Second coming: Delhi works to resurrect 22 native plant species
- Experts said that native trees are not only easy to grow and maintain, but also contribute towards improving a city’s ecology
The Peelu or the Toothbrush tree was a common sight in Delhi four decades ago. The bushy tree, which grows to a height of around 8-10 feet with scabrous and cracked branches, would be used as an alternative to modern-day toothbrushes and its small red fruits were a favourite among animals and birds. But years of focus on ornamental trees that look good but are not native to Delhi, the march of invasive species, and the pressures of population and development have taken their toll. It is among at least 22 native species of trees that are on the verge of disappearing from the Capital’s landscape according to forest department officials.
But a five-month old nursery in Delhi’s only wildlife sanctuary could change that.
Delhi’s forest department is working with the Bombay Natural History Society to resurrect at least 22 native plant species that are on the verge of disappearing from Delhi’s landscape, senior officials said.
Sohail Madan, centre manager of BNHS at Delhi’s Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary said that the efforts to “bring back Delhi’s native trees” first started around five years ago with the Delhi seed bank project. But the initiative acquired fresh momentum in March when the Delhi forest department inaugurated a nursery inside the sanctuary, which is managed by BNHS.
The endangered native tree varieties will be grown in the nursery, and once ready, planted in the sanctuary itself. The species include Adusa (Malabar Nut), Barna (Three-leaf Caper), Bistendu (Bombay Ebony), Dhau (Axle Wood Tree), Goya Khair (Sickle Bush), Gangeti (White Crossberry), Guggal (Indian Bdellium), Gunja (Indian Ash Tree), Inderjao (Indrajao), Indrokh (Roundleaf Axlewood), Jaal (Large Toothbrush Tree), Jungli Moringa (Konkan Moringa) and Kankera (Red Spike Thorn).
“All this started when we were working on creating butterfly parks in the city. To help increase the number of butterflies you have to plant a lot of native plant species so that they can feed on them. If you get a plant from say South America, the butterfly will not be able to identify it. So, when we started off with it, we realised that the availability of native plant species was a big problem,” Madan explained.
He said that over the past few months, the nursery has become home to around 100 plant species, including at least 22 that were once native to the national capital, but which are rarely seen now.
Pradip Krishen, author and tree expert, said that native trees are not only easy to grow and maintain, it also contributes towards improving a city’s ecology. Some of the trees that are on the forest department’s list have also been featured in Krishen’s book, ‘Trees of Delhi’, a guide to over 250 native tree species of Delhi.
“It is very important, especially in a city like Delhi, to plant the right varieties of trees. Over the years, our greening agencies have strayed away from natives and only focused on foreign, pretty-looking varieties. That needs to change, and in some areas, it is changing,” Krishen said.
Amit Anand, deputy conservator forests (south division), added that the department is trying to create a seed bank for these plants in Asola.
“Considering that there is a shortage of such plants here, the seeds were procured from neighbouring states with similar soil make and landscape, where these plants were available in abundance. Once these saplings attain a certain height, we can plant them in the sanctuary. This is being done to ensure that there is a high chance of their survival. Compared to young saplings, if plants have attained a certain height, it is easier for them to survive,” Anand explained.
He said that if successful, these saplings can be made available in other government nurseries in the city.
Officials said that years of apathy and mindless plantation drives have resulted in these native species reaching the verge of disappearance. For decades, road-owning agencies in Delhi focused on ornamental plants to line roads, parks and other public places, decreasing the number of natives.
Other reasons for their reducing numbers are over-exploitation for traditional and medicinal uses and invasive species such as Vilaiti Kikar or mesquite.
“This project has a long-term vision. In a few more years we will have a deep database on all such types of trees and we will be able to regenerate the genetic stock from the native Aravalli. These varieties are native and will not require much care and beyond a point, will start multiplying,” Madan added.