(8) Afghanistan - Vegetable Kingdom. Afghan Trees. Afghan Plants. Afghan Flowers.
VEGETABLE KINGDOM. The characteristic distribution of vegetation on the mountains of Afghanistan is worthy of attention. the great mass of it is confined to the main ranges and their immediate offshoots, whilst on the more distant and terminal prolongations it is almost entirely absent; in fact, these are naked rock and stone.
Take, for example, the Safed Koh. On the alpine range itself and its immediate branches, at a height of 6000 to 10,000 feet, we have abundant growth of large forest trees, among which conifers are the most noble and prominent, such as Cedrus Deodara, Abies excelsa, Pinus longifolia, P. Pinaster, P. Pinea (the edible pine), and the larch. We have also the yew, the hazel, juniper, walnut wild peach, and almond. Growing under the shade of these are several varieties of rose, honeysuckle, currant, gooseberry, hawthorn, rhododendron, and a luxuriant herbage, among which the ranunculus family is important for frequency and number of genera. The lemon and wild vine are also her met with, but are more common on the northern mountains. The walnut and oak (evergreen, holly-leaved, and kermes) descend to the secondary heights, where they become mixed with alder, ash, khinjak, Arbor-vitoe, juniper, with species of Astragalus, &c. here also are Indigoferoe and dwarf laburnum.
Lower again, and down to 3000 feet, we have wild olive, species of rock-rose, wild privet, acacias and minosas, barbery, and Zizyphus; and in the eastern ramifications of the chain, Chamoerops humilis (which is applied to a variety of useful purposes), Bignonia or trumpet flower, sissu, Salvadora persica, verbena, acanthus, varieties of Gesmeore.
The lowest terminal ridges, especially towards the west, are, as has been said, naked in aspect. Their scanty vegetation is almost wholly herbal; shrubs are only occasional; trees almost nonexistent. Labiate, composite, and umbelliferous plants are most common. Ferns and mosses are almost confined to the higher ranges.
In the low brushwood scattered over portions of the dreary plains of the "Khorasan" table-lands, we find leguminous thorny plants of the papilionaceous sub-order, such as camel-thorn (Hedysarum Alhagi), Astragalus in several varieties, spiny rest-harrow (Onomis spinosa), the fibrous roots of which often serve as a tooth-brush; plants of the sub-order Mimoseoe, as the sensitive minosa; a plant of the Rue family, called by the natives lipad; the common worm-wood; also certain orchids, and several species of Salsola. The rue and wormwood are in general use as domestic medicines- the former for rheumatism and neuralgia; the latter in fever, debility, and dyspepsia, as well as for a vermifuge. The lipad, owing to its heavy nayseous odour, is believed to keep off evil spirits. In some places, occupying the sides and hollows of ravines, are found the rose bay (Nerium Oleander), called in Persian kahr-zarah, or assbane, the wild laburnum, and various Indigoferoe.
In cultivated districts the chief trees seen are mulberry, willow, poplar, ash, and occasionally the plane; but these are due to mans planting.
Uncultivated Products of Value. One of the most important of these is the gum-resin of Narthex assafoetida, which grows abundantly in the high and dry plains of Western Afghanistan, especially between Kandahar and Herat. The depot for it is Kandahar, whence it finds its way to India, where it is much used as a condiment. It is not so used in Afghanista, but the Seistan people eat the green stalks of the plant preserved in brine. The collection of the gum-resin is almost entirely in the hands of the Kakar clan of Afghans.
In the highland of Kabul edible rhybarb is an important local luxury. The plants grow wild in the mountains. The bleached rhubarb, which has a very delicate flavour, is altered by covering the young leaves, as they sprout from the soil, with loose stones or an empty jar. The leaf-stalks are gathered by the neighbouring hill people, and carried down for sale. Bleached and unbleached rhubarb are both largely consumed, both raw and cooked.
The walnut and edible pine-nut are both wild growths, which are exported.
The sanjit (Eloeagnus orientalis), common on the banks of water courses, furnishes an edible fruit. An orchis found in the mountains yields the dried tuber which affords the nutritious mucilage called salep; a good deal of this goes to India.
Pistacia khinjak affords a mastic. The fruit, mixed with in resin, is used for food by the Achakzais in Southern Afghanistan. The true pistachio is found only on the northern frontier, the nuts are imported from Badakhshan and Kunduz.
Mushrooms and other fungi are largely used as food, especially by the Hindus of the towns, to whom they supply a substitute for meat.
Manna, of at least two kinds, is sold in the bazaars. One, called turanjbin, appears to exude, in small round tears, from the camel thorn, and also from the dwarf tamarisk; the other, sir-kasht, in large grains and irregular masses, or cakes, with bits of twig imbedded, is obtained from a tree which the natives call siah chao (black wood), thought by Bellew to be a Fraxinus or Ornus.
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