Monoon longifolium: Mast tree

Family: Annonaceae
Common name: Mast tree, False ashoka, Polyalthia longifolia, Buddha tree, Green champa, Telegraph pole tree, Indian fir tree, Cemetery tree, Aranamaram

Rows of Mast trees lining long avenues and borders of gardens is a sight to behold, with their tall trunks and symmetrical columns of droopy leaves. They are medium-sized trees that can grow to a height of 10 meters with willowy branches that grow symmetrically.

If left unpruned, the tree grows as a single-trunked tall structure that looks very majestic. But this also makes the tree sway a lot, and break in strong winds. It is possible to prune the Mast tree into desired shapes so that they don’t become very tall.

The bark is thick, smooth and brown in color. This makes it an ideal tree to make ship masts, giving the tree its name Mast tree. Leaves are smooth, glossy, dark green with distinct wavy margins. Tender leaves are copper-brown in color, later turning light green and then dark green. Mast tree leaves are alternately arranged and about 20-30 centimeters long.

The tree also produces very beautiful yellowish-green flowers, that resemble the flowers of White champaka or Magnolia × alba, but are more greener. Mast trees bloom profusely for 2-3 weeks, when the tree is covered with delicate, star-shaped, pale green flowers with thin petals.

The flowers then turn into bunches of fruits which are initially green, later turning purple black. Each fruit contains a single brown seed that is about 2 cms long. These fruits are the favorite food for bats and birds, especially the Koel bird.

Though the tree produces plenty of seeds that are dispersed by birds, they are not seen outside of cultivation. These trees are drought-tolerant and need very little maintenance once they are established in the soil.

Mast trees are grown in gardens, public spaces, roadsides and parks lining the borders or as accent plants. These trees are considered sacred in India and Srilanka, and are planted around temples and religious places.

The leaves are used for decorations during Hindu festivals, made into wreaths and hung on doors. They also have some medicinal uses in treatment of fever, worms, skin diseases, hypertension and diabetes.

Propagation is through seeds.

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