ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Once, the Monsoon

Field notes from a botanical sanctuary: changing weather patterns are causing havoc to plants.

I love being at home, in Wayanad, when the south-west monsoon arrives. This hilly district of northern Kerala is still full of tall trees and myriad creatures, and drenched in rain for several months in a year. From my window, I see Banasuramala, a beautiful mountain 2,000 metres high, gracing the southern horizon, and canopied hills to the west. Small farms make scruffy patchworks on the other sides. To the north-east are the shola grasslands of the Brahmagiris. All around, streams born of millions of seeps gifted by trees gather to flow to the Kabini and then to the Kaveri.

Mist over local neighbourhood and Banasura
Mist over local neighbourhood and Banasura

I work at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, where a small team of dedicated ecosystem gardeners, skilled in various aspects of horticulture, plant conservation and Western Ghat ecology, grow native plants of this mountain ecosystem, or biome, through techniques honed over four decades of experimentation and practice. We cultivate plants that are highly endangered in the wild, some 2,000 species in all, accounting for 40% of the Western Ghat flora. We deploy a range of methods, from intensive-care nurseries to outdoor habitats rich with herbs, tubers, succulents, shrubs, trees, creepers, climbers, epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) and lithophytes (plants that grow on rocks). These species have been initially brought from different parts of the Western Ghats, mostly from areas that have already been deforested. Much of our work is a search-and-rescue mission, and we refer to these plants as refugees, similar to human refugees suffering the depredations of war, displacement, climate change and general toxification of the environment. We also speak of species being rehabilitated when they form mixed-species communities that eventually become quite independent of our care.

Local stream, headwater of Kaveri
Local stream, headwater of Kaveri

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Updated On : 5th Jul, 2017

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