He might not get to see the 65 trees that comprise ‘Green Chennai,' a photo album by his grandfather, collected over the past 80 years, but he hopes to at least know their names. And as part of this exercise, J. Sriram (10) makes sure he is around when his mother plants a few saplings in the backyard of his new house in Alwarpet.
“A little knowledge about saplings, such as the fact that drumstick plants can attract kamblipoochis, while an Athi (fig) tree can invite melodious birds, really helps,” says R. Vaijayanthi, his mother, a nature enthusiast.
Tree plantation drives in the city have been in the news. But their success requires a scientific approach including focus on planting the right kind of saplings at the right place, caring for them and maintenance of the existing trees, say experts.
The best time to plant saplings, suggests R. Madhavan of Environmental Society of Mandavelli, is between August and September, right in time for the monsoon. “It is extremely important that they are regularly watered, especially during the next summer, and then twice a week for a year.” A tree guard, a fence of a certain height, around them is good but it must be removed after two years, so that the branches do not get caught in the iron rings. “There is no follow-up usually,” says G. Mullaivanam, founder, Tree Bank. “The trees that fall off are often those that are not maintained,” says Mr. Mullaivanam.
A Forest Department official explains how the right sapling is also decided keeping in view the birds and animals around. “For wide roads, it is better to have fast-growing varieties including Beltaforus, Vaghai, while for the smaller roads with electric cables, we need more of Punnai and Magizham that take time to grow.”
Pruning of trees such as Maradu is necessary, as soon as they reach the height of two metres, otherwise they can become huge. And this has to ideally take place before the monsoons, he says.
Educational institutions can consider slow-growing trees that have a vast spread, such as Arasu, Veppilai and banyan while smaller compounds can have the ones that merely grow tall. Sivakundalams, Peltaforums and Badams grow well on coastal areas, while exotic ones including Spertulia can grow anywhere, he adds.
The planting of saplings on roadsides is feasible but it is necessary to wash their leaves regularly. Younger saplings cannot withstand a lot of smoke from diesel, says Mr. Madhavan. And indigenous Sarakonnai, Magizham, Pungai, Poovarasu, Iluppai, Veppilai grow better, says Shobha Menon, founder, Nizhal.
Activists say that residents' movements to preserve green spaces have sprung up in areas including Anna Nagar, Adyar, K.K.Nagar, C.I.T. Nagar and Nandanam, but there is a rapid cutting of trees in many non-residential areas. “Nearly 300 saplings were planted in Koyembedu recently. There was no maintenance, and most of them have withered away,” says Mr. Mulaivanam.
People complain only if a tree is leaning or has fallen. But the larger picture is important too. “We need a Tree Act similar to the one in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. When a committee of concerned citizens and officials decides whether a tree has to be felled, it cannot be the thoughtless decision, as it is now,” says Ms Menon.