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Where the Wild Things Are: A book on most suitable trees for Delhi

Pradip Krishen collaborates with activist-environmentalist Padmavati Dwivedi for a handbook of suitable trees for Delhi.

delhi-talk-L Pradip has now collaborated with Delhi-based activist-environmentalist Padmavati Dwivedi of Compassionate Living. (Source: Express photo by Oinam Anan)

Pradip Krishen’s engagement with trees has been long known. In 2006, the 65-year-old’s Trees of Delhi (Dorling Kindersley) became a critically-acclaimed comprehensive guide to more than 250 species of trees in and around Delhi. He has now collaborated with Delhi-based activist-environmentalist Padmavati Dwivedi of Compassionate Living, an organisation that works in the areas of urban tree protection, for a 25-page booklet titled Pradip Krishen’s List of 100 Most Suitable Trees for Delhi (NCR) (published by Compassionate Living, Rs 50). A compact handbook, it tells how to plant the “right” ones in a “mosaic of micro-habitats”, for them to survive. Excerpts from an interview:

What draws you to Delhi and its trees? Your research and books on trees have often pointed out the most common problem of growing them — that of extreme temperature. Does that make the study more fascinating?

It’s only because I call Delhi ‘home’. This is where I spend most of my time and where I can study them. Extreme temperatures is not something that’s limited to the Delhi region. There are vast swathes of northern and central India where this occurs, a nd these places too support dry, deciduous natural forests that are not only beautiful and endangered, they’re also full of adaptations and natural phenomena that make for fascinating study.

What are the challenges of identifying the ‘right’ trees for Delhi’s diverse soil zones?

Over time, if you’re a careful observer, one forms firm impressions about how trees cope with environmental conditions in any given place. My list is quite simply a distillation of what I’ve learned and seen about which trees do well here, in different sorts of sub-habitats. I’ve also included a few trees, not many, that are not from Delhi but nearby places, like those further south along the Aravallis. They’ve been included not because they’ve done well in Delhi but because I have reasons to believe they will. My confidence is based on planting them elsewhere in fairly similar conditions, finding that they require environmental conditions similar to those in parts of
the NCR.

Are there any new findings to your personal record of Delhi/NCR trees in recent years? Perhaps some that are not in the 2006 book, but have found mention in this publication.

I’ve subverted my own list! I’m responsible for introducing something like 40 or so trees into Delhi that weren’t in my book. This has mostly to do with my stint with the Aga Khan Foundation when I was working at Sundar Nursery in 2009. My brief was to create an arboretum of trees and plants. I picked an assemblage of plants that were from neighbouring biomes — eastern Rajasthan, western Madhya Pradesh, and so on. A large number of them were native Delhi plants that had disappeared as the city grew. So to answer your question, yes, there’s a whole lot more trees that now live and prosper in Delhi since my book was written. A rough guess would be about 50 or so species. Examples are Firmiana colorata (pinj or the bonfire tree), Dolichandrone falcata (medsingi), Sterculia urens (kulu), Soymida febrifuga (rohan), Boswellia serrata (salai). All these are from Central India and/or the Aravallis, a little further south of Delhi.

Does your emphasis on “planting right” mean that people often do it wrong? What are the common mistakes people make while planting trees in Delhi/NCR?

Most people don’t think too much about ecological suitability when they’re choosing what to plant. It’s more likely to be about the shape or colour of flowers, or the shadiness of a canopy. There are elementary practical reasons to factor in, because if you’ve chosen ‘well’, your tree will need little or no looking once it’s established in its site. I’ve written, in my book, about four different kinds of habitats or ecological zones in Delhi. Two obvious examples are the dry stony Ridge, and the well-watered banks of the river, completely different in their soil moisture regimes. A thirsty tree (from wetter places) that people in Delhi are fond of planting, on the other hand, the kadamb (Neolamarckia cadamba) for instance, or the Michelia champaca (champak) and the southern Magnolia, are not suited to Delhi’s moisture regime, and I never recommend that people should plant them here . Or one that needs lots of nutrients, will require to be looked after all the time.
Unfortunately, nurseries in Delhi do not think about or promote sustainability. They go after fads. They pander to peoples’ ignorance. And this is a pity because they could play such an important role in encouraging people to get to know and recognise what’s best suited to their soil and environment.

Are you working on any project at the moment?

I’m Series Editor for a longish list of booklets that I’m producing for Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park in Jodhpur. They’re all about creatures in the Park — reptiles, birds and butterflies.

Write to compassionate.living @rediffmail.com for the booklet

TREE OF LIFE

About eight years ago, activist-environmentalist Padmavati Dwivedi had a defining moment. Being a resident of Greater Kailash I, she had been disturbed by the concretised circles around the trees. “Once they fall, the space becomes another parking lot,” says the 41-year-old.

Her unrelenting campaign had her witness MCD workers break the concrete, and that was just the beginning. Since then, she has worked with various groups as an activist, and formed Compassionate Living in 2008. “There is a huge land crunch in Delhi for plantation and it’s not going to improve. The plantation programmes can no longer be number driven,” she says.

Dwivedi started work on Pradip Krishen’s List… about a year ago and asked Krishen to recommend trees most suitable to plant in Delhi. “The trees that have made it to this list support the biodiversity of our region and unless specially mentioned, all the trees are drought-resistant,” she says. Dwivedi hopes to spearhead more such projects, and looks forward to more such opportunities with Krishen.

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