The Kachnar tree (Bauhinia variegata), or the orchid tree or even the mountain ebony tree has many uses in Pakistan where it is a native species. Where it is planted in urban areas, such as in Islamabad, it helps combat air pollution caused by traffic fumes and, if planted on arable land, provides some shade, but not enough to deprive crops of the sunlight, and since it has long roots, it does not compete with them for water. Its roots can descend to the depths of low water tables. One of its other benefits on farmland is that it balances the nitrogen content in the soil, which may have increased due to the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers in the past.
However, I especially like this tree for its edible buds and flowers. For three to four weeks in spring, you can feast on flower buds, cooked with meat or as main ingredients in a vegetable dish with lots of spices, tomatoes, onions and garlic. It has a taste reminiscent of liver, but with a slight floral undertone, which is absolutely delicious. The French call this tree Bois de Boeuf, probably because of its meaty flavor.
I found it in the local greengrocers, and they very kindly told me how to cook it to perfection. He had bought it from young children from poor families who could earn an income by selling flower buds at this time of year. It must take hours to collect a kilo of these buds, as they are tiny, but only a few months ago they were in abundance. Flowers are also good when made with other ingredients in pakoras, although you do have to pick your own flowers and use them quickly, so any recipe for their use must start with the words, find a Kachnar tree first. Fortunately, there is one growing near my cottage, so it was not very difficult to find a flowering tree.
In the state of Florida, the orchid tree is considered a pest, one of the imported species that causes a lot of damage to the environment and the ecosystem to which they are not indigenous. If you live in Florida and have some Kachnar trees near you, take advantage of them and cook their very tasty buds.
The paper mulberry tree was imported into Pakistan because it was growing rapidly (so is the Kachnar) and because it could help combat air pollution in Islamabad. This tree has caused more damage than the indigenous kachnar tree, as when pollen is released, people suffer from respiratory diseases caused by it. There have been calls to cut down these exotic trees and the government and municipal authorities have committed to doing so, but so far they have not been cut down.
Paper mulberry may be ornamental, but it has no edible parts and has proven to be a nuisance rather than a help. It’s a shame that too often people want the exotic instead of the ordinary. In this case, such a preference has caused environmental and health problems.