A plant kingdom in the heart of Visakhapatnam

Once a barren, lifeless piece of land in the heart of Visakhapatnam, the Biodiversity Park today is a living laboratory of about 2,000 plant species. One of its kind in Andhra Pradesh, its transformation into a thriving botanical hub in the premises of Rani Chandramani Devi (RCD) Government Hospital is an incredible ecological metamorphosis. Surrounding this oasis of green, are concrete structures — some under construction — signifying the rapid spread of the city’s urbanisation.Inside the Biodiversity Park, one is greeted by the symphonic tweet of birds, a colourful mosaic of plants and fluttering swarms of butterflies.

Spread across three acres, the Biodiversity Park came alive because of the efforts of a team of committed eco-warriors called Dolphin Nature Conservation Society (DNCS). The society, that celebrated its 20 years of existence last week, is spearheaded by M Ram Murthy, a retired professor.

He along with his wife Mangathayi and a team of students achieved the near-impossible task of creating a plant kingdom from a land mostly used to dump garbage. It has been a long journey for DNCS team since then. “We have gone through the highs and lows in managing the Biodiversity Park over the past two decades. We saw Cyclone Hudhud devastate our efforts with a single blow in 2014 and built it [the park] back from scratch. We also saw several international researchers come down to study our plants and welcomed teams of students from across the country. The park has become a second home,” says Ram Murthy, who spends most of his time attending to the needs of various plant species, some rare and endangered.

He narrates the beginning of this journey. “It takes years of hard work to create an ecosystem of plants where they feel nurtured. Every species needs time to adjust to the new environment,” says Ram Murthy. The initial years for DNCS was a challenge in terms of restoring the lost native biodiversity of the region without much funds. Approximately four years after the planting began in 2002 on World Environment Day, the Biodiversity Park began to thrive and over the years it became home to over 2,000 different species of plants, over 100 species of butterflies including several reported for the first time in Visakhapatnam. It also houses botanical wonders like the Mickey Mouse flower, Mad tree and the Holy Cross tree.

“Among the unique species, the park has the Maidehair tree (Ginkgo biloba), the oldest known living fossil tree since Mesozoic era,” says Ram Murthy. The other species include the Butter cup (Cochlospermum religiosum), Upside down tree (Adansonia digitata), Krishna’s Butter Cup (Ficus krishnae) and largest freshwater lily (Victoria amazonica).

The Park is also home to the captivating insectivorous or carnivorous plants like the Nepenthes, which were developed from tissue culture.

“Among our recent successes were rare orchids like Dendrobium and Rhynchostylis. We have about 25 species of orchids in our park, a majority of which are found in the Eastern Ghats because of the cool climate,” says Ram Murthy. Till about 2014, the park was maintained by DNCS with membership funds, meagre donations from Nature lovers and Murthy’s contributions towards its upkeep. Today, the park is maintained by Visakhapatnam Metropolitan Region Development Authority in collaboration with DNCS.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2022 5:08:27 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/a-plant-kingdom-in-the-heart-of-visakhapatnam/article34072129.ece