Tree Walk, a monthly initiative, aims at sensitizing people to nature

On a sultry afternoon nothing gives more relief than being in the woods. Perhaps these 50-odd nature enthusiasts knew it intuitively even before they joined together to go on a Tree Walk.

Excusing himself to the women in the group, Dr. Badrinarayanan posed a question about the word ‘Vaagai’. Many know it is related to success – ‘Vaagai soodi…’ —and it is a familiar neighbourhood tree, but not many know its nickname. The tree is known as ‘lady’s tongue’, he said a little later. “The rustling sound from its dry fruits earned the tree this name.”

This spirit of learning and sharing all about trees in informal ways has made the Tree Walk initiative successful for the past four months though it is often organized at odd hours on Sundays. This time around, two van loads of participants gathered near the Collectorate, under the famous peepal tree at Arasaradi.

When the trees on the sprawling premises of TATA DHAN Academy at Malaipatti welcomed them with breezes, the walkers, including little kids, enthusiastically started identifying them with the knowledge they had gathered from their previous walks.

It took a few minutes for M.S. Shanmuham, the man who planted the trees on the academy premises, to begin the formal process of identifying. He introduced the walkers to the campus and the purpose of their visit, starting with the ‘Manjanathi tree’ which is otherwise known as Indian Mulberry or Morinda.

Throughout the walk, the group identified eecha maram, punga, punnai, poovarasu, bamboo, vadumai (Indian Almond), vengai, maramalli, karipala, mahilam poo, kaliitchi, illupai, malai poovarasu, and nagalingam.

Mr. Shanmuham, an agri-graduate from Chengalpattu, says that he had planted about 1500 saplings, of which 80 per cent are native. “We decided on the kind of flower and season, and many trees are evergreen ones,” he says.

The scent of Magizham poo wafted all around and walkers guessed right that the flowers are used in making perfumes. Noni, which enhances memory power, and Ashoka tree, which lessens noise pollution, were slightly harder.

Fox tail and peenari brought up jokes and anecdotes, and kalyana murungai and wood apple stirred up a few recipes on the spot too.

The tree that most impressed the group perhaps was the Singapore Cherry, which had a canopy like a huge umbrella. “The fruit is so sweet that it cannot escape from fruit-eating bats,” says Kumaraswamy, a Zoology professor of The American College. The growing of native trees enriches the fauna and flora of a place. He says birds mostly prefer to roost in native trees.

The programme co-ordinator, N. Chidambaram, says that Tree Walk is an initiative of Madurai Green, a forum that for the past two decades has worked to create awareness about trees and enhance the city’s green cover. He says people know about the banyan tree but not many are aware of peepal, pungai and punnai trees.

He says, “Identifying and learning about trees would certainly help people, hopefully, to protect them. When somebody wants to fell a huge native tree perhaps these walkers might fight against it.”

“Everyone knows about the importance of trees but the problem is they do not how and what is important,” says Ganesh Anand, a district treasury employee. “For example, we have leant that peepal and bamboo give out the maximum oxygen.”

D. Stephen, Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, The American College, who tirelessly told walkers the botanical and local name of every tree and its uses, feels, “The walk is an enterprising programme not only to sensitise people about trees and plants but also encourage them to grow new trees and protect the older ones.”

V. Vedachalam, former Senior Epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology, says there are many inscriptions and copperplates found in various parts of Tamil Nadu which insist that people should grow more trees and should not cut existing trees especially around the bunds of water bodies.

“Our ancestors identified time and season with the blooming of the flowers,” he says. “People lived a life attuned to nature. They mixed knowledge, nature, and religion to lead a peaceful life.”

“We are planning to make the walk into a movement that would protect and grow trees,” says D. Raghavan, president, Madurai Green.

After identifying more than 65 varieties of trees in one afternoon, thankfully, none of the handful of children in the group asked which tree rice grows on.

Tree Walk is arranged on every third Sunday. So far it has been held at Alagarmalai, Pasumalai (The Gateway Hotel) and Eco Park. Agricultural College and Research Institute will be the toast of October for Tree Walk enthusiasts. If you would like to join, contact 9159153233.