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Vol. XXV No. 16, December 1-15, 2015

The ecology of greening

Dr. Sanjeeva Raj, Consultant Ecologist

96,000-kilometre length of the National Highways in India and 560 corporation parks and several industrial parks in Chennai city are proposed for massive greening. Here are some guidelines for a meaningful ‘ecological greening’, writes Dr. P.J. Sanjeeva Raj, Consultant Ecologist.

Admiring the bounty of big trees, Henry van Dyke, the great American poet and clergyman (1858-1933) exhorts us:

“He that planteth a tree is a servant of God,
He provideth a kindness for many generations,
And the faces that he hath not seen shall bless0 him.”

Chronologically, during Vedic times, the whole of India had vast and luxurious forests. Some of the chosen herbs, trees and groves were worshipped for their spiritual, medicinal and ecological values. During the Sangam Period and in the following Chera, Chola and Pandyan periods, the rulers as lovers of Nature, classified land ecologically into five types, Kurinji (hilly), Mullai (forest), Marudham (agricultural), Neidal (coastal) and Paalai (desert), each with its characteristic vegetation, seasonal flowers and fruits, visited by honey bees, butterflies and birds, much sung about by poets. Emperor Ashoka had planted trees along countryside roads to provide shade for travellers, and he got wells dug for watering the trees as well as to provide for drinking water for travellers and their draught animals. The Mughal emperors, Babur, Humayun and Akbar, as lovers of flowers, followed Persian architectural principles and created rectangular, walled gardens, with pools, canals and fountains, which are to this day cherished (for example, the prestigious Mughal gardens in north India). The more recent Brindavan Garden in Karnataka derives from the Mughal Shalimar Garden in Kashmir. The British interest in trees was more for economic gains through trade and export of teak, rubber, indigo, cotton, tea, coffee and spices.

Trees are life-givers and live long after humans. The value of their ecological benefits far exceed their economic benefits. Even at the dawn of Independence, visionary leaders realised the much neglected truth that Ecology ensures sustainable Economics too. Vana Mahotsava, the annual festival of tree-planting was initiated, particularly to awaken and environmental consciousness in our school children.

Following the classical example of the Bishnois of the Rajasthan deserts, hugging their khejri trees against the tree-cutters’ axes were the members of the Chipko Movement led by that pioneering environmental activist, Sunderlal Bahuguna in Uttarkhand, and later extended as the Appiko Movement in Uttar Kannada in Karnataka. Bahuguna’s 5 F trees — for food, fodder, fertiliser, fibre and fuel – to be planted all over the country may today be supplemented by two more Fs, to promote flora and fauna and create biodiversity. Most States in India today have adopted a State tree and State flower, Palmyra being the State tree and Glory Lily being the State flower of Tamil Nadu.

* * *

The recently announced national policy of Green Highways, greening of local corporation parks, industrial parks, large academic campuses, tourist spots and private estates, which are all micro ecosystems, should broadly follow the patterns of greening evolved at Auroville in Pondicherry. However, the underlying principle of ecological greening is to achieve all the ecosystem services or functions of an integrated plantation of indigenous trees, climbers, shrubs, herbs and grasses. Each species of vegetation discharges specific ecosystem services or functions, and hence for a productive greening, a carefully selected combination of species is imperative. To achieve this goal, first of all, climate, soil and water at the proposed sites should be analysed to suit the precise species of vegetation to be selected. The saplings may be raised in a nursery on the same site. Proven host-plants that attract caterpillars and adult butterflies, honey bees and birds, which are all keystone species and ecological indicator species of the success of eco-plantation, should be selected. Habitat diversification promotes biodiversity also and hence a pond and a compost pit for vermiculture of local leaf-litter and dung, and for birds, nest boxes, nesting materials, bird feeders and water and mud baths should also be provided. Locally grown seeds and cuttings are the best for propagation on the same site.

For visitors, name-boards of trees and shrubs, in the local language and in English, drinking water and toilet facilities, garbage bins and an incinerator should be on site.

Along roads, lake-beds and vacant lands of villages, hardy species of trees and shrubs may be planted, with rest-areas equipped with WiFi hubs, drinking water and toilets. Total participation and appreciation by local people is essential for better success of greening programmes.

Our former president, the late Dr. Abdul Kalam, in his poem, The Life Tree, gave us this advice:
“There was a majestic scene of Life Tree,

Cluster of tall and straight Nag Phali grove.

Honey bees filling the flower beds, mutual love flowing.

You are born, live life of giving,
And bond the human life.”

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