WHITE CHEESEWOOD

We Grow Forest Foundation
3 min readFeb 11, 2022

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White Cheesewood also known as Alstonia scholaris is a medium to a big tree with a tessellated corky grey to grey-white bark that grows up to 40 metres tall. It was named after Professor C. Alston, a botanist of Edinburgh. Scholars get its name because the wood is used in making school blackboards and wooden slats for children to write on. At periodic intervals, the trees become deciduous. They don’t flower whenever the leaves change, but only after considerable periods of dry weather. For wild bees, the big branches provide ideal nesting locations. Insects pollinate trees, which are often surrounded by butterflies and bees when flowering. Wind disperses the seeds, which have a tuft of silky hairs at each end when the fruits open on the tree. The tree is known by many names like Devil Tree, Indian Pulai, Blackboard Tree, Milkwood Pine, Dita Bark, Bitter Bark. The tree can be found throughout India, with flowers blooming in October or March.

Officials believe that the tree’s distinct odour may cause problems for asthma patients. Although ‘Alstonia Scholaris’ pollen has medicinal properties in ayurvedic medicine, it is exceedingly allergenic. It causes many issues for persons who already have a cold or asthma.

The tree Alstonia scholaris is supposed to have been used by the first Buddha called Tanhankara to achieve enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism. Buddhists believe there were 28 Buddhas who acquired refinement while sitting under a tree. There are various collections of trees associated with each Buddha. Alstonia scholaris was used by Tanhankara.

In Kerala, India, the Devil Tree is called Pala, Yakshippala, Daiva pala, or ezhilam pala. Ghosts, pretam, brahmarakshas, yakshi, which means goblins, elves, demons, and other evil spirits, are believed to be linked to the tree. It is considered suicidal to walk under the shadow of a pala tree at night. People are said to never return after walking or taking shelter under a pala tree at night.

The tree is known in Sanskrit as saptacchada, saptaparna, saptapatra, or saptapalasha. Sapta, which means “seven,” and parni, which means “leaves,” are two Sanskrit terms. As the name suggests, the leaves are usually seen in bunches of seven around the stem. They’re blunt, shiny, and generate symmetries that look like stars. The leaves last all year, with new flushes contrasting with older leaves in March and April and during the rainy season. The tree’s fruit looks like beans and comes in pairs.
According to the myth, evil spirits in the pala tree attack passers-by with dirt and round stones. Also, as the tree’s sap is milky, it’s a favoured habitat of deadly snakes. After biting a person, a cobra climbs up a pala tree branch and hangs its head down till the victim is dead. The tree’s trunk emanates a foul odour, which is attributed to the presence of wicked spirits.

Hindus never take down the pala tree since it is said to bring bad luck and ill health to the family. In the household compounds, the Pala tree is not growing. The Pala tree is the subject of countless legends. People claim to have observed gorgeous women sitting on the tree’s most vulnerable branch late at night. It is said that yakshi or pretam (female spirits) arrive in the shape of beautiful women eating pan (murukkan) under the Pala tree. Many men have come back to tell tales of ghosts leading them to the Pala tree. Many have been discovered dead the following day under the tree.

The trunk of a Pala tree at the eastern complex of Chottanikkara Bhagavathy temple, situated at Ernakulam, is covered in nails. Humans possessed by evil spirits are imprisoned in the Pala tree with nails.

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We Grow Forest Foundation

We Grow Forest Foundation is a non-profit organisation formed to foster a public understanding of the forest ecosystem.