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Let the trees live to tell their tale

At what cost do we embrace development? How many trees do we have to plant to replace all the ones that are lost?
Last Updated : 18 May 2023, 20:09 IST
Last Updated : 18 May 2023, 20:09 IST

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On April 22, a slew of activities around the world marked Earth Day. And, for many of us, participating in mandated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tree planting programmes assuage our collective guilt. However, what made this year’s Earth Day reassuring were the media reports a few days later of a surviving 5000-year-old Cypress tree deep in a forest in Southern Chile. I say reassuring because this Great Grandfather survived centuries of logging to build houses and ships; the Great Grandfather stood witness to how the Earth’s climate adapted to changes down the centuries and will be a rich source of scientific information to face climate change challenges of the future.

This news came as a breath of fresh air, amid disturbing reports nearer home of some 3000 trees felled in a deemed forest in Malur, Kolar district in Karnataka. Almost every day, several ancient trees are axed to make way for flyovers, road s, or residential gated communities in urban areas. It is estimated that worldwide, some 15 billion trees are cut down each year.

At what cost do we embrace development? How many trees do we have to plant to replace all the ones that are lost?

Since 2010, Earthday.org, through its Canopy Project, has planted tens of millions of trees worldwide, each tree costing as little as $1. In India, through its Trees4Earth campaign, the organisation has worked with several stakeholders to plant over 900 million trees. Trees take in carbon dioxide, regulate temperatures, and give us clean air. But to do this, a tree must live for at least 10–20 years.

According to researchers, the planet has only a few thousand-year-old trees left. If these too disappear, there is no way of knowing how we evolved and adapted to our changing environment.

In Bengaluru, there are still some ancient trees standing proud in educational, scientific, and research institutions and in government offices. There are many raintrees, oaks, banyans, and flowering trees like the Jacaranda, Frangipani, Cassia, and Flame of the Forest, providing shade and carpeting our roads with their beautiful pink, white, purple, and red flowers while braving the increasing vehicular pollution. But it may not be long before they are axed in the name of development or uprooted in the coming monsoon season.

What is reassuring is that our two important lung spaces in the heart of the city, our two public parks, Cubbon Park and Lalbagh, are reasonably well maintained by the state government’s Department of Horticulture.

And, if it hadn’t been for traffic dissecting through its heart through the week, Cubbon Park would perhaps have been as good as Lalbagh at bringing back migratory birds and preserving its ancient trees. However, despite all the vehicular pollutants the park endures every day, there are many plants, shrubs, and trees growing here, like the beautiful flowering Cassias, Tabebuias, Tecomas, and Manoranginis; the chestnuts; the bamboos; the 100-year-old silver oaks; and a recently introduced red jade vine.

But it’s Lalbagh that is “a feather in its cap,” as the Department of Horticulture calls it. The botanical garden has had several native, diverse, and exotic plants brought from various parts of the world since its inception in 1760. Over 2000 species of plants and ancient trees grow here, the most spectacular being a 200-year-old white silk cotton tree, or Kopak. There are about 10 or 15 such silk cotton trees in the park. The park also has three 250-year-old mango trees, which still bear fruit, and several other ancient trees, including oaks, pines, magnolias, Java figs, bamboos, and banyans.

These ancient and majestic trees of Lalbagh have witnessed the changing history of the city from the reigns of Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, the British colonial era, and what Bengaluru is today—a modern hi-tech city. Remember Bengaluru’s sobriquets, ‘air-conditioned city’, that it went proudly by? Sadly, today we use air conditioners in our homes and offices to keep cool.

In our race to become a leading technology hub, let’s not leave our ancient trees behind. These are the most valuable assets we can leave our children. If they don’t have clean air to breathe, any other physical asset we leave them has no value or meaning. Let’s not cheat our children of their legacy.

(The writer is a journalist and author.)

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Published 18 May 2023, 18:43 IST

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