Tree plantation in parks, gardens and zoos, during eco-restoration, green belt development or plantation drives is a common activity. However, on several occasions in India, tree plantation has been taken as a non-technical activity not requiring the presence of a botanist or an ecologist. Landscaping and gardening activities involve horticulturists, but rarely an ecologist.
It must be understood that plant species do not exist in isolation – there is an extraordinarily intricate web of ecological linkages associated with each species. Be it symbiosis or predation – healthy existence of a species and its population control within a community is determined by these ecological linkages.
In the absence of the science of Ecology & Biodiversity being made use of in the activities of plantation drives, greenbelt development, eco-restoration projects or gardening and landscaping, two major problems are emerging –
The Emerging Ecological Challenges
a) Unwitting plantation of exotic species –
Exotic species are those that have not originated from the Indian sub-continent – they owe their origin to other land-masses in the world. They are often planted because of their aesthetic attributes or quick growth. The problems associated with exotics are twofold –
i) Their population may become impossible to control – as we are importing only an individual plant from the other eco-scape, not its complete ecological linkage (since we do not even understand the ecological linkages of many species fully). Such species may spread dangerously, taking up the space that could have been utilized by a more ecologically useful native plant.
ii) They will not support other biodiversity such as birds, butterflies, bees or bats. Thus, they end up becoming ‘silent jungles.’ Once again, there is loss of potential ecological benefits that could have occurred had native species been planted.
b) Exclusion of those native species the benefits of which are not popularly known and which may be excluded from commercial or even government nurseries -
There is a bias in the species selected for plantation – we tend to get attracted to trees with pretty foliage or flowers, trees that flower all year round, trees that bear edible fruits, trees that grow quickly or trees that have religious or cultural worth. However, in this bias, we are blinded to the ecological worth of those hundreds of other native trees that may not bear edible fruits, may not bear attractive flowers or foliage, have no cultural significance, may be slow-growing – and in fact, are actually unattractive. However – each of this tree species has ecological importance – it is significant from nature’s point of view. India’s Biodiversity is immense, with nearly 5800 species of flowering plants consisting of 56 genera found in the Western Ghats alone; of these 2100 species are endemic.
Most of our nurseries are not equipped with these jungle tree species – as the concept of wild seed collection has not been popularly used – even if it has, it is restricted to the research level. Given the scale at which development projects are taking place in India – with real estate, infrastructure, and urbanization claiming forest land by the acres, such activity of rearing jungle trees for plantation drives, green belt development, avenue plantation and gardening and landscaping must be at a larger scale.
Besides, a humongous amount of research is required to go into this – not only to develop jungle trees for plantation activities but also to fully understand the ecological linkages of each species.
Hence, it is critical to set up a jungle tree nursery wherein one can –
a) Maintain a collection of saplings/seedlings/seeds of wild species.
b) Propagate the wild species to ensure their ready availability for plantation drives/avenue plantations/landscaping/eco-restoration activities.
c) Maintain a databank of the edaphic and climatic requirements of each species, along with guidelines for their maintenance and growth.
d) Study their various ecological linkages and maintain a database of the same, too.
Alternately, an Arboretum can be planned
An arboretum is a botanical collection of, almost exclusively, tree species and may include other woody species like shrubs and lianas. An arboretum is, at least partially, intended for scientific studies.
a) The project shall partially work on the model of a nursery, and sale of saplings shall be one source of income.
b) Agencies from India and abroad that fund research activities shall be approached for research funding.
c) Eco-tourism can be another potential source of income as well.
a) Ensuring that the jungle biodiversity is at least maintained in specimens.
b) Eco-restoration activity will become more scientific.
c) There will be better ecological utilization of the meagre green spaces available in urban areas, through plantation of trees with higher ecological significance.
d) With the plantation of these relatively rarer tree species, the other biodiversity they are linked with shall also be boosted and enhanced.
a) Skill development of locals as gardeners and potential horticulturists, as well as eco-tourism guides.
b) Additional source of income for the locals.
c) Knowledge sharing with students and research opportunity .