Meet Baiju K., a teacher at Government Upper Primary School, Paluvally, Palode, who nurtures a butterfly garden on the school premises

Hindi teacher Baiju K. likes to teach the language of conservation to his students. Baiju, a butterfly and birding enthusiast, who works at Government Upper Primary School, Paluvally, Palode, has, over the past decade, nurtured a butterfly garden to full bloom in the school premises. It is one of the only such gardens in a Government school in the district.

What started off as a cluster of plants on five cents of land back in 2003, is now a full- scale garden that covers more than half an acre on different parts of the campus. “The population of butterflies is decreasing because of habitat destruction and I wanted to do something about it. Butterfly gardens give students’ insights into the lifecycle, behaviour and role of butterflies in sustaining ecosystems. By tending the host plants themselves they also learn about nature and protection and conservation of the environment,” says 46-year-old Baiju, who is also a former student of the school. “Awareness should begin from childhood itself and teachers should set an example. Incidentally, my interest was nurtured by Ananthapadmanabhan sir, former Principal of the school, who was a nature enthusiast. He would take me along on his butterfly and bird watching trips,” adds Baiju, who is also inspired by the works of wildlife expert Suresh Elamon. The teacher is also an active member of the Travancore Natural History Society, a city-based biodiversity NGO.

Before work started on the butterfly garden, Baiju and his students did a survey of the butterfly varieties in the area and identified their host plants. “Our school is surrounded by the reserve forest on three sides and so there is an abundance of flora nearby. In the initial survey we made a checklist of around 80 butterflies and 65 host plants. The number has now risen to 102 butterflies of five popular species Papilionidae, Pieridae, Nymphalidae, Lycaenidae and Hespiriidae! Of these, the students seem to be particularly fond of Papiloionidae – big-winged butterflies; there are 19 varieties of this in Kerala and we have 15 of them in our school,” says Baiju, with pride in his voice.

The next step was sourcing host plants – those plants that give nectar such as Ixora (Theti), Jamaican Blue Spike, and Pagoda flower (Krishnakireedam), to name just a few, and also those plants that support larvae. The students, most of who belong to the tribal community, brought the plants from their homes. “We didn’t have to spend a dime sourcing plants. In fact, each time we need to re-plant, which usually happens in June/July, the students themselves bring the plants,” says Baiju.

Even though the green activities are not part of the curriculum, the students seem to take an active interest and take care of the maintenance of the garden. “Every year, at the start of the school year in June, we form a ‘Chitrashalabha’ (butterfly) club in the school, which usually has around 30 students from class six and seven and a smattering of class five students too. We divide them into groups and each group is responsible for tending to (watering and weeding) different areas,” explains Baiju. Every Monday, at least for half an hour before school, the students are required to observe the butterflies, and then they have to present a report on their activities, usually during lunch time. On Wednesdays Baiju, another teacher or some invited experts in the field will take a special class on nature. On Fridays there is usually a quiz on what they learnt that week. At the end of the school year the children have to write up a report. “We give prizes for the best reports,” says Baiju.

The teacher says that he’s observed a change in the attitude of the students after they get hands-on involved in the garden. “It’s gratifying to see the children protecting the butterflies and dragonflies, especially when someone is out to hurt the insects. The only problem is that once they graduate from the school not many of them are given an opportunity to sustain their interest. However, some of our old students do pop by often to check on the garden.”