Monday, October 6, 2008

My trees...


I am new to this very interesting and active group. I am thrilled to know that there are people like you going around actively planting trees in your neighbourhoods. I would like to share a few scattered, random notes. I have carried these notes in my head for years, and I feel like sharing it with you since you might be able to appreciate them.  

I grew up in a tree-lined old area of Bangalore.  As a kid, on the way to school, I used to make it a point to "greet" two Akash mallige (Millingtonia hortensis) trees.  I worshipped these two tall, graceful trees.  Come September, their lovely white flowers lined the roads.  Sadly enough, one of them was cut down to widen the road. I wonder how long they will let the other tree remain in the crowded streets of Malleshwaram.

I have been watching trees all my life. Due to this, I have developed this strange gait while walking...head tilted up slightly, with very little attention being paid to where I put my next step. I have often tripped, stepped on muck and bumped into people. My landmarks across Bangalore used to be trees...and I rarely remembered street names or other features.  In the late 90s I moved out of Bangalore for a decade. And when I came back, I could not find my way around my home city. They had chopped down that lovely old Butea on 15th cross. Where were those Acacias on the way to school. Even those lovely temple trees in our neighbourhood gardens were gone.  

Anyone who watches trees, cannot help but note the differences between our cities w.r.t trees we plant along the roadsides.  New Delhi is one of my favourite urban zones. They have such lovely, tall native trees planted along the roads....Kusum /Sagade (Schleichera oleosa), Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), Amal Tas/ Kakke (Cassia fistula), Jamum (Syzygium cumini), Mango (Mangifera indica) and many others. Such native trees are home to many more animals compared to exotics (i.e., from other countries) such as Eucalyptus, Australian Acacias, Rain tree, African tulip tree which we have planted along Bangalore/Mysore's streets.  A native tree has food to offer to our insects. These insects in turn are fed upon by several birds and mammals. Our natives have lovely flowers (Kakke, Flame of the forest etc), many provide wonderful shade (the list would be endless) and are easy to grow. Yet, urban forestry in Karnataka is monopolized by exotics. 

My grandfather was a very observant and knowledgeable man. He too grew up in Bangalore. But the trees he remembers from his childhood in the same neighbourhood are very different from what I saw when I was a kid. He used to talk about Tare, Allale, Honne, Sampige, Margosa, Nandi (see picture attached - thats not a Eucalypt, but our lovely Nandi) and other lovely trees that grew here. Slowly, these were cut down as the city expanded. Later, some streets were planted with exotics such as Mahogony, Tabebuia, Rain tree, African tulip tree, Australian acacias and so on.  Strangely enough, neither Margosa nor Sampige road in Malleshwaram have either of these trees lining them.  

More recently, as part of my work, I have been studying forest trees in the Niligiri landscape. For this purpose, I had to collect seeds and make seedlings of several native species common in the Deccan plateau (see picture). It has been a wonderful experience getting familiar with these lovely trees of our forests. I have given away most of my seedlings to interested  people in and around my study area.  If any of you are interested in procuring and planting such natives in your streets, you can buy such seedlings from the Keystone shop in Masinagudi or Mavanalla. These are villages on the road to Ooty, and these shops are located on the highway itself.   

If you want some inputs about how to identify and grow such native trees, I am always available. There is also vast quantity of literature (mostly contributed by Britishers who lived in India) on how to grow our trees. 




GVK said...

Soumya,Wonder if you could post here your e-mail ID for the benefit of those who might have a query.

CNB Rajesh said...

Hey! You've made a great point. Planting trees is not all that we should do. A little thought about which type of trees support local insect population and other eco-system elements is important. It might be a good idea to see if some trees reduce pollution more than the others (within the native varieties) and plant those alongside our roads. I think we must all approach the corporation authorities to tie up with tree planters when widening and building roads.

Swarna said...

Malleswaram character has changed, truly. Within IISc (where the 'white carpets' at places and the smell blend in the ambience) and this neighbouring area, I used to savour the roads' names, most of them named after trees - Margosa, Sampige, Ashoka, Tala, and so on.
Thanks for sharing your deep concern, and the suggestion on growing native species.
At least henceforth, let's hope there is someone caring enough to start a Chipko movement in every street and bylane.

kallu said...

Sowmya, really great identifying with trees so much you can differentiate trees and cities.
I have been living in the Nilgiris for many years but can't identify too many trees.
So tell me where i can find some basic information on the most common trees around here.
What can we plant by the roadside that won't uproot walls?

narendra shenoy said...

Loved this post. I have forwarded it to my friends, many of whom, like me, are ignorant about the disadvantages of planting exotics.

Soumya Prasad said...

Hi Rajesh, Swarna, Narendra, GVK sir and others,

We certainly need to build up awareness about planting our native trees. As a lot of research has shown, urban greenary certainly helps address several ecological and environmental concerns. And as Rajesh has pointed out, we need more research on what to plant where etc. However, given the growing concerns about our changing climate, we might not have time for perfect understanding of our systems to accumulate. There is quite a bit of knowledge within scientific and informal circles - we know what trees grow where, when they flower, fruit etc. However, we may not know their exact climate sensitivity etc..and such research could take years, and cost a lot of money. A lot of people today are advocating a mixed-native species approach.
I also want to point out that what might be native to higher altitudes of even our Nilgiris, may not be native to dry tropical landscapes of Mysore or Bangalore. So, species for planting need to be chosen with some understanding. There are a lot of knowledgable people in Mysore and Bangalore who can help with identifying species for planting.

Soumya Prasad said...

Hi Kallu,
Where exactly are you located in the Nilgiris? I am not sure about what trees won't uproot walls.. they certainly need their space. What we have done at home is replace our cemented compound wall with a metal fence. The roots kept knocking our wall over, and after rebuilding it several times, we worked out this option. Or if you want to retain your compound walls, you could plant some native creepers and let them flow over your wall. Keystone has a nice book for plants from Nilgiris which is available at some of their bigger stores (Masinagudi for sure). They also have a lot of native seedlings for sale.

kallu said...

Thanks Soumya, that seems a very good solution- to have a fence instead of a wall.
Will consult Keystone's book for native species.
Now there is one common species in full bloom here - don't know whether it is acacia or false acacia.. I've heard both names here. Will take a picture and mail it to you .Until then thanks and keep raising our knowledge levels.