Thorny beauties enhancing charm of Temple City

Thorny beauties enhancing charm  of Temple City

Atal Behari Vajpayee,  Mother Teresa, (US Secretary of State) Hillary (Clinton) and (Princess) Diana share space at the confluence of Mahanadi, Yamuna and Bhargavi. Sounds illogical? But that it what one can see at the beautiful cactus garden in Odisha capital of Bhubaneswar.

Spread over an area of over 485 acres of land in posh Nayapalli locality of the city, the three-decade old cactus garden developed and maintained by Regional Plant Resource Centre (RPRC), an arm of the state forest department, is slowly emerging as a big attraction for cactus lovers and researchers. The garden has an amazing collection of more than 450 cactus species belonging to about 1,000 varieties. They include many species indigenously developed by the scientists at the garden.

Entry into the cactus garden is restricted. However, common visitors can have a feel of the thorny wonders, thanks to the RPRC authorities who have set up a “cacti house” nearby. The place has almost become a must for the visitors to the City. “Now we are having three and a half lakh visitors every year and the number is growing”, said the Dr A K Mohapatra, the Chief Executive Officer  of RPRC.

The “cacti house” is having about 250 cactus species. The unique garden had also played host to a number of VIP visitors in the past including the Prince of Thailand. Now VIP tourists visiting Odisha can have a feel of the cactus garden inside the Governor’s House in the capital where a similar but smaller in size garden has been developed by the RPRC. The garden was inaugurated by President Pratibha Patil last year.   

The cactus species, particularly those which have been developed indigenously, are having interesting names. As many as 72 of them have been named after many important rivers of the country like the Mahanadi, Yamuna and Bhargavi as well as eminent personalities like Mother Teresa, former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Odisha chief minister the late Biju Patnaik, the late Lady Diana and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

However, RPRC official clarified that the particular cactus species was given Clinton’s name when she was the first lady at the White House and not after she became the Secretary of State in the Obama administration. “The species was developed when Bill Clinton was the president of the USA and Hillary Clinton was the famous and vibrant first lady. We decided to name the new species as Hillary”, said a RPRC official.

Similarly, the cactus species which is having the name “Atal” was developed when  Vajpayee was the prime minister. In fact, an “Atal” cactus pot has already been presented to the former prime minister by the RPRC and Vajpayee felt very happy when he received the unique gift, according to the official.

The “Diana cactus” got its name when scientists developed a beautiful white coloured species. “It was so beautiful that we decided to name it after Lady Diana who was known for her beauty and grace”, said another RPRC official. The cactus garden is having an “Amitabh” cactus species too. But the RPRC officials clarified that the species had not been named after the Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan,  but after Amitabh Upadhya, one of country’s prominent horticulturists.

Neither the cactus garden nor the cacti house has “Manmohan”(prime minister Manmohan Singh), “Sonia”(Congress president Sonia Gandhi) and “Naveen” (present Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik) cactus species at the moment. But officials did not rule out the possibility of these species adding colour to the beautiful thorny garden in the coming days!

The cactus garden is not only beautifying the Odisha capital but also has turned out to be a money spinner for the state forest department. The RPRC currently sells cactus worth Rs one lakh every month to government and non-government agencies in different states as well as some of the big hotel chains in the country. “Earlier, cactus was  considered by many as inauspicious. But the attitude and trend seems to be changing now”,  Mohapatra said.

The RPRC was also exporting the colourful thorny beauties in the past and between 1998 and 2000, it had exported cactus worth lakhs of rupees to countries like Holland, Bangladesh and UAE. However, the cactus exports have now come to a grinding halt for various reasons, including a few reported legal hurdles.

“Presently we are not exporting directly. However, any private party can now buy the cactus from us and export it”, said a RPRC official. The RPRC has not restricted its activities to Odisha capital alone but has already spread its wings to other places in the country like national capital New Delhi. The Odisha government agency has set up a cactus garden at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The garden in the Presidential palace was  developed and maintained by the RPRC till the year 2006. But since then it has been handed over to the Rashtrapati Bhavan horticulturists who have been trained by the Odisha government agency. The RPRC has also helped the Indian Army to develop a cactus garden in its headquarters in New Delhi.

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