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City is now under denser tree cover

A view of avenue trees on Margosa Road, Malleswaram  

It is usual for a Bengalurean to say with a chuckle, “The city will not be the same again” every time a tree is seen being cut. But relax and think for a while before such a lament grips you next time! The city is much greener and more shaded than it used to be 250 years ago.

Arboriculture (or the planting, cultivation, management of trees) has found a solid grounding in Bengaluru, thanks to a series of great tree lovers and landscape architects who were associated with the city.

Currently, Bengaluru is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the greatest of them all, German horticulturist Gustav Hermann Krumbeigel (1865-1956), the man who served as the Superintendent of Lalbagh (between 1908 and 1932) and imparted it the scenic look it proudly wears today. But he was preceded and succeeded by a series of worthies to whom the city folk owe a debt.

Oxygen factories

Says Vijay Tiruvadi, botanist (who conducts the weekend Lalbagh Walk), today Bengaluru can boast of some of the thickest tree clusters and can easily be termed ‘City of Arboriculture’.

He says the campuses of Indian Institute of Science, NIMHANS, Carlton House, West End Hotel, Palace Grounds, 800 acres of land in the Cantonment area, Roerich Estate, and the bungalows, parks, and avenues endow the city with great amount of tree wealth and serve as oxygen factories.

Regret one must feel when a tree is felled, but there is no room for cynicism as is commonly evident in linking the warmer summers to denudation.

The concretisation of the city buildings has more to do for soaring summer heat than denudation. Old works by British painters show the city and its environs as a ‘naked country’.

In fact, the Nandi Hills was a totally bald granite rock and the city a barren stretch of land along the ridge on the Deccan Plateau.

The 18th century Mysore rulers Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan pioneered organised tree planting in and around Bengaluru and Mysuru and laid the foundation for Lalbagh. They were primarily inspired by the Persian Gardens and introduced a lot of ornamental trees and plants.

‘Devarakadu’

Prior to them, tree clusters existed in ‘devarakadu’ and ‘gundutopu’ which were sanctified under the Hindu ethos. Communities nurtured them for their spiritual and medicinal value. Rest for the wayfarers, grazing ground for the cattle, honey from bee hives and nesting for birds and insects came as additional benefits. V. Bhaskar, former professor of Agro-Forestry, says systematic study of ‘thopus’ reveals that these clusters that abound in the districts of Old Mysore State actually constituted social forestry scheme of yore. “It is only right that they have been placed under the Karnataka Biodiversity Board”, he comments.

Preserving botanical wealth

The colonial administration saw a series of horticulturists descending upon Bengaluru. Major Waugh, Nanthiel Wallich, Sir Mark Cubbon, High Cleghorn, William New and A. Black introduced a wide variety of exotic trees from around the world. They were succeeded by John Cameron (1874) and G.H. Krumbeigel (1908-1932), the most celebrated horticulturists and landscape architects. They had widened their net to as far as Madagascar and West Indies in the west and to Australia in the east. ‘Chow-chow’ or what has come to be known as Bangalore Brinjal was brought from South America. It became an iconic vegetable for the city.

Mr. Tiruvadi says New, Black and Cameron, who had an earlier stint in the Royal Kew Botanical Gardens in London, enriched the botanic wealth of the city in immense measure by bringing seeds, plants and saplings of several new varieties. They all had been funnelled into the Kew by British botanical expeditionists. It was in 1857 that Lalbagh was declared as the Government Botanical Garden on the recommendation of Hugh Cleghorn.

The first authenticated horticultural exhibition was held in Lalbagh in 1838 when it was under the care of William Munroe, Secretary of the Agri-Horticultural Society of Bangalore. The legendary Krumbeigel, who took over in 1908, imparted the Lalbagh the most aesthetic touch. He meticulously designed each of the Lalbagh’s pathways, glades, fountains, urns, balustrades, staircases, and all that lends it the current shape.

Commercial gains too

But the British were looking for some commercial benefits from the tree wealth of their colonies. They encouraged teak plantation and other timber yielding trees and carted away almost the entire teak to England for shipbuilding.

Says Hittalamani, former Additional Director of Horticulture, much of the British Navy ships owed their strength to the teak imported from India and Burma (now Myanmar). Similarly, casuarina was grown commercially for producing charcoal which fuelled the steam engines of the railways introduced by the British almost everywhere.

Serendipitous

Perhaps it might be serendipitous for Bengalureans that the city had orchards with apple-laden trees in the early parts of the last century.

Glen Hickey, a British traveller, wrote in 1929: “Locally grown apples are sold in Bangalore in heaps”. Tiruvadi’s research says apple orchards covered around 1,100 acres and a fruit-grower could raise almost Rs. 1,000 from a garden spread over a hectare, more than any other crop could yield.

Hittalamani says introduction of transport and the railways brought in apples from Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh which were cheaper in rate and ruined the prospects of the local growers.

According to Tiruvadi, the British also introduced several flowering trees on the sides of the avenues of Bengaluru which serially flower and impart a colour parade effect to the city with some or the other flowering canopy adorning the streets from December till the arrival of monsoons in June. He says 80 per cent of the trees in the city are along the avenues.

Serious threat

But environmentalist S. Sridar of INCERT warns against serious threat to climate due to vast changes to land pattern in and around the city.

He says the encroachment on lakes, wetlands and garbage dumping into rajakaluves is sounding the death knell for the city’s environment. He says 50 per cent of the wetlands in Karnataka have vanished since 1987 and unless remedial steps are taken, the avifauna of the State is under threat.

(The author can be reached at maqsiraj@gmail.com)


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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 3:11:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/city-is-now-under-denser-tree-cover/article8370505.ece

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