As one travels along the Chaliyam port road, attention is suddenly drawn to a series of graffiti welcoming one to the Itti Achuthan Memorial Hortus Malabaricus Sasyasarvaswom, a project of the Forest Department.
Inside the botanical garden are plants, most of which feature in the botanical text Hortus Malabaricus by Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede, the erstwhile Dutch governor of Malabar. The garden, set up in 2011, houses 525 of the 742 plant species of Malabar mentioned by van Rheede in his 17th century book. The plants have been arranged theme-wise.
The ‘Nakshatravanam’ has plants that go with every star sign of the Malayalam calendar while the ‘Dashapushpam’ plot, ‘Dashamoolam’ plot, ‘Nalpamaram’ plot, and ‘Thriphala’ plot have plants under each category arranged together for the convenience of researchers and students. There is a wide variety of aquatic and medicinal plants, each tagged with its common name, botanical name, local name, and its use displayed on the tag.
A ‘Smrithivanam’, with saplings planted by noted personalities, is an added attraction along with a rescue centre for snakes caught from the locality.
However, if not for a few dedicated staff, the garden would not have existed, for the plot lacks maintenance. Exhibits at the interpretation centre are covered in a thick coat of dust. A resting place made of bamboo and palm leaves collapsed in the monsoon.
On a side one can see a signboard ‘kattaruvi’ with a dried up stream and a pond filled with moss and mosquitoes. Behind the centre is a series of ponds which lead to a larger pond where there used to be water and fish at some point of time. Another signboard points to a ‘Butterfly Park’, where one can see nothing but weeds.
The place badly needs skilled botanists to take care of the plants and monitor the collection of saplings. The centre lacks an employee who can scientifically look after the ponds.Other than a few forest officials, there are only three daily wage workers to take care of the plants in ten acres. With water turning salty during the summer, a regular supply of freshwater is needed to keep the plants in better shape.
Drip irrigation can give better results with less water but the machinery is costly, which the garden cannot afford in its present financial condition.
The institution, regularly visited by students from schools to universities, is waiting for a favourable move from authorities to regain its initial glory.