Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Saving Indigenous Plant Species of Delhi

Tree gazing (verb): an activity one indulges in while being driven around the roads of Delhi in a car, auto rickshaw or bus.

From the onset I must confess to have personally partaken in the above-mentioned indulgence from time to time. It’s an immensely satisfying pursuit providing incalculable joy and welcome distraction from all the cars occupying the scenery.

It’s fairly simple, while being driven around the traffic lights of Delhi we attempt to gaze at trees. While gazing one gets to admire the myriad colors begging to be noticed and scrutinize the different parts like leaves, flowers and fruits on display. Often one discovers something truly fascinating and might like to know the name and characteristics of a new find. Here books come in handy and you can keep yourself competitive with their help.

At this point you might be wondering if this is relevant. If any of this does really have any connection to Delhi Seed Bank Project.

You are partially correct but I deemed it necessary to explain the genesis of the project through a sport not being promoted anywhere else. Also, it does have a very germane connection to the Seed Bank.

This sport has steered us towards the natural history of Delhi and it’s been a nourishing experience. Trees have been planted in Delhi by every administration worth its name. The history stretches all the way from prehistory to our times. Some have planted for religious purposes, some for defending the city, some for bringing back memories of cities they left. British colonial rulers planted the trees we mostly see around New Delhi roads because they were evergreen. Considerable resources were summoned to plant trees that could provide shade all year round. Out of this there have been some notable successes like Neem (Azadirachta indica), which have adapted quite well to Delhi.

Out of all the complex historical inlays a grim portrait was appearing.

Where were the native trees of Delhi?

Delhi is situated where Aravalli range meets the Yamuna river basin. If we classify natural occurring vegetation found in Delhi forest as native trees, then we encounter a whole set of new trees. These trees having adapted to the climate and soil conditions present in Delhi and need little or no care. There is inherent evolutionary knowledge in these trees, which makes them suitable for growing without external inputs. Their adaptions make them better prepared for hot Delhi summers and dry monsoons.

All this does not mean these trees are thorny, woody or unattractive. On the contrary, these are some of the most striking trees to be found in Delhi. The list is replete with fruiting and flowering trees. This list of natives encompasses the mighty Pilkhan (Ficusvirens), sacred Barna (Crataevaadansonii), fruiting Peelu (Savadorapersica), flowering Palash (Buteamonosperma), musical Siris (Albiziaamara) and medicinal Babool (Acacia nilotica).

These trees and many in this category are noteworthy species with immense bio-diversity value. Not just for us as Delhi citizens but other organisms that we share this city with. Many birds and butterflies depend on these trees and have co-evolved to create a mosaic of life forms we call Delhi.

The grim situation mentioned earlier is pertaining to these trees. These trees are hardly sighted on our Tree gazing drives. They rarely occur in our public gardens and are increasingly being pushed out of Delhi ridge too. In fact there are only a handful of mature Peelu (Salvadora persica) specimens in obscure location around Delhi. These naturally growing, specially adapted, climatically suited native trees of Delhi are disappearing at a very fast rate. These trees are a part of our natural heritage and outside of few institutes no one seems to care about them. There is no nursery in Delhi specifically growing these trees or distributing saplings for use of general public.

The Delhi Seed Bank Project aims to bring collaborative agencies together in crafting creative facilitation’s in order to fill this gap. Our holistic approach to re-introducing these trees back to Delhi will include seed collection walks, nursery management training, gardening workshops, school and college awareness campaigns, forest plantation drives and tree adoptions.

Over the course of 18 months a native plant nursery has been established. Here samplings are prepared from the seeds collected during nature walks open to public. Through these walks we will explore these forgotten trees in all the green zones of Delhi. The model nursery is designed as a meeting place for all the garden clubs of Delhi. It will also serve as a venue for nursery management training and gardening/ capacity building workshops. Last but not the least, the nursery will provide young trees that will be planted in various sites around Delhi.

The process will be video-documented and will be readily available for instruction, research and duplication to make it easier to replicate such models at different locations. Guides and instructional manuals will be produced for schools and colleges. This knowledge database will serve as blueprint, which can be added to prepare many programs and sites for various seminars and campaigns around the city.

The model nursery will be situated at Conservation Education Centre BNHS-Delhi (Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary). With support of Forest Department, Government of NCT of Delhi and other like-minded government agencies like Delhi Jal Board, NDMC, DDA and MCD, we will forge a partnership incorporating citizen groups and students in collaborative projects resulting in small green interventions. These interventions will result in increased green cover in Delhi, less resources will be required to maintain this green cover and hopefully native trees of Delhi can stage a comeback.

Written by:

Sohail Madan

Centre Head
Conservation Education Centre

You may reach him: cecbnhsdelhi@gmail.com 

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