The fact that we live within a forest is obvious. But today, even more glaringly obvious is the absence of the trees that used to line the roads and nestle the buildings. While IITM was carved out of the Guindy National Park over fifty years ago, nature-and the administration- largely undertook the swelling of the numbers for over twenty years now. T5E talks to Mr. V Seenivasan, Senior Horticulture Officer of IIT Madras and brings to you a brief overview of the situation past the cyclone.
With inputs by Mr. Govindanan of Horticulture Office, IIT Madras.
How many trees were affected?
The wind uprooted over 650 trees, considerably mauled around 300. Around 1500 trees had big branches broken or dangerously hanging.
Cassia siamea, Prosopis juliflora, Peltophorum pterocarpum fell in large numbers. Of these, first two are invasive. The average age of the trees is ten to fifteen years.We are attempting to put the trees back-‘replant’- wherever possible. But the trees which cannot be saved will be removed and sold. We currently don’t have plans to plant too many. The open spaces in the hostel zone are very important to the blackbuck. We can actually attribute a few deaths to the poor visibility of the thickets for the guards. Once, we saw one amidst the trees, and by morning, it went missing. The Director wants to let the open spaces stay. We shall plant grass in the hostel zone. For other spaces, we have plans to plant native, non invasive plants like Pongamia pinnata, neem etc.
The trees which fall away from the roads are never touched. They are important for the nesting of birds and other animals and sometimes, with a percentage of roots left undamaged, they might still remain green for a good six to seven years!
Do you think the cyclone has provided for an opportunity to plan the planting better ?
Definitely. Take Gulmohar (Delanix regia), for example. It will be the first tree to fall in a cyclone. And they are everywhere. For safety, they are better off inside the forest; they survive well inside the forest too. Tree jasmine is not a sturdy species either. With flimsy, invasive species struck down, we have plans to plant sturdier trees of several species.
What efforts are currently being undertaken?
Right now, we are removing the decaying trees and cutting off branches of the ones which stand. You should saw the branches in a slant to not let trees decay from collected rainwater. Some cases are a little troublesome and need a lot of hard work and patience. For cutting the branches of one tamarind tree, we took a whole day.
Tree numbers have grown rapidly in the twenty years I was here. And most of them are invasive. To cut even one tree, permission from the office of the Director is required. Even the students demand a reason whenever they come across someone cutting a tree in the institute. I think it is nice that everyone feels the responsibility to inquire.
As for selling trees, we only sell firewood. Any thing else that is useful -eucalyptus, mahogany etc. – are used by the institute itself for making furniture and similar things. Firewood will fetch a total of 10-15 lakh rupees. So, the activities will fund themselves.
Can students do anything to help?
Yes, we shall take your help for planting trees by June and July. Perhaps, we would get groups of students to plant a tree each with their names on it. They can take care of the tree during their stay here.