A reader asked about a tree in the Great Indian (or Thar) Desert in Rajasthan, India. Khejari (Prosopis cineraria), also called kandi, khejri, jand, and ghaf, among many others, is found mainly in the dry and arid deserts of India, where annual rainfall is 10-20 inches. Khejari are found on plains and in ravines, rarely in the hills. In these areas, there can be wild temperature extremes, ranging from 104-114 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade to less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, when frosts are not uncommon.
Image courtesy of Dr. Erick C.M. Fernandes, Cornell University
Khejari is frost-resistant, but the main reason that it’s important is because of its drought resistance. Thirsty vegetation need not bother showing their wimpy faces around these parts! There aren’t that many woody plants found in the Thar; most vegetation is herbaceous, or scrubby shrubs and bushes. Khejari is the one of the few trees found in the Thar for this reason.
Goats, sheep, cattle, and camels like to graze on it, and it’s tough enough to withstand their snacking. (Khejari do not have a cushy life.) In fact, it’s the preferred plant species for livestock grazing in the area, and it provides grazing animals (and people) with shade. All parts of the tree are of medicinal value to the local population.
Unfortunately, deserts are not static landscapes–they spread because of the demands of increased human populations, agriculture, and grazing animals, and increasingly due to the rise in the Earth’s temperatures. Rural communities can improve their fields and rangelands by growing Khejari, therefore combating desertification.
Khejari’s diversity make it a valuable “companion” to agricultural crops. Khejari is a nitrogen fixer, which means it improves soil quality by making nitroen in the soil more available to other plants. Its leaves further improve the soil by adding organic matter. With a taproot that can extend more than 100 feet deep and an extensive root mass , khejari helps stabilize the sandy desert soil and shifting sand dunes. It can serve as a windbreak, protecting farms from strong desert winds, and its wood is excellent for firewood and charcoal.
Khejari is a symbol of sustainable socio-economic development the arid Indian deserts. For this reason, it’s the February Tree of the Month. (A feature that I just made up.)