The Malabar Botanical Garden situated in the serene Olavanna village moved one step closer to being recognised as a botanical garden of national importance with the visit of Balakrishna Pisupati, Chairman of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), on Tuesday.

The visit is significant in that a Rs.250-crore proposal to upgrade the garden is currently pending with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

Speaking to The Hindu after the visit, Mr. Balakrishna said that in most botanical gardens, the thrust was on preserving what already existed. However, the Malabar Botanical Garden was different because it was constantly reinventing itself with new approaches to conservation.

“What attracted me most is that way they focus on specific types rather than be a garden for everything. The aquatic plants and lower plant groups like bryophytes are given special importance here and they have been able to excel in this niche category. Such approaches add a lot of value to conservation efforts,” Mr. Balakrishna said.

He was also particularly impressed by a special section where almost all the 700 plants mentioned in the Hortus Malabaricus are arranged together.

M.K. Raghavan, MP, who forwarded the proposal, told The Hindu that he had received positive vibes from the MoEF regarding the upgrade of the park.

“Most of the notes and observations were in favour of upgrading the park. Some conditions need to be satisfied before any decision is taken, the details of which we will discuss soon. Once it is upgraded, the amount of funds and national attention can do a world of good for the garden,” said Mr. Raghavan.

Kerala State Biodiversity Board Chairman Oommen V. Oommen said the two natural ponds inside the garden would be revitalised and rejuvenated under the State-wide biodiversity restoration programme.

“We will start work on the ponds immediately and expect to complete it within six months. The work will mostly be cleaning and adding more rare aquatic plants which are in keeping with the theme of the garden. There will be no construction activity,” Mr. Oommen said.

The garden, spread over 40 acres, was set up around 15 years ago. However, the major changes that brought it to the limelight were effected in the past two years. The shift from traditional conservation to focussing on aquatic and lower plant groups happened during this period.

Focus on conservation

“Here, we give precedence to the conservation of life forms over research activity. Also, lower-lever plants are usually ignored in conservation activities. It is one of our strengths,” says R. Prakash Kumar, Director of the Malabar Botanical Garden.

He said government grants were to the tune of Rs.80 lakh annually, which were inadequate for a garden of such expanse. The rest of the amount was being raised through projects executed for the funding agencies.

“We try to get a tangible outcome from every project we take up, and one of the projects that we are starting immediately is for the protection of endemic plant species by tissue-culturing them and re-introducing them into nature,” said Mr. Prakash Kumar.

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