Where the hills wear a myriad shades of green

The team behind ‘Trees of Arunachal Pradesh’ share their experience in documenting the shade givers of that region

April 05, 2022 02:31 pm | Updated 07:15 pm IST

Kameng River, Arunachal Pradesh Special Arrangement

Kameng River, Arunachal Pradesh Special Arrangement | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Have you ever marvelled at the wonder that are trees? The colour, shape of their leaves, how and where they grow — all point to their rightful place on the planet, one that far precedes man. Trees of Arunachal Pradesh, a field guide, gives the curious as well as the serious learner concise details about the flora of the region.

“Arunachal Pradesh (AP) is one of the least explored areas of our country due to its mountainous terrain and proximity to Indo-Burma hotspots,” says Navendu Page, a botanist, who worked on the field guide along with Aparajita Datta and Bibidishananda Basu. “The area has a wealth of flora which has not been well documented; those who do not have a background in botany will find it hard to follow whatever little has been recorded. Unlike birders who have numerous apps, gadgets and books at their disposal, there aren’t any field guides to identify trees in the North East.”

The guide is the fortunate result of corresponding work in the forests of AP by Navendu and Aparajita. The latter is an ecologist, who has been involved in the conservation of hornbills for close to three decades. She has also been active in the conservation and restoration of degraded patches of forest around the Pakke Tiger Reserve in AP.

Authors of ‘Trees of Arunachal Pradesh’ (from left) Navendu Page, Aparajita Datta and Bibidishananda Ghosh

Authors of ‘Trees of Arunachal Pradesh’ (from left) Navendu Page, Aparajita Datta and Bibidishananda Ghosh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As part of her work with hornbills, which are fruit-eating and nesting birds, it was important for her to identify the trees in that landscape. Navendu’s path crossed that of Aparajita and her team while they were monitoring the plants of AP for phenology, a study of how a particular species changes over time. “This study is especially important now, as it gives experts insights into how climate change is affecting the production and other life stages of the plant,” he says.

Aparajita, who is also a wildlife biologist and head of the Eastern Himalaya programme of the Nature Conservation Foundation, says she was always interested in forest trees, seed dispersal and plant-animal interactions. “Our work on hornbills is based on a lot of research in AP, northeast India, North Bengal and I’ve always dreamed of compiling the work I do into a book.”

“We initiated this collaboration to document all the important trees of AP to help students, ecologists, biologists and forest department personnel identify these plants in a non-technical and easy manner. As it was quite difficult to document that diversity in its entirety in one book, we restricted ourselves only to the low elevation forests of western Arunachal Pradesh,” says Navendu.

While the 591-page Trees of Arunachal Pradesh may seem a voluminous tome to the layman, Aparajita believes it is a comprehensive field guide only in a few respects. “The region has more than 6,000 flowering plants and over 1,500 woody plant species. We covered a subset of those species found in the lower elevation tropical rainforest,” she says, adding, “It was hard to decide which plants to leave out; in the end we focused on their ecological and conservational aspects.”

Pakke forest, Arunachal Pradesh

Pakke forest, Arunachal Pradesh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Four years in the making, Trees of Arunachal Pradesh lists close to 241 species with information on the leaves, flowers, fruits and uses of each tree, climber and shrub with its ecology. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status, as well as concise descriptions, accompany each photograph.

Bibidishananda Basu who initially joined them as an intern, compiled all the information related to species taxonomy. “My contribution was mainly identification of plants and designing how the book could be made user-friendly. Aparajita put together information on ecology, gleaned from her own long-time research and other sources,” says Navendu.

According to Aparajita, one of the biggest pluses of Trees of AP, is the addition of regional names. “Our index has over 1,000 local names in over 15 languages; this will definitely come in use when one is in different parts of Arunachal. The North East has so many tribes and communities, and often our guides through the forests are locals who speak Assamese or Nepali. The inclusion of local names will be a help to both parties.”

Trees of Arunachal Pradesh - A Field Guide can be purchased online through the Nature Conservation Foundation website.

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