Kachnar is the local Indian name for a variety of medium size deciduous trees of the Bauhinieae plant family found in Haryana. The botanical name of Kachnar being bauhinia, important tree members there of are bahanmia variegate, B. retusa, B. Malabarica, B. racemosa, etc. As these trees have a lot of similarity we take B. variegata, the Kachnar proper, as a representative of this group. The Kachnar tree is also known by local names like Karal, Kanalla, Kandla, etc. It is an ornamental tree with drooping branches. It produces a rich harvest of mauve and white blossoms, that resemble orchid flowers, in February-March.
Indian subcontinent has a good representation of these nearly akin trees and or shrubs. About 12 species of this genus are found in India. In addition, about 30 members of the group are climbers. These plants are easily recognized by the peculiar shape of their leaves, each constituting of two identical halves, folded at the midrib. Open the fold and spread the two halves on a plain surface, the figure so projected would look like the impression of a camelís foot.
Starting from Burma in the East, this plant has its natural habitat almost up to Afghanistan in the West. It starts from the foot of the middle Himalayas, is found growing in suitable locales in southern states too. Kachnar grows best at altitudes ranging from 300 m to 1,000 m.
Kachnar comes up naturally in a good number and with a comparative ease, both in forests as well as agricultural holdings. It bears beautiful, white to pinkish flowers in the early spring, when the tree, being deciduous, is more or less leafless. Young buds of the Kachnar flowers are picked for a variety of tasty broth and pickles. The leaves form a very potent fodder. These are generally lopped, economically and systematically for milch cattle.
The plant bears pod-like fruit during early summer. These become red on ripening by beginning of autumn, when seed can be collected for nursery operations, where necessary. The Kachnar tree has nearly half-an-inch thick bark, dark brown in color, having vertical cracks. When given a cut the cambium dispels a gum having limited medicinal value, rich in proteins, but seldom exploited commercially.
Bauhinias as a genus are beautiful flowering plants. Various species flower at different times of the year. Accordingly, different species have been planted in a particular avenue at the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, in such a scheme that the stretch has one bauhinia or the other in inflorescence for most part of the year.
Kachnar wood is red in color, with red and or black streaks near the core. Weighing nearly 22 to 25 kg per cubic foot, its fairly hard in texture and is generally used for agricultural implements, in addition to firewood. The Kachnar is a good species for planting in open wastes as well as vacant dividing butts and bunds of agricultural holdings. The new crop can be raised by direct sowing of the seed before monsoon or by raining seedling in polythene bags in a central nursery having irrigation facility.
To promote the planting of Kachnar tree, the government forest departments provide Kachnar seedlings at subsidized rates. Accordingly, people interested in covering their fallow land, having rich fodder for their dairy cattle, or beautifying their drive-ways and landscape or otherwise enriching the environment, should grow this species of considerable economic value.