Trees. Goa's plantation economy depends heavily on two crops that every visitor will become aware of. One grows despite the little attention it receives, while the other is a part of daily life.
The Cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) or cazu was introduced into India, but now grows wild as well as being cultivated. It is a medium sized tree with bright green, shiny, rounded leaves. The rather thick foliage casts a dense shadow. The nut grows on a fleshy bitter fruit called a cashew apple, although this looks more like a small squashed pear than an apple, and the nut hangs down below this. Both the fruit and nut are used in different ways and nothing is wasted. Despite its haphazard cultivation, it is Goa's most important economic crop and the nut is a good foreign exchange earner.
The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) grows best along the coast and river banks of Goa and is a familiar sight along the country roads of coastal districts. It has a tall (10m - 15m), slender, unbranched trunk, feathery leaves and large green or orange fruit (so different from the brown fibre-covered inner nut which makes its way to Europe). The Areca Palm (Areca catechu), also known as betel nut, which grows abundantly in the Ponda taluka in particular, is about the same height as the coconut palm, but prefers shade and needs more attention in the dry months. The leaves are similar, and fall cleanly off the trunk leaving decorative ring marks. Betel (areca) nuts, which grow in large hanging bunches, are smooth, round and only about 3 cm across.
The Ashok or Mast (Polyalthia longifolia) is a tall evergreen which can reach 15m or more in height. One variety, often seen in avenues, is trimmed and tapers towards the top. The leaves are long, slender and shiny and narrow to a long point.
Another plantation crop which is exported is the Bamboo (Bambusa) which is, strictly speaking, a grass. The larger varieties have stems strong and thick enough to be used for construction and as pipes in irrigation schemes in small holdings. Goa has a unique thornless type.
Of all Indian trees the Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) is probably the best known. Featured widely in Indian literature, it is planted by temples, in villages and along roads. In a wall, the growing roots will split the wall apart. If it grows in the bark of another tree, it sends down roots towards the ground. As it grows, more roots appear from the branches, until the original host tree is surrounded by a cage-like structure which eventually strangles it. The largest banyan in Goa is in a math (seminary) near the Cotigao Sanctuary.
Related to the banyan, and growing in similar situations, is the Pipal (Ficus religiosa), which also cracks open walls and strangles other trees with its roots. It has a smooth grey bark, and is commonly found near temples and shrines. It can easily be distinguished from the banyan by the absence of aerial roots, and by the leaves which are large, rather leathery and heart shaped, the point of the leaf tapering into a pronounced 'tail'.