The beautiful Java Olive

Long long ago, when things on this li'l blue planet were relatively pollution-free, there was a tall and graceful tree. It had an aesthetic looking grey trunk, and bore bunches of small, delicate flowers and whopping big red fleshy seed pods the shape of romantic hearts. These flowers spread a heady scent that attracted all kinds of birds and animals to it. It soon received the 'most favored flora' status from the heavenly beings for its beauty and fragrance. So much so that it became very smug. Also the other comparatively dowdy looking trees were feeling the heat, and went to meet the Lord of the Jungles (No not from the movie, the real McCoy, probably Pan). This God then hummed, hawed, stroked his bearded chin, and considered the situation. The tree lobby was quite pushy. He tried talking to the tree but it would not listen. Out-argued, he then put a curse upon the tree. From then onwards it could keep its beautiful looks but its flowers would emit a stinky smell. That itself would cut it down to size. The other trees went away satisfied, to commiserate with this now miserable arbre about what had happened.

Alright, this story is concocted by meself, but ah, you get the gist!

On my recent visit to a Konkan village I came across beautiful seed pods while taking a walk along one of its narrow winding lanes. The red was so vivid as to make one stop and take notice. Closer up, and ignoring the mosquitoes, I found round grey seeds that had fallen out of the burst pods. Grey and red- what a lovely color combination! After a bit of looking around in the canopy of betel and coconut palms, I saw the tree. Tall and stately with a light grey trunk and a very pleasing foliage arrangement. Known as Jungli Badam in Marathi, this is the Java Olive, or to sound more erudite, Sterculia foetida. Foetida indicates the stinky smell this tree and its flowers emit.
Originally from East Africa and North Australia. Grows abundantly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and South and West coast of India. To compensate for its stink, the tree makes itself useful. Its seeds can be toasted and eaten. The oil comes in handy for medicinal purposes. The timber is used for furniture and the bark for rope.

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