KARACHI, July 13: The greenery and plantation on road dividers or borders are okay but even in people’s homes plants and trees are planned only to compliment the landscaping rather than to get fresh fruits in their season.
There are hardly any fruit trees grown in homes now. Almost every home in the city with a garden in the 1970s and before that boasted mango, coconut and banana trees. But go to a house today with a nice and neat garden and you will find no such trees though there would be plenty of flowering plants, expensive cacti, bonsai, rockeries, maybe a small pond with water lilies, etc.
Ask them what happened to the coconut tree and they will most probably say that the random fall of coconuts from the palm was becoming dangerous as it could have fallen on anyone’s head. Well, okay, where is that shady mango tree? The neighbourhood children were aiming the tree with stones for the kairis and were also breaking windows. For the banana trees, they usually say that the trees were getting unmanageable and a bit of a mess so they were pulled out. And if there are still fruit trees in the houses, their value is somewhat lost and taken for granted. A house with a jamun tree usually has the overripe fruit from that tree strewn all over the lawn and ground. Who has the time to gather the fruit from the tree and store it? So there is a mess. Similar is the case of mulberry trees.
Preparing a meat dish, especially on Eid-ul-Azha, my grandmother would often ask us to get her a raw papaya from the little tree in the lawn. Now we use meat tenderizer or head to the green grocer for a raw papaya. Herbs like coriander and mint were grown in small flower pots for the housewives’ convenience in every house but a trip to the market is due for that as well now.
Karachi is blessed with warm and humid weather that promotes growth of various fruit trees, some of which the people don’t even know of. Banana, mango, coconut, dates, mulberries, guava, papaya, jamun, sapota (chikoo), custard apple, almonds and watermelons, everyone knows about. But did you also know that grapes, grapefruit, blue berries (falsa), strawberries, pineapple and even cashew nuts do quite well here?
According to well-known horticulturist A.K. Khan, there used to be a garden of big grapes, both red and yellow at Pakistan Quarters at the Lawrence Road crossing during the pre-Partition days. The founder of the Horticulture Society of Pakistan was then posted as the KMC horticulturist with his office at Gandhi Garden, which also had grape creepers and climbers of both kinds. Though one can hardly find any grapes there now (they were there until the early 1970s), Karachi’s weather still suits the fruit growth. “But these are the big variety of grapes with seeds. They are American, actually. The more popular, Sundarkhani, grapes grow in the upper country,” the horticulturist explains.
Mr Khan’s son, Salman Khan, a landscape consultant and member of Horticulture Society of Pakistan, says, “Like lemon and lime, grapefruit, too, can grow very well in Karachi though you can’t grow any other fruit in the citrus family here. The reason for this is that Karachi’s humid air suits it well. The rest do well in cold and dry weather.”
He also points to the pomegranate and says that it can also grow in Karachi. “But not the regular big ones, the kind that can grow in this kind of tropical weather is small, the size of a ping pong ball. It requires sandy soil, too, and is not a tree but a shrub,” he says.
Lamenting the dying trend of growing fruit trees in homes, Mr Salman points towards the flies and other insects that they invite. “It is difficult to maintain the tree or plant that bears fruit due to this so people don’t welcome the hassle,” he says. “Then some trees also have thorns like the jungle jalebi,” he adds.
“The creeper for watermelons needs big land for the fruit size and weight doesn’t allow it to climb up a wall or grill. So it spreads on the ground,” he says.
“Would you believe that cashew nuts grow in Karachi?” shares Yameen Ahmed of Sailor’s Nursery. “At least one house in Karachi, in Defence phase-I, has a cashew nut tree. And the people in that house were also surprised to know about its presence. It just grew on its own by accident in a flower pot, and the lady of the house curious about the fruit on the tree happened to taste the raw fruit to realise what it was,” he says. “Now it is a big 12-foot-high tree after being replanted in the ground,” he adds.
“Strawberries can also be grown in Karachi. The strawberry plant resembles a salad-like bush and to help it stay healthy you only need to give it a little bit of chemical fertiliser after every 15 days … just eight to nine granules,” he says. The nursery owner shares an interesting fact that a very popular supermarket in Clifton sells fresh pineapple. “People believe that it is imported from Malaysia or some other foreign country but all that pineapple has actually been grown in Karachi,” he says. “It is easy to grow pineapple. All you have to do is take the cone on top of the fruit and bury it eight- to 10-centimetre deep in the soil,” he ends.