You walk down a road under a thick canopy of trees, sunlight sneaking past the drooping branches and the path in front of you carpeted with fallen yellow flowers. You love these blooms, you want to plant one yourself. You’d recognise that tree anywhere — you just don’t know its name. What if you had a directory of trees, complete with pictures of their bark, flowers, and seeds along with the climate and soil type best suited for them to grow?
It was with this idea in mind that Sudha Ramen, under the guidance of Tamil Nadu Forest Department in February, created the mobile application and website, Tamil Nadu Treepedia, a glossary of trees found in the State and the appropriate conditions required for them to survive. Ramen was studying at the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy in Dehradun when she thought of this app.
“The information about trees was available only in books or was passed on by word of mouth. But most of us today get our information through the Internet. We had a lot of source material on trees but it wasn’t being used in the real world. I wanted to bridge that gap and create a digital dictionary of trees.”
Tamil Nadu Treepedia has four sections: trees categorised based on their species, types, the location they can be found in, and the fourth — tree finder — a refined search where you put in the soil type, terrain type and the rainfall in your region in order to look up the trees that can thrive the best. “This app is meant for farmers — to reduce monocropping and offer them more choices — as well as for interest groups, NGOs and anyone interested in gardening. I wanted to encourage the growth of native trees so that they don’t interfere with the ecosystem of the region,” explains Ramen. It even has a ‘sacred trees’ section to assist temples and tutorials on agriculture plans.
Born with a green thumb
Ramen’s earliest memories are of playing and studying in her parents’ garden in Neyveli under the shade of mango trees, amid hibiscus and bougainvillea flowers. The trees in that garden were planted by her grandparents and looked after by her parents. “Ours was a planned township, so every wide avenue was lined with trees,” she reminisces. Later, when she moved to Puduchery and subsequently, to Dehradun, she kept this love for a green cover alive. “Trees became my friends,” she laughs.
Ramen’s job as the Deputy Director of the Arignar Anna Zoological Park has brought her to Chennai but to this day, she detests living in an apartment. “I can’t afford to have such a huge garden in a city but I do have a small one,” she says. She has passed on her gardening skills to her eight-year-old son, who tends to this garden with the help of his grandmother.
But first, engineering
Ramen’s love for trees did not directly translate into a career until much later in her life. Like most Indians, she first studied engineering, after which she worked for an IT company. “Somewhere along the way I realised that I wanted to become a forest officer,” she says. However, her engineering background actually helped her conceive the app.
Tamil Nadu Treepedia has over 10,000 downloads since its conception and is rated 4.7; users from the US and Singapore have also downloaded the app. The main challenge, according to Ramen, was making the app bilingual. “So many trees have common names that differ from region to region. Matching the common names with their scientific names was a major task,” she says. Having worked on increasing the green cover at the Vandalur zoo after cyclone Vardah by planting over 20,000 saplings, her aim for the future is to devise a way to increase urban forestry. “Chennai is one of the least green metro cities. You can actually feel the difference if you move to other greener cities; I want to change that,” she says.
Tamil Nadu Treepedia is available on Google Play Store. For details, log on to www.tntreepedia.com