Tree of the month: khejari (Prosopis cineraria)

by Caroline Brown

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.)

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16 Comments to “Tree of the month: khejari (Prosopis cineraria)”

  1. That is a great idea – you can showcase a tree each month! I’ve never heard of this tree before – does it ever sound rugged! Do you know of any programmes to have this tree introduced into desert areas that could benefit from this tree?

  2. I also meant to ask how your Bougainvillea is doing …

  3. Excellent contribution for all people interested in combating desertification. I have republished the major part of this article on my blog, making reference to your splendid blog too (let’s work hand in hand !). I will be looking for more publications concerning plants for gardening or earth friendly greening. Congratulations.

  4. Hi Kate, I had never heard of it either (even though my mom is from India)–a reader asked me if I could find the name of it. In my research I did read about efforts to plant khejari in India where it is native as a way to combat desertification. I wonder about introducing it in other desert areas as well but maybe there are invasion issues to consider.

    The bougainvillea is doing fine. ? I hope. All the bracts are gone and it looks a bit threadbare, but it has sprouted new ones. And the leaves aren’t dropping off so I think it’s OK. I feel as if it should be pruned and I need to investigate if this is proper.

    Dr. Vat Cotthem, thank you for introducing your excellent site.

  5. Very interesting…I am not familiar with this species. Has anyone grown it in the US?

    More “trees of the month!” Maybe you would like to feature this one http://jessemilton.blogspot.com/2006/11/giant-pecan-tree-still-going-strong.html

  6. this tree is really a boon for arid inhabitants whether for man or animals or nature. this worship tree is lifeline of desert inhabitants.

  7. That is a good think, because i am living in Desert places in Rajasthan their is native place in Khejari (Prosopis cineraria). i want to contribute some history of Khejari plant. so please give me more detail in what is procedure.

  8. This is wonderful tree in the thar desert of india and lifeline tree species of this area. But in last couple of years, this tree is facing survivility problem. We should work for this serious problem.

  9. hi,
    iam in california . i want to plant this tree in my garden.where ican find this tree seed or tree i us.
    thankyou.

  10. i have sweet memories for this tree. there was a big khejri tree on our farmland in Haryana. it was in 1968 we cultivated our farmland ourselves consecutively for 4-5 years since 1968, as my Dad (an IAF Police officer) got posting at Jorhat,Assam and we had to stay at our village. i was in 9th standard, during farming hours we sit under that tree for our lunch, for rest and for making and drinking tea.as it was a big tree 1n 1969 during famine when there was not any crop because of deficit rainfall, we harvested its branches for green fodder for our cow, it helped us for green fodder a lot in such a dry-season. i myself used to prune its branches and cut lunga (green small leaves on the branches) and cut it with chaff-cutter we used to mix the green fodder in dry fodder to feed our cow. i still remember i hurriedly climbed up on that tree with a small hoe in my hand and cut down its branches, and immediately came down to collect them and made bundles of branches and carry the head-loads of bundles to our house in village. my mom and my younger sister accompanied me for this work.the old khejri tree is still there, but the field is now allotted to my younger uncle. ours share of farmland is just adjacent to that tree.

  11. We have its cousin all over Texas – we call it mesquite.

  12. The Thar Desert in India is full of ironies-one of them being the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. The Bishnois worship nature in all its manifestations. Not the ripe, yielding nature of ancient pagan societies, but the ruthless and demanding desert.

    Amrita Devi was a Bishnoi woman who, along with more than 366 other Bishnois, died saving trees. About 200 years back, Maharaja Abhay Singh of Jodhpur required wood for his palace. So he sent his soldiers to cut trees. Amrita Devi and other villagers hugged the ranches while the soldiers chopped them down with the trees. This is still remembered as the great Khejarli sacrifice.

    In fact the name of that tree was Khejari (prosopis cineraria) and after this incident that village was called Khejarli in the memory of those who died. In their story we can see something of the true spirit of ecology, or love for the Earth, which has been so lacking in the 200 years since.

  13. The Thar Desert in India is full of ironies-one of them being the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. The Bishnois worship nature in all its manifestations. Not the ripe, yielding nature of ancient pagan societies, but the ruthless and demanding desert.

    Amrita Devi was a Bishnoi woman who, along with more than 366 other Bishnois, died saving trees. About 200 years back, Maharaja Abhay Singh of Jodhpur required wood for his palace. So he sent his soldiers to cut trees. Amrita Devi and other villagers hugged the ranches while the soldiers chopped them down with the trees. This is still remembered as the great Khejarli sacrifice.

    In fact the name of that tree was Khejari (prosopis cineraria) and after this incident that village was called Khejarli in the memory of those who died. In their story we can see something of the true spirit of ecology, or love for the Earth, which has been so lacking in the 200 years since.jayashree.datta@yahoo.co.in

  14. The name of the vllage is Khejrali,instead of Khejarli.

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