Shorea robusta, also known as śāl, sakhua or shala tree, is a species of tree belonging to the Dipterocarpaceae family.
This tree is native to the Indian subcontinent, ranging south of the Himalaya, from Myanmar in the east to Nepal, India and Bangladesh. In India, it extends from Assam, Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand west to the Shivalik Hills in Haryana, east of the Yamuna. The range also extends through the Eastern Ghats and to the eastern Vindhya and Satpura ranges of central India.It is often the dominant tree in the forests where it occurs. In Nepal, it is found mostly in the terai region from east to west, especially, in the Churia range (the Shivalik Hill Churia Range) in the subtropical climate zone. There are many protected areas, such as Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park and Shukla Phat Wildlife Reserve, where there are dense forests of huge sal trees. It is also found in the lower belt of the hilly region and inner terai.
Sal tree is also known as Sakhua in northern India including MP, Orrisa and Jharkhand.
Sal is moderate to slow growing, and can attain heights of 30 to 35 m and a trunk diameter of up to 2-2.5 m. The leaves are 10–25 cm long and 5–15 cm broad. In wetter areas, it is evergreen; in drier areas, it is dry-season deciduous, shedding most of the leaves in between February to April, leafing out again in April and May.
In the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, a large flowering tree is erroneously named Shorea robusta, where this individual tree is actually an example of the cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis. Likely due to the many tourists visiting this location, the erroneous name tag, and the fact that the flowers of the cannonball tree are quite showy and fragrant, most on-line picture searches will lead to the wrong plant species.
Sal is one of the most important sources of hardwood timber in India, with hard, coarse-grained wood that is light in colour when freshly cut, but becomes dark brown with exposure. The wood is resinous and durable, and is sought-after for construction, although not well suited to planing and polishing. The wood is especially suitable for constructing frames for doors and windows. The dry leaves of sal are a major source for the production of leaf plates called as patravali and leaf bowls in northern and eastern India. The leaves are also used fresh to serve ready made paan (betelnut preparations) and small snacks such as boiled black grams, gol gappa, etc.
The used leaves/plates are readily eaten by goats and cattle that roam the streets freely. The tree has therefore protected northern India from a flood of styrofoam and plastic plates that would have caused tremendous pollution. In South India, fresh plantain and banana leaves are used instead. In Nepal, its leaves are used to make local plates and vessels called “tapari”, “doona” and “bogata” in which rice and curry is served. However, the use of such “natural” tools have sharply declined during last decade. Sal tree resin, ṛla in Sanskrit, is used as an astringent in Ayurvedic medicine.It is also burned as incense in Hindu ceremonies, and sal seeds and fruit are a source of lamp oil and vegetable fat. Shorea robusta seed oil is extracted from the seeds and used as cooking oil after refining.