By Surendra R Joshi and Hermann Pechhacker, Institut für Bienenkunde, Austria
The Indian butter tree provides abundant nectar for honeybees and is a major source of honey in Nepal. Nectar secretion per flower per day is recorded at 40.65 ±8.13 mg. Sugar concentration in this nectar is recorded at up to 42%. As a rich source of nectar, coupled with a long blooming period, Indian butter tree has a major role in honey production. In the low hill areas of Nepal, beekeepers can harvest honey two or three times during the blooming period. Beekeeping is most common in areas where Indian butter trees are abundant. Highly recommended for beekeeping-oriented, multi-purpose plantations.
Aesandra butyracea (Roxb) Baehni (Syn: Bassia butyracea (Roxb) or Madhuca butyracea Roxb Macbride)
Indian butter tree is locally known as “Chiuri” in Nepal. In Hindi it is called “Madhuca”, and in Sanskrit “Madhupushpa”, which translates into English as “honey tree” or “honey flower”.
It is distributed throughout the sub-tropical forests of the Himalayan region from the Kumaon Hills of India to Bhutan. It is found widely distributed in the hills of Nepal ranging from 500 to 2000 m above sea level.
Indian butter tree is a slow growing, medium sized tree attaining a height of 20-30 m.
Bark: dark grey or brownish and slightly fissured.
Flowers: The flowers are creamy white, long stalked, usually crowded in fascicles on the leafy axis and have a soft, sweet aroma. The number of flowers per fascicle varies from 50 to 72. Each flower is 2.64 cm in diameter, and has 10-15 petals and 36-45 stamens.
Pollen grains: medium-sized (36.6 ± 9µ in diameter) round, mostly tetracolporate; some are tricolporate with granular exine sculpture.
Flowering: a long flowering period beginning in September and lasting to February.
Indian butter tree is among the few plants from which a sweetening material can be harvested without the aid of honeybees. People in the western part and Chepang tribes in central Nepal shake the flowers to collect nectar. This nectar after prolonged steaming is made into sugar candy, locally called “gur”. This sugar candy is very rich in pollen. The total number of pollen grains per gram of candy were counted at 83,500. It is highly prized for its nutritive value and is also used to cure several diseases including stomach disorder, and fever. The ripened seeds of Indian butter tree yield fat which is used as a substitute for butter and oil. The oil content of the seed is about 55-60%. The oil is also used as a base for face cream, and as an ointment to ease rheumatism, paralysis, sprains and contusions. The oil or butter contains palmitic acid which soothes itches, chapped lips, hands and feet, particularly during winter. The oil is also used for illumination as it give a smokeless flame. After extracting the oil from the seed, the remaining cake is used as fertiliser.
The collection of the flowers’ nectar for making “gur” and seed collection for its oil extraction provides temporary work for some people. Dabur India Limited (Nepal) has recently appointed some local agents for seed collection. There is always a good demand for butter or oil and farmers earn a good amount from its sale.
Indian butter tree is considered to be a good soil binder and could be of immense value for promoting soil conservation. The tree also yields timber and fuelwood. The wood is hard, strong and durable and is used in making windows, doors and furniture. The leaves provide excellent quality fodder for cattle. Understanding these values, the lopping of trees for fodder gathering and cutting of trees for wood is prohibited in some districts. People have started conserving and planting this species near the villages.
Indian butter tree provides habitat and food for a large number of animals and insects. Monkeys and small children shake the flowers and collect nectar for drinking. A large number of wasps, hornets and other insects are found collecting nectar and sometimes predating on bees. Out of 50 trees in Dadeldhura District in Nepal two trees contained huge nests of wasps.
AWASTHI,P R (1994) Bahuguni Chiuri (Multipurpose Chiuri). Bataidi, Nepal. In Nepali.
CRANE,E (1997) Harvesting sweet material from plants without the aid of honey storing insects. Bee World 78 (3): 108-114.
KAFLE,G P (1979) Adharbhut Maurialan [Elementary beekeeping]. Rupayan Press, Kathmandu, Nepal. In Nepali.
PARTAP,U (1997) Bee flora of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya Region: inventory and management. ICIMOD, Kathmandu, Nepal.
SHARMA,L P (1995) Reconciling conservation and development in the hills of Nepal; problems and prospects of apiculture in Jajarkot District, mid western Nepal. Msc Dissertation, AIT, Bangkok, Thailand.
[Bees for Development Jounal #50]