Howrah’s historic botanical garden turns into a graveyard of nearly 1,000 trees

The 250-year-old ‘Great Banyan Tree’ with a vast canopy miraculously escapes Cyclone Amphan

May 24, 2020 08:52 pm | Updated 10:46 pm IST - Shibpur

Broken prop root of Great Banyan Tree

Broken prop root of Great Banyan Tree

Inside the walled gates of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden located at Shibpur in Howrah district, the chirping of birds gets distinctly louder.

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Set up in 1787, the 273 acre garden, located at the other end of the river Hooghly, has turned into a graveyard of trees. Massive trees, hundreds in number, with trunks having a girth of several metres, have fallen all over the garden, completely blocking access to large parts of the campus.

“We have lost nearly 1,000 trees, including some notable and rare species,” Kanad Das, scientist, Botanical Survey of India (BSI), and in-charge of the Botanic Garden, said. The garden has over 13, 000 trees of about 1,100 species.

Rare and notable

Among the rare trees that have fallen include the only full-grown kalpabriksha ( Adansonia digitata ) tree in the garden, the mad tree ( Pterygota alata var. irregularis ), the para rubber tree ( Hevea brasiliensis ), the Malabar chestnut ( Pachira insignis ), the Chir pine ( Pinus roxburghii ), and several century-old mahogany trees ( Swietenia mahagoni ) in the garden’s famous Mahogany Avenue.

Most of these trees were introduced to the garden by British botanists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Commercial cultivation of mahogany and rubber began in India after the species were first introduced in this garden.

The cyclone also did not spare the iron fencing along the Hooghly River; the brick wall along the Andul Road of the Botanic Garden has suffered significant damage too.

‘Great Banyan Tree’ survives

Amidst all the devastation, the garden’s ‘Great Banyan Tree’ offered the only silver lining. The tree, which has an enormous canopy, has survived with some damage. The 250-year tree, which predates the Botanic Garden, has a canopy of over 1.5 hectares. It is supported by over 4,000 prop roots.

Located at the western edge of garden, about 10% of the Great Banyan’s prop roots have been damaged by the cyclone. The authorities managing the Botanic Garden are confident that the destroyed prop roots can either be repaired, or new roots will come up. The tree is one of the garden’s major attractions. The main trunk of the banyan tree had to be removed in 1925, after an infection was caused by a wood-rotting fungi.

A. A. Mao, Director, Botanical Survey of India, who visited the garden on Saturday, said that the sort of damage that the Great Banyan Tree has suffered was expected in a cyclone of such intensity.

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“We are lucky that the tree had a horizontal expansion and wasn’t tall like the other trees of the botanic garden,” he said.

Funds for restoration

Mr. Mao said he was seeking approval from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to allow citizens to contribute to the restoration of the garden, which could generate funds for work to begin as early as possible.

The authorities said that by the usual processes, it may take years to bring the garden back to normalcy. The BSI’s Director said that he was keen on taking the help of experts to revive the fallen trees.

“If we are able to trim the branches and make them stand by using cranes, maybe some of them will survive,” he said.

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