BSI develops a mobile app for exotic plants at the Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata

A screenshot of the the Botanical Survey of India's mobile application.

A screenshot of the the Botanical Survey of India's mobile application.

With about 14,122 plants belonging to 1,377 species, the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, located on the bank of river Hooghly, is an open museum — a living collection of myriad plants, trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers. But for the nearly one million visitors to the garden every year, it is often a challenge to locate rare and exotic plants and trees in its 273 acres.

So, from locating the 270-year Great Banyan Tree, which has one of the biggest canopies in the world, in the western part of the garden, to the only full-grown tree of kalpabriksha ( Adansonia digitata ) to the ‘mad tree’ ( Pterygota alata var. irregularis ), visitors sometimes struggle to find the exact tree. The other species that most of the visitors want to spot are the Lodoicea maldivica , the country’s only double coconut palm; the branching palm ( Hyphane thebaica ), introduced from Egypt; the century palm ( Corypha macropoda ), and the giant water lily ( Victoria amazonica ) brought from the Amazon river, all located in different parts of the garden.

The Indian Botanic Garden also hosts the Central National Herbarium, which is India’s biggest repository of two million plant specimens, a palm section with 110 palm species, an orchidarium, a rose garden, a cactus section, and an aromatic plants section, among others.

In an attempt to provide detailed information on the vast variety of plant species, and the location of rare and exotic plants in the garden, and their flowering season and other details, the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) has developed a mobile application.

“The application, named ‘Botanical Survey of India’, has two major components — it gives information on the flora of protected areas of the country, and one section is entirely dedicated to all botanic gardens, including the Indian Botanic Garden. It is basically an attempt to provide a virtual guide to the visitors who turn up at the garden,” A. A. Mao, Director, Botanical Survey of India, said.

The scientists behind developing the application say that it was an arduous task to put together information about so many species spread over such a big area. The mobile application will not only help visitors in locating the plants in the garden, it will also provide details such as nativity, introduction history, flowering and fruiting season, uses, and plant photographs.

Basant Kumar Singh, Scientist, BSI, who worked on developing the application, said that the garden is not only about trees, it also has a lot of history to it. “Set up in 1787, the garden was formerly known as the ‘Company Bagan’ or the Royal Botanic Garden, and bears testimony to the introduction of some notable species like tea, cinchona, rubber and mahogany, which have an impact on the lives of people and the economic development of the country,” Dr. Singh said.

C. M. Sabhapathy, another BSI Scientist behind the initiative, added that the Indian Botanic Garden predates the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, United Kingdom, and the Botanical Survey of India, by several decades, and that is the outcome of generations of untiring work by botanists like Robert Kyd, William Roxburgh and Nathaniel Wallich, among others. There are monuments and buildings dedicated to these pioneering botanists in the garden that often elude a visitor, which could also be easily located through the mobile application.

The application was launched earlier this month by Babul Supriyo, Minister of State, Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, and has registered more than 500 downloads in only a few days, even when the garden is closed for visitors. Cyclone Amphan, which battered south Bengal in May this year, caused significant damage to the garden, and hundreds of trees in it were destroyed.

“Once the garden opens, we believe that the application will be a great aid to thousands of visitors and will generate awareness about the rich plant diversity and botanical history of the garden,” Dr. Mao said.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2022 1:04:27 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/bsi-develops-a-mobile-app-for-exotic-plants-at-kolkatas-indian-botanic-garden/article32990937.ece