The amla can make an attractive ornamental landscape tree, especially when it bears its small, pale green fruits. A native of India, amla (Emblica officinalis) is a fruit-bearing deciduous tree that typically attains a height of 18 feet. Also known as Indian gooseberry or aonla, the tree has black to light brown bark that naturally peels off in flakes or thin strips. The green leaves of the amla are pinnate, which means they consist of leaflets arranged on either side of central stems.
There are three primary varieties or sub-species of the Indian amla, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. These sub-species are the Banarasi amla, the Chakaiya amla and the Francis amla. The Banarasi amla matures earlier than other varieties, which means its blossoms and fruits will show up faster in the landscape. The downside to Banarasi amla is that it’s prone to dropping fruit, which can leave its canopy looking bare. In addition, the shelf-life of Banarasi amla fruits is short, making the fruits a poor choice for culinary applications.
The Chakaiya variety of amla is prone to bearing heavy crops during alternate years. The fruits of the tree are typically fibrous and smaller in size than the fruits of other amla varieties. Certain Chakaiya selections, however, take on varying characteristics. For example, the NA4 selection, also known as Kanchan, has larger fruits than standard Chakaiya amla. The NA4 fruits also are more fibrous, however, which makes them popular for use in manufacturing but not for culinary applications. In contrast, the NA6 selection of Chakaiya amla is a heavy-bearing tree that produces low-fiber fruits. These less fibrous fruits are ideal for making amla candies and preserves.
Also known as Hathijhool, the Francis variety of amla is not ideal for landscape growing as it often suffers from fruit necrosis. One of its selections, NA7, however, has more resilient properties. The NA7 Francis amla tree is a frequent and prolific fruit-bearer, the fruits of which are used in manufacturing.
Wild Himalayan Amla
A fourth variety of amla also exists, but is a distinct strain of tree from the more closely related Banarasi, Chakaiya and Francis amla varieties. This variety is wild Himalayan amla. Wild Himalayan alma is a tree that grows in the Western Himalayas. Its fruits are smaller than the fruits of the above-mentioned commercial amla varieties. Due to the severe climate of its native habitat, wild Himalayan amla has adapted to become more cold hardy than other amla trees and is better suited for planting in the northern U.S.