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Nature’s unsung heroes

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Trumpeting Kadamba tree, the ‘sthalavruksham’ of Madurai at Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple
Trumpeting Kadamba tree, the ‘sthalavruksham’ of Madurai at Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple

Trees that were hitherto unknown or remained unnoticed are now becoming a part of an unique thesis writes S. S. KAVITHA

A wise man was once asked what would he do if he knew he had just a day more to live. Pat came the reply “I would plant a tree.”

Trees can outlive us and be a link with the generations to come. And it is essential that children are made to realise the importance of trees.

Unfortunately, today’s fast paced urbanisation is resulting in deforestation. The rapidly developing concrete jungles are denying the trees their due space. The concept of felling trees whether for widening roads or constructing multi-storeyed apartments sounds the death knell for the eco system. Trees help to keep the Earth’s ecology in balance, transforming carbon dioxide into vital oxygen that we breathe, tempering the effect of sun and wind and anchoring the soil against erosion. In simple words they make the world livable.

“Gracefully growing trees often become victims of merciless human beings. But the city still struggles to retain its green pastures,” says K. Guru Charan Kumar, Botany teacher of TVS Matriculation Higher Secondary School.

Recently, Mr. Kumar, under the guidance of his mentor, Major K.M. Rajasekeran, Botany professor of Madura College, submitted a thesis on ‘Trees of Madurai City,’ to Bharathidasan University for Master of Philosophy in Botany.

Unique topic

When Mr. Rajasekeran suggested the topic, Mr. Kumar was hesitant to take up the topic, as it was unique and different. But after he started working on it, he realised the uniqueness of his work.

Since it was neither possible nor wise to explore the entire city, Mr. Kumar earmarked four important boundaries -- Mattuthavani in the North, Pasumalai in the South, Iravathanallur in the East and Viratipathu in the West.

Approximately he wandered around 60 to 70 kilometres and identified 111 trees, which were then divided into five categories: sacred trees, economically important trees, avenue trees, roadside trees and ornamental trees.

Mr. Kumar has identified 11 sacred trees including Kadamba, Nagaralinga, Mavalingam, Vilva, Vila, Vanni, arasa, aala, kundal paai and Maghilam.

The Kadamba tree, which is the ‘sthalavruksham’ of the city that is otherwise known as ‘Kadambavanam’ is still makes its presence in Meenakshi Amman Temple and a few trees in Meenakshi Government College for Women. The Nagalainga tree is found on the mandap of Teppakulam tank. It is believed that Lord Shiva took refuge in Nagalinga flower to escape the wrath of a giant.

Common but unknown

Some common but unknown trees are the Sivappu Mandarai tree used for decorative items, kamagu maram for making of painting brush, bottle brush, Thiruvoodu tree, Karuvagai tree and Illupai tree that give valuable cooking oil.

The city also boasts of some rare foreign origin trees, according to Mr.Kumar. To name a few, Norfolk Island pine native to South Africa and Australia, Bismark Palm of Madagascar, Queensland Umbrella of Subtropical Australia, Divi-divi, national tree of Curacao, Australian Pine of Australia, Scarlet Tree native of Peru.

The Tamil name of most of these foreign-origin trees are not known to the people. He cites the example of Thaneer Maram known as the African-Tulip tree which have buds that save water to quench the thirst in Himalayas.

Mr. Kumar has designed his work in such a way so that it provides a description of habit, habitat, phenology, vernacular name (Tamil), popular name, English name, botanical name, family, scared aspects, locations and usefulness of the city trees.

“The work will surely be helpful for botanists, forest officials and even common man to recognise and appreciate the value of invaluable trees in the city,” he hopes.

“It is surprising to see as many as 30 foreign-origin trees,” says Mr.Rajasekaran. A Babul tree, which is of African origin is apparently found only in The American College premises. He also says that the work highlights ‘Century Pal’ that flowers only after 80 to 100 years and withers soon after flowering.

The work is an unique attempt to understand, appreciate and conserve the oxygen hub of Madurai, asserts Mr. Rajasekaran. His desire is to publish the thesis as a book so that it can be accessed by a large number of people.

Most people satisfy themselves by just looking at the dead tree inside the temple, as they are not aware that centuries-year-old Kadamba tree is still alive within the temple premises, he notes as a case in point.

Indeed, his is an unique attempt to create awareness about the green soldiers and spread the fragrance far and wide.

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