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Do not throw away fruit seeds. Plant them and let the greens return to Kolkata

31 May, 2020 05:15:13
Do not throw away fruit seeds. Plant them and let the greens return to Kolkata

I had often wondered how the jackfruit tree of our garden had grown in a narrow alley just in the back lane of our house. None from our family had planted it. Rather it grew on its own, from a sapling that suddenly sprung one day through the concrete crevice to a huge tree spreading its wings over the years. The lone jackfruit tree stood always in a solitary mood, never forgetting to drench us with juicy jackfruits every summer. It was much later that I realized there was another jackfruit tree in the house opposite ours and I was sure some bird or small mammal must have left a seed of a ripe fruit or may be even someone from my house threw it unknowingly and life sprung in the unknown alley. Today she still stands tall even after Cyclone Amphaan that fell around 5,000 trees in Kolkata.

As the city stands a chance to lose its green cover, its lungs that probably had saved many of us from the ill effects of the rising pollution, environmentalists are putting their heads together to find out how the green cover can be restored. An average tree can produce 118kg of oxygen a year and can absorb 22 kg of carbon dioxide. The sheer scale of destruction in Kolkata will lead to a depletion of 5.9 lakh kg of oxygen! And well, that is huge converting Kolkata back to the gas chamber like last year when it became one of the most polluted cities of the world! 

For commoners like us, the least we can probably do to bring back the greens, is to throw away seeds of fruits like mango, jackfruit, litchi not in the dustbin, but on bare lands around. The monsoon will be soon here, and this is the right time when the seeds stand a fare chance to germinate into saplings and then by the year end grow into trees. Many believe the city has lost its trees primarily due to concretization of their bases that we have seen often in the name of decorating footpaths. Though weaker trunk trees like gulmohar (Krishnachura and Radhachura) usually fall even during Kalbaishakhi, this cyclone has uprooted even deep-rooted trees like banyans and peepal which are considered to be very strong trees. 

Environmentalists and botanists feel the plantation pattern of the city needs a change and overhaul. Planting trees at random and planting weaker trees will lead to such destruction as incidence of storms and cyclones have increased manifold in recent times. Like thick trunked trees Mahogany, Banyan, Peepal should be planted in open areas like the Maidan, so that their roots can go deep and make the tree strong, while roads and avenues can have Deodar and Neem or the short and sturdy Chhatim.

But the easiest to grow are fruit trees and we can all do that this summer. Many years ago, while on a trip to Murshidabad I had learnt from my father that in a place called Sargachhi where the famous Ramkrishna Mission stands, there is almost a man-made forest of several fruit trees that came up due to fruit seed throwing by a Maharaj and his students. Today the area has several species of birds that feed on fruits and help to a large extent in their dispersal. Senior scientist and ecologist of Hyderabad, Dr V Rajshekhar Tummala had carried out such an action on an experimental basis with mango, jamun and jackfruit seeds urging people to throw them along highways, on stretches of barren lands just before monsoon. They easily germinated during the rains and grew into tall trees soon. The trees even started bearing fruits within 6-7 years. 

So why not us? Let us join hands to bring back the greens of Kolkata. Be it the famous Lake area of Southern Avenue, the Maidan or even your neighbourhood. Plantation drives before monsoon is a must. As the foliage returns, so will the birds and so will the oxygen to fill in your lungs and make you breathe again the freshness of a morning to awaken our souls even during times of COVID-19.

(Saheli Mitra did her higher studies in Environmental Biology and runs a group called To Trees with Love)

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