its value is recognized and its timber sought after. In 1874-75 it began first to be in demand for tea boxes. Up to that time planters had drawn their supplies from the large Toon trees of the hills, which they then found beginning to become rarer and rarer, and only to be discovered in more and more inaccessible spots. Looking about for woods which might easily replace Toon, Lampattia was hit upon, partly at the suggestion of the Forest Officers, partly by the advice of the Nepalese coolies, who well knew the value of the wood in their native forests. And so it was tried, and one by one the old trees, both on private estates and to a certain extent also in the Government forests, whence in the four years ending April 1878, Lampattia trees to the value of Rs. 2,600 were extracted, shared the fate of the Toon, and were found to be getting more and more scarce. There is still, however, plenty of the wood, and as the seedlings come up profusely on the banks of rivers and in cleared spots where the soil has been turned up, there is no fear of the supply getting very short.

But to return to the patches at Bamunpokri: It has been the practice, while clearing dead wood as well as useless, old, badly-shaped and soft-wooded trees from the plantation, to sell to a neighbouring planter all this refuse material. The planter usually carried away to his factory the best pieces for fuel for his engine, and converted the rest into charcoal. Dotted about, therefore, over the plantation are the sites of old charcoal kilns, with, of course, a large quantity of refuse, charcoal dust, and burnt earth, and upon examination it turned out that it was on these sites that the Lampattia seedlings had come up in such profusion. Now, there would be nothing strange in this if the Lampattia were a common tree in the locality, but it is not so. The Bamunpokri Plantation consists of two plateaux, each with a gentle slope towards the south, and connected with each other by a rather steep hill side. The upper plateau is covered with dense high forest of big timber; the lower is the plantation, and was probably, in the days before júm cultivation was known, a Sál forest. The slope between them is dry, with a southern aspect, and grows little beyond a few Sál and a good deal of the Rhododendron-flowered Kuchnar. But at the sides of the plateaux run rivers, which meet below, and on the banks of these rivers are forests of large trees of the more moisture-loving kinds, and it is there that the Lampattia is found. Clearly then, the seed, which is very light and slightly winged, must have been brought by the wind from the river-banks, from a distance of nowhere less than half a mile, and scattered over the lower plateau, germinating only on the old charcoal kilns, the locality where it found its most favourable conditions. It is strange, however, that it should not have germinated elsewhere on the plateau. The soil, rich with the ashes of countless jungle fires, and only recently turned up by the hoe, would, one would have thought, have been very favourable for the germination; but no, it chose out in preference the old charcoal kilns, so that, wherever such are found, one can safely predict a crop of fine strong-growing Lampattia seedlings.

Advantage has been taken of this peculiarity to make nurseries with charcoal kiln earth and attempt to grow Lampattia plantation. The seed has often been sown before with every care, but has only partially succeeded, and it is pleasing to find at last some prospect at success.

The tree grows extremely fast, very straight and strong when young, becoming in a few years' time fit for poles, and probably in about 40 years fit for tea-box scantling. It has, usually, 5 rings per inch of radius, corresponding to 6 feet in girth at the age of 57 years. There is, therefore, no doubt that it should be encouraged, quite as much as the Pithecolobium Saman, the Prosopis or the Argan tree of Marocco.

The wood is of a light brown colour, streaked with darker brown and yellow; it is rather light and open-grained, but is durable, makes fine planking and does not warp. It is highly prized for canoes, and is now considered by some as good as Toon for making tea-boxes.