Native plants have evolved with animals, fungi and microbes to form a complex network of mutual relationships, thus striking a perfect balance in the eco-system they sustain, writes N. Chandramohan Reddy

Who is watering the millions of plants in the forests, supplementing the fertilizers and taking care of the pests? When the forest plants do not make many demands, why do the garden plants? Can’t we mimic the forest situation in our gardens? Having those forest plants in our garden is the answer to all these questions. As the native plants have adapted themselves to the climate, geology and hydrology, and evolved according to the local conditions over thousands of years, they are not exacting. Also these indigenous plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of mutual relationships and make perfect balance in the eco-system they sustain.

Designing native landscape

Before deciding the design of the landscape, one has to assess the factors of locality like – light availability, drainage pattern, soil depth and its characters, site terrain, irrigation facility, species growing naturally in the surroundings; and accordingly finalise the type of the landscape which can match the site. Since many of the urban open spaces are barren and sterile with no good soil (in most of the situations the ground is filled with construction debris mixed with plastics), cleaning the area and soil amendment may be needed to have good growing media for the plants.

Plant selection

By observing native plants in their natural habitat, one can learn about the cultural requirements and growth habits of various species. We can choose plants basing on the soil, light and water requirement, location in which the plant to be placed and size, shape, texture and type of foliage and blooms. Also the selection shall be based on what type of garden we intend to develop – wild-flower garden, butterfly garden, bird garden, screen garden, tree grove, fruit garden or pond garden.

Whatever we plant it is the commercial availability of native plant species in local nurseries that will determine which plants we may use in the landscape. As of now, sourcing many of the native plants is very difficult in commercial or forest nurseries, because there is no demand for them in ornamental landscaping. But things may improve with the increased awareness on the ‘naturescape’ development projects in future.

Characteristics may get altered

The native plants, which have adapted to the climate, soil, and interactions with other plants and animals may face certain adverse growing conditions in the city environment, change in the chemical characteristics of soil, decrease in soil organic matter, increase in shade due to the high-rise structures, interference from pollution, invasive weeds and physical damage, increased supply of nutrients especially when irrigation is sourced from the urban lakes to mention a few. Due to this changed environment, the characteristics of the species may get altered in terms of the foliage, flowers, time of flowering and form of the plant.

Since native plants require less care, there will be savings of time, energy, money, water and other resources in maintaining the landscape. These gardens provide more variety in plant species and offer myriad alternatives to the same old exotic species. Also the landscape looks different with more diversity, not only in terms of plant species but also the visiting birds and butterflies, which add colour and vibrancy to the garden.

(The author is a forest officer, presently Additional Commissioner (Parks) in GHMC and can be contacted at ‘nchandramohanreddy@’)