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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Aarey church leads campaign to plant more Palmyra palms

The trees produce tadgola fruit, sap used for palm sugar; wood for boats

mumbai Updated: Sep 29, 2019 00:44 IST

Sai Banguda tribal hamlet at Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon opens up to lush grasslands, home to hundreds of gigantic 95-foot-tall Palmyra palm trees.

For the last five months, members of St Paul’s Methodist Tamil Church at unit 7 in Aarey, along with other locals, have been collecting Palmyra palm seeds, available in large numbers near Sai Banguda, and distributing them to citizens in an attempt to revive the species.

Rajendra Shinde, botanist, and principal of St Xavier’s College, said, “If we look at the old gazettes of Bombay, we will find that Tardeo was named after the Palmyra palm, based on its fruit tadgola (ice apple). The species grew in numbers from the Parsee Tower of Silence in Malabar Hill to parts of Sion Fort and sporadically spread across coastal areas towards eastern and western suburbs. However, with the development of residential and commercial projects, these palms have diminished.”

One of the oldest and naturally occurring palm species rooted in Mumbai’s history and culture, the Palmyra palm or toddy palm (Borassus flabellifer), is fast reducing in numbers amid growing urbanisation in the city.

“At a time when climate change is a reality, here is a palm which is cyclone resistant, takes up less space, develops its own biodiversity, and has high economic value. The issue is that its numbers have dropped drastically across Mumbai,” said priest-in-charge, Reverend Godson Samuel, who authored a travelogue titled ‘Palmyra Road’, highlighting the occurrence of this species from Mumbai to Kanyakumari. “The connection between Mumbaiites and the Palmyra palm has been lost as it was never explored in depth.”

Rev Samuel and volunteers have planted 2,000 seedlings in unit 6 and 16 at Aarey, and have distributed over 1,000 seeds. The church provides a seedbox and a small booklet explaining the palm’s significance, uses, and how to plant it.

Samuel explained that in the 15th century, Portuguese colonisers were the first to document the presence of Palmyra palms in their artwork of the Elephanta Caves (1682). Later, artist James Wales, in his painting of Mahim Church in 1791, also featured the palms in the background. British colonisers did the same when they depicted Mazgaon, the islands of Carranjar, Elephanta and Butcher (1752-1815).

“Even the famous Warli paintings often have symbols depicting the Palmyra palm that dominated the local vegetation,” said Rev Samuel.

An arborist from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) confirmed that the Palmyra palm has been disappearing over the past 30 years. “This is a great initiative to revive the lost palm, which has significant value. While we get tadgola from them, the sap extracted from the inflorescence [flower section] gives us palm nectar,” said Amol Vasaikar, assistant superintendent, BMC’s garden department.


Members of St Paul’s Methodist Tamil Church have been opposing the construction of the Metro 3 car depot across 33 hectares at Aarey, as they believe that it will allow other infrastructure projects to enter the green lung. “The Metro car depot construction and allied projects will engulf the last remaining Palmyra palms and leave them under threat. These palms have the ability to rejuvenate ground water owing to their massive roots. Any damage to them would be disastrous for the water security of the city,” said priest in-charge, Reverend Godson Samuel.

First Published: Sep 29, 2019 00:44 IST

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