The Most Commonly Used Tree Species in Social Forestry

Social forestry refers to the management and protection of forests and afforestation on barren lands with the purpose of helping local communities. It aims to provide fuel, fodder, timber, and food to meet local needs. Additionally, social forestry programs focus on alleviating poverty for people living in and around forest areas.

When selecting tree species for social forestry projects, several factors have to be considered such as the climate and soil conditions of the area, intended use and benefits of the trees, growth rate, local people’s needs and more.

Importance of Choosing the Right Trees

Choosing the right type of trees is crucial for the success of any social forestry initiative. The trees selected should be well-adapted to the region’s environmental conditions. They should also provide significant economic and ecological benefits to the local communities depending on their needs.

Some of the criteria for selecting tree species include:

Climate Resilience

The trees chosen should be resilient to climate fluctuations in the area and be able to survive through harsh weather conditions like droughts, floods, frost etc. Native species are often the best choices as they evolve to adapt to the local climate over generations.

Soil Suitability

The trees must thrive in the type of soil available in the region. Assessing the soil texture, depth, drainage patterns will indicate which species can flourish.

Growth Rate

Faster growing tree varieties that can be harvested within 5-15 years should be preferred. Slow growing trees may not sustain people’s regular needs.


The trees must be highly productive in terms of fruits, nuts, fodder, fuelwood, timber etc. Multipurpose trees should be prioritized which provide a range of benefits.

Local Needs

Consulting the local communities to understand their specific requirements pertaining to fuel, timber, food is necessary while selecting tree species.

Resistance to Pests and Diseases

Trees prone to widespread pest attacks and diseases should be avoided as they may fail to serve the purpose over long term.

Market Demand

If the produce from the trees hold good market value, it incentivizes people to protect and manage the trees better.

Most Suitable Trees for Social Forestry

Here are some of the most commonly used and recommended tree species for social forestry initiatives across various climatic zones, elevations and soil types in India:

1. Neem

The neem tree is one of the most versatile multipurpose trees grown across India through social forestry programs. Its dense canopy provides ample shade and its known for rapid growth in dry regions with little irrigation or maintenance.


  • Source of biopesticides from neem oil and leaves
  • Medicinal value from bark, leaves and seeds
  • Fodder for livestock from neem leaves
  • Fuel wood
  • Timber for furniture, carts, agricultural tools
  • Controls soil erosion
  • Restores greenery in arid areas

Climatic Zone: Up to 1200 m elevation in areas receiving 400 to 1200 mm rainfall annually

Soil: Prefers well drained deep soils but grows in wide range of soils. Tolerates alkaline soils.

2. Eucalyptus

The eucalyptus is a fast growing tree that thrives in tropical climate and is one of the most widely cultivated multipurpose trees under social forestry across India.


  • Provides excellent timber
  • Source of pulpwood for paper industry
  • Oil extracted from leaves has medicinal value
  • Produces biofuel
  • Windbreaks to protect soil erosion
  • Controls water logging of soil due to its high water requirement

Climatic Zone: Grows well from plains up to 1500 m elevation in areas receiving over 500 mm rainfall per year

Soil: Thrives in well drained fertile soils. Tolerates slightly alkaline soils.

3. Bamboo

Bamboo is technically a grass but it is an immensely useful plant grown through social forestry schemes across India. It is the fastest growing woody plant that regrows after harvest.


  • Excellent timber substitute to build houses, furniture etc
  • Source of paper pulp and rayon
  • Handicrafts and cottage industry
  • Fodder for livestock
  • Soil conservation

Climatic zone: Most bamboo species grow well in warm humid tropical and subtropical climates receiving over 1500 mm rainfall per year. Found up to 2100 m elevation.

Soil: Prefers well-drained alluvial soil. Tolerates a wide range of soil pH.

4. Teak

Teak is a high quality tropical hardwood tree in great demand. It is an excellent timber yielding tree for social forestry programs. Teak plantations also provide eco-tourism opportunities.


  • High value luxury timber
  • Furniture and cabinet making
  • Boat building
  • Carving and turnery
  • Generates rural employment and livelihood

Climatic zone: Grows well in areas receiving 1000 – 2500 mm rainfall per year. Mainly below 1000 m elevation but some resilient clones selected for higher elevations.

Soil: Prefers well drained deep alluvial soils. Tolerates slightly alkaline soils.

5. Shisham

Shisham or Indian Rosewood is native to India. Its known for its high quality timber.


  • Luxury timber for furniture, cabinets, plywood
  • Fuelwood
  • Soil conservation
  • Shade tree

Climatic zone: Found across central and northern India in areas receiving annual rainfall between 500-1500mm. Grows up to 900 m elevation.

Soil: Thrives best in well drained, deep, fertile sandy loam soils.

6. Sandalwood

The fragrant sandalwood is a small parasitic tree grown in forestry plantations due to its high demand across the world. India is a leading producer of sandalwood.


  • Extremely high value luxury timber
  • Used in perfumes, cosmetics, medicines
  • Religious significance in Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Oleoresins used to make incense sticks
  • Generates rural employment

Climatic zone: Grows well in tropical and subtropical dry climate receiving 500 – 1000 mm of rain annually. Found up to elevations of 1500 m.

Soil: Prefers well drained light shallow gravelly soils.

7. Sissoo

The Sissoo is native to India. Its known for its sturdy timber and ability to grow fast across varied conditions.


  • Good quality timber for furniture, sports goods, veneer
  • Fodder for livestock
  • Soil conservation
  • Nitrogen fixing tree improves soil fertility

Climatic zone: Found growing across most parts of India. Tolerates extreme temperatures from 0°C to 50°C. Receives rainfall between 500mm to 1500mm annually.

Soil: Grows well on well drained fertile alluvial soils. Also tolerates saline and alkaline soils.

8. Silver Oak

Silver oak is an important fast growing multipurpose tree for generating timber, fodder and fuelwood across India through social forestry.


  • Fast growing quality timber
  • Good charcoal and firewood
  • Fodder for cattle
  • Shade tree
  • Ornamental tree avenues

Climatic zone: Grows from 1500 m elevation down to the plains in regions receiving 750 – 2000mm annual rainfall. Requires hot climate.

Soil: Prefers well drained red laterite soils but adapts to wide variety of soils.

9. Mahogany

The tropical American mahogany is cultivated through social forestry in certain regions of India due to its high value luxury timber.


  • Luxury timber for high-end furniture and cabinets with beautiful grains
  • Boat building
  • Carving and musical instruments

Climatic zone: Grows well in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. Requires 1500mm to 4500mm annual rainfall. Mainly found below 900 m elevation.

Soil: Prefers well drained fertile clay loam soils rich in organic matter.

10. Gamhar

Gamhar tree is native to India. Its known for its excellent timber and fodder.


  • Good quality timber for furniture, agricultural tools, carts etc
  • Fodder and shade for cattle
  • Flowers used to make incense
  • Fuelwood
  • Soil conservation

Climatic zone: Found across central, eastern and northern India in areas receiving 750 – 1500 mm annual rainfall. Grows up to 1300 m elevation.

Soil: Thrives best on deep, well-drained, fertile alluvial soils.

Key Aspects for Success

Some of the key strategies required for the success of social forestry programs across India include:

  • Involving local community participation at all stages from planning to harvesting
  • Providing appropriate incentives and share benefits
  • Training people on tree management
  • Building local capacity by engaging youth groups and women for greening initiatives
  • Leveraging funds through government schemes and private sponsorship
  • Using scientific techniques like clonal propagation for high yielding planting material
  • Intercropping with spices, fruits, vegetables to generate regular income
  • Using drip irrigation, vermicomposting for better plant growth
  • Preventing cattle grazing and human interference through social fencing


What are some small trees suitable for home gardens?

Some good small trees for home gardens include:

  • Neem – Grows up to 15m tall. Provides shade, biopesticide, medicine
  • Bakain – Grows 8-10m tall. Produces fragrant flowers, host to butterflies
  • Chandni – Grows up to 6m tall. Beautiful ornamental tree with scented flowers
  • Amaltas – Grows about 10m tall. Brilliant yellow flowers, shade tree
  • Karanj – Grows around 15m tall. Produces seeds used to extract oil

What are the best avenue trees for roads and highways?

Some good avenue trees for roads and highways are:

  • Neem – Provides ample shade and allows grass to grow underneath
  • Banyan – Massive shady tree with aerial roots to form arched pathways
  • Peepal – Known for extensive shady canopy to shelter roads
  • Gulmohar – Beautiful flowering tree with bright red-orange flowers
  • Rain Tree – Has a wide spreading umbrella shaped crown for good shade
  • Ashoka – Religious significance, aesthetically pleasing with red flowers

What are fast growing trees for timber production?

Some fast growing trees for timber production include:

  • Eucalyptus – Mature in 5-7 years. Produces pulpwood, timber, fuel
  • Silver Oak – Grows rapidly for 8 years. Useful timber for furniture, boats
  • Acacia auriculiformis – Grows very fast for pulpwood within 8 years timeframe

How to prevent trees from dying?

To prevent tree deaths, following measures should be taken:

  • Water trees regularly to prevent drought stress
  • Apply organic mulch around trees to conserve soil moisture
  • Protect trees from pest attacks and diseases with integrated pest management
  • Prune trees appropriately to remove dead or diseased branches
  • Avoid soil compaction through machinery movement near trees

What are the most shade giving tree species in India?

Some of the most shade giving tree species in India include:

  • Banyan – Massive canopy spread with aerial roots drooping down
  • Peepal – Extensive branching to produce abundant shade
  • Neem – Broad crown with dense foliage shedding good shade
  • Banana – Giant leaves provide cool shade in hot tropical climate
  • Arjun – Thick elongated canopy blocking harsh sun

I hope this detailed article gives you a good overview of the most suitable and commonly used tree species for social forestry initiatives across India. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!

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