A Banyan tree growing out of a building wall, a curious young graduate and grit to save the environment. These were the foundation behind Green Umbrella, Mumbai’s only plant rescue organisation, which helps replant tree saplings growing out of highrises and concrete walls. These trees are said to take roots in such unlikely places mainly due to bird droppings, which help in dispersal of seeds.
Vikram Yende, the founder of Green Umbrella, who works in a bank, said the idea came to him on Vat Purnima in 2005. On this day, married women worship and tie threads to banyan trees. “As there were no Banyans in the vicinity, women brought small saplings from a tree growing on the building. The idea to rescue the plants growing on the building walls began from there.”
Yende rescued the plant from the building, nurtured and replanted it. After that day, Yende and his friends, all young graduates and with time to spare, began scanning walls and old buildings, looking for plants and trees that might be growing on them and needed to be relocated.
“Growing up, I remember there were scores of Banyan and Peepal trees along the highway. But their numbers kept reducing to a point that now, one can hardly find these trees in the city. I also started looking for seeds and saplings of native species plants for plantation, but they were not available in any nursery as there was no demand for them. There is a misconception that the roots of Vad (Banyan) trees will damage buildings’ foundation, because of which no one is planting them anymore. Even authorities prefer flowering trees for plantation drives,” said Yende.
To bridge the gap, Yende developed a nursery in Kalwa, where the team nourishes rescued plants and grows various Indian species from their seeds and branches. Green Umbrella, which is based in Thane, focuses on saving indigenous trees like Banyan, Peepal and Umber. The team has also been meeting officials from the government, forest department and the Mumbai civic body to emphasise the benefits of native plant species and to request them to take concrete steps to plant them in mass quantities.
What started as a group of five friends rescuing plants on the weekend is a registered organisation and saviour of more than 3,000 saplings over the last 10 years.
Yende, who is commerce graduate, said, “I had no knowledge or any education qualification in plant rescuing or basics of replantation. We made a few mistakes on the way as well. I studied the basics about plants and suitable areas for plantation through books, seminars, and working with NGOs. Earlier, we used to remove saplings from the trees growing on the wall, later we developed the method to uproot the plant with minimum damage.”
In the last five years, the group has also planted their seeds along the 9-km route between Ghatkopar and Mulund on the Eastern Express Highway.
After noticing that many buildings hire plumbers to remove plants growing on the walls, the group began an awareness drive in Thane and gave practical demonstrations to plumbers on how to rescue plants and uproot them without damaging the roots.
Residents contact the organisation through call or email with the exact location of the tree that needs to be rescued, and once the team gets there, the plant is uprooted with hand tools and minimum damage to its roots. The rescued tree is nurtured back and re-planted.
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