Cyclone Amphan did not spare the 270-year-old Great Banyan Tree in the Indian Botanic Garden in Shibpur, Howrah.
Wednesday’s cyclone ravaged its old prop roots leaving a gaping hole in the northwest corner of the tree, which stands over 4.67 acres. The tree is no stranger to cyclones and had lost its main trunk to two cyclones in 1864 and 1867.
“It has almost lost its identity as the tree with the biggest canopy,” senior scientist Basant Kumar Singh who reached the garden early to assess the damage said.
While cyclones Aila, Phani and Bulbul could do no major damage to this grandad of Shibpur, Cyclone Amphan has torn apart the clonal colony that appears like a dense forest rather than a single tree. The late 19th century cyclones damaged its main trunk and branches, which later led to the amputation of the main trunk in 1925 to keep the rest of the tree healthy.
Apart from the most attractive and most visited tree, the 273-acre botanic garden has lost other significant inhabitants. Of its 15,000 trees, more than 1,000 have been damaged and hundreds have been uprooted. “The only fully grown Kalpavriksha or Baobab tree (more than 100 years old) and the Mad Tree got uprooted,” Singh said.
The Kalpavriksha was the third most popular and visited tree in the garden after The Great Banyan Tree and The Double Coconut Tree. It is so named because of its gigantic shape. Hindus worship the tree as the “tree of heaven” or the “wish-fulfiling tree”. Mad Tree is a species in which no single leaf looks the same.
The Mahagony Avenue, where a road in the garden is lined with huge mahogany trees, the Bamboo setum, an area marked with bamboo trees, the Pinatum, a section for various types of pine trees and the Garden Nursery have all been damaged.
“Not a single part of the garden seems to have been spared,” garden director Kanak Das said. “Cyclone Amphan has totally devastated the botanic garden. A huge number of trees in almost all the divisions have either been uprooted or broken…. It will take at least four to five days to assess the loss.”