Afghanii Boottii
Plantae Afghanicae

History

The ravages of Afghan Flora date back to the time of Alexander the Great, the Mongols and many others who had tried to conquer Afghanistan.  According to Raymond Furon*, archaeological studies show that once Seistan, which include part of Afghanistan, with its semi-arid climate seemed to be a region under full cultivation. This was due to its irrigation canals and dames. The destiny of the region had been changed then. First Mahmud of Ghazni, then Mongols, entered this region. Between 1200 and 1222, the conquest of Genghis Khan of Turkistan, eastern Iran, Balkh, Bamyan and Herat left thousands of deads and burned the stores of seeds. The policy of Mongols was to destroy the land. In 1380, Temur-e Lang in his turn took part in these destructions. He destroyed the irrigation canals and a dam named Band-e Rostam in Seistan.

After this human disaster, Seistan never recovered its beautiful greenery. Instead sand dunes covered the region.

Babur, the Prince and the Emperor, in His memory ‘Baburnama 1480-1530’, reminds us of the presence of the forest in the mountains south of Kabul and those of Baloot (Quercus baloot), Arghawan (Cercis griffithii Boiss.), and Panja Chinar (Platanus orientalis) in Khwaja Seyaran in Istalef district. 

Babur

Below the villages and a league or a league-and-half above the flatland in a hollow in the foothills is a spring called Khwaja Seyaran that is surrounded by three types of trees. Huge plane trees that give magnificent shade, and to either side ot the spring, on the hills at the base of the mountain, are many oak trees - these two oak groves are home to the only oaks in the mountains to the West of Kabul. In front of the spring, in the direction of the flatland, is a large grove of Judas trees - the only ones in the province. They say that these three sorts of trees - plane, oak and Judas - are miracles of the three saints for whom the spring is named. I had the spring surrounded with stonework plastered and (...). When the trees blossom, no place in the world equals it. In the foothills yellow Judas trees bloom together with the red ones. **



    Illustration Khwaja Seyaran spring in the vicinity of Kabul
    Sulaiman Hamid ***, 1978


The old oaks, Cercis griffithii and the spring still exist to this day in the site of Khwaja Seyaran, as we have seen during this summer of 2014:

Quercus_baloot_Griff
Old oaks near Khwaja Seyaran
Photo : M. Alam, July 2014

Quercus_baloot_feuilles
Leaves of the same tree at Khwaja Seyaran
Photo : M. Alam 2014

History_Spring_P1010643     History_spring_Paysage_P1010647
The spring at Khwaja Seyaran
Photos : M. Alam 2014

In 1958, Henry Pabot, a French plant collector, travelled to Istalef.
He collected the following specimen of Quercus baloot (evergreen oak, similar to Q. ilex.) in a cliff next to Istalef Hotel. He is not sure whether it was planted or growing naturally.

History_baloot_Pabot























Quercus baloot Griff.
Source : Conservatoire et jardin botaniques de la Ville
de Genève, Collection of H. Pabot, 1958

Unfortunately I couldn’t find this Hotel and it was unknown to local people.
He also witnessed the presence of Quercus baloot (baloot) in the mountains east of Kabul, Pistacia mutica (pesta wahshi) and Cercis griffithii (arghawan) in the hills around Kabul, whereas today these areas are completely denuded.

As mentioned by Riazi Herawi & al.**** the main reason for cutting the trees of Kabul and area around was to run the engines of Fabrika Nezami or military factory, in the last quarter of 19th century, to produce ammunitions. According to him the British occupiers deliberately encouraged their Afghan representatives in Kabul to build this factory as they wanted the mulberry trees cut, because their fruit was used as a source of nourishment by Afghan soldiers in making Talkhan, an Afghan local nourishing sweet made from walnut and white or black mulberry.

Since 1987, the destruction of Afghan Flora has been accelerated many folds. This is due to the endless war, the poverty and the ignorance of policy maker.

We now hear of stabilisation and rehabilitation of Afghanistan which will be based on creation of institutions and a legal system.
Documents witness the reforestation in certain regions. The programme has been undertaken by local and foreign NGO’s, supported by international communities and organisations.
We are welcoming these activities. For us the rehabilitation of fragile natural ecosystem of Afghanistan is a long period work and should be based on centralised national and scientific programme. In process of restoration the indigenous species should be given absolute priority. These species are not only our natural treasure but are of a great ecological value as a whole in the region.

Far away from Afghanistan we are not able to take practical steps on the subject but we share this tragedy with Afghans. We found useful to provide Afghans with literature on indigenous Flora of Afghanistan which is completely absent inside the country.

We had the chance to go through the enormous and rich materials on Flora of Afghanistan which are present abroad and have been kept in world’s famous libraries and plant museums. We have brought together a great number of viable information and release certain articles and a book on Trees and Shrubs of Afghanistan.

We have found necessary to transfer these materials and share them with Afghans inside the country. Individually it seems to be useless to carry on such a project. This is why we have decided to create the Association of AFGHANII BOOTTII / Plantae afghanicae.




References:

*    Raymond Furon, Le ravage du Séistan par les Mogols, L'Erosion du Sol, 1947, p. 74-78
**   The Baburnama, Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, Translated, edited and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston, The Modern Library New York, 2002, p. 162
***  Sulaiman Hamid (Ph.D.), Miniatures of Babur-Namah, Academy of Science of the Uzbek SSR, FAN Publishing House of the Uzbek SSR, Tashkent, 1978, p. 25
****  M. Yosuf Herawi & M. Asef Fekrat (1369), Aainul Waqaieh. Tarikh-e Afghanistan Dar Salhahie 12077-1324 Q. (1788-1905), p. 243-244