The ravages of Afghan Flora date back to the time of the Alexander the Great, Mongols and the other who have tried to conquer Afghanistan. According to Raymond Furon (1898-1986), archaeological studies show that once Sistan, which includes 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 has changed then. First Mahmoud of Ghazni, then Mongols entered this region. Between 1200 and 1222, the conquest by Genghis Khan of Turkistan, eastern Iran, Balkh, Bamyan and Herat has left thousands of dead and burned stores of seeds. The policy of the Mongols was to destroy the land. In 1380, Timur-e Lang (also called Timur the Lame or Tamerlane) in his turn took part in these destructions. He destroyed the irrigation canals and a dam named Band-e Rostam in Sistan.*

After this human disaster Sistan has never seen its beautiful greenery any more. Instead sand dunes covered the region.

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

Khwaja Seyaran spring in the vicinity of Kabul,
from Miniatures of Babur-Namah, p. 25.

“Below the village 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 surroundered by three types of trees. Huge plane trees that give magnificent shade and to either side of the spring, on the hill at the base of the mountain, are the only oak trees – these two oaks groves are home to the only oaks in the mountains to the west of Kabul. In front of the spring, in direction of flatland, is a large grove of Judas trees – the only one in the province. They say that these three sort of trees – plane, oak and Judas – are miracles of three saints from 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 foothill yellow Judas trees bloom together with the red ones.”

Years of Babur (1483-1530) From : The Baburnama, 1996, by the Smithsonian Institution. ***

During my visit to Istalif in 2013, we asked for Khwaja Seyaran Shrine (Shrine of the Three Friends) in Charikar, capital city of Parwan province. Unfortunately, we have been misled to the tomb of Khwaja Hassan, which has been surrounded by young Arghawans (Cercis griffithii Boiss.).

Khwaja Hassan. Photo: H. Himmat, 2013.

In 2014 once more we had tried to find this famous site. This time we had succeeded. Here are some scenes from the site:

The site extended upward from the old trees of Q. baloot Griff. Photo: M. Alam, 2014.
Khwaja Seyaran, the old trees of Q. baloot Griff. Photo: H. Himmat, 2014.
Leaves of the mentioned oaks. Photo: M. Alam, 2014.
The water streams towards the east not far away from the two Q. baloot Griff. Photo: M. Alam, 2014.
M. Alam climbing from the spring. Photo: H. Himmat, 2014.

From the opposite side which is easily accessible, the inhabitants of Seyaran and nearby villages take their drinking water.

The opposite side of the spring. Photo: M. Alam, 2014.

Concerning Cercis grifithii Boiss., we had seen an old tree, in position south not far away from the oaks. We didn’t enter the site not to disturb the inhabitants, as it was surrounded by small houses. 

We had not seen any tree of platan (Platanus orientalis L.) in the site.

In 1958, Henry Pabot travelled to Istalif. He collected the following specimen of Q. baloot Griff. (evergreen oak, near to Q. ilex L.) on a cliff near to the Istalif Hotel. He is not sure whether it was planted or growing naturally. Unfortunately we couldn’t find this Hotel and it was unknown to local people.

Quercus baloot Griff. Source: Conservatoire et jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève,
Collection of H. Pabot, 1958. Photo: M. Alam, 2008.

Henry Pabot also witnessed the presence of Quercus baloot Griff. in the mountains east of Kabul, Pistacia mutica Fisch & C.A. Mey. (pesta wahshi) and Cercis griffithii Boiss. (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 the area around the city was to run the engines of Fabrika Nezami (a military factory) during the last quarter of the 19th century, for production of 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 (a local sweet made from walnuts and mulberries).

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

We hear of stabilisation and rehabilitation of Afghanistan which will be based on the 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 this process of restoration the indigenous species should be given absolute priority. These species are not only our natural treasure but are of a great ecologic value as a whole in the region.

Far away from Afghanistan we were not able to take practical step on the subject but we shared this tragedy with Afghans. We found useful to provide Afghans with literature on indigenous Flora of Afghanistan which is almost 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 the 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 AFGHANII BOOTTII / Plantea afghanicae

*Furon Raymond, 1947. Le ravage du Séistan par les Mogols. L’Erosion du Sol. p. 74 -78

** Sulaiman Hamid (Ph.D.), 1978. Miniatures of Babur-Namah. Academy of Science of the Uzbek SSR. Alisher Navoi Literature Museum. “FAN” Publishing House of the Uzbek SSR. Tashkent. pp. 26.

*** The Baburnama, 1996.  Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor/ translated, edited and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Smithsonian Institutions. p.162.

**** Herawi M. & al. (1369 Q.). Aainul Waqaieh. Tarikh-e Afghanistan Dar Salhahie 1207-1324 Q. (1788-1905). p. 243-244.