Monday, November 30, 2009

Silent Valley National Park

November marked the 25th anniversary of the declaration of the silent valley region in the southwestern Nilgris as a national park. Located in Palakkad district in Kerala, the Silent Valley is home to millions of species of plants and animals and represents a bio-diversity that has evolved over 50million years. If you happen to visit, dont forget to look for the lion tailed macaque - it can't be found anywhere else in the country.

The 'Save Silent Valley' movement started as early as the '70s, opposing the construction of a dam in the area and the preservation of its unique bio-diversity. Through the sustained efforts of various groups and individuals, the area was declared a National Park in 1984 and named the core area of the Nilgris Biosphere Reserve in 1986. It is now the only remaining undisturbed tropical evergreen rainforest in peninsular India.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Free the Tree Campaign' in my neighbourhood

The neighbourhood gang got together this morning at 6:30, armed with hammers, wire clippers, camera and turmeric-soil paste and decided to work on one stretch of a main road. The group split into two and covered both sides of the road. An hour and a half and tons of nails were removed from the trees - the most from the ones in front of a Sony World (20+ nails!!) and a Coffee World. We intend to go speak to the management of these two places and see if we can get them to protect these trees from nails/ads in the future.

Students from the neighbourhood were keen to come but unfortunately could not because of exams next week.

And to those from other parts of the world who are wondering why there are nails on the trees - it is common practise for small (and sometimes big) businesses to nail or hang their advertisements and banners on trees. Despite the corporation issuing a notice banning this practise, it continues, thanks to the lax attitude of the officials and lack of awareness of what this does to the trees. Nizhal, a local organization promoting tree culture, gathers its volunteers in various neighbourhoods and sets out on Free the Tree Campaigns (FTCs), where they remove the banners and nails, spread awareness among the residents and educate the offendors.
The area that we worked on today was 'clean' - no banners on the trees, but the old nails remained.

The plan is to meet again next weekend and work on the rest of the road.

I was particularily exhilarated as it was my first ever FTC! I had been waiting for one to happen in my neighbourhood, but soon realised that the best thing to do was to make it happen! Was a bit apprehensive yesterday when i sent out the mails/smses/calls to Nizhal volunteers in the neighbourhood - some of whom I'd never met, about what the response would be to such a last minute call, but everyone was so ON about joining, i'm so glad i did! here's to many more such initiatives in the neighbourhood.

This one on the left was one of the biggest nails.

Removing the nails sometimes left gaping holes - we put a soil + turmeric powder paste into them to help the trees heal.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Blog about trees and plants in the midst of a predominantly vegetarian urban sprawl and you will find yourself drawn, sooner or later, into the world of fruits, vegetables and kitchen gardens. To venture then into recipies and cooking is but natural. So I attribute my new found love for cooking not just to my recent geographical proximity to the land where cooking has been practised and perfected over centuries, but also to my blog!

Blogging has rekindled my childhood curiousity in all that is natural around me, and it continues to draw me to new interests. The Nature Blog Network recently had a thought provoking post on whether nature blogging makes us better people - and my answer is a definite yes!

But i digress from the topic of the day - the ubiquitous Banana! It all started out with some 'nendrankai upperi' that i had the pleasure to eat - the blogger in me started wondering all about the plantain and the banana and the many edible delights that south indians have devised out of them. Having my mother next to was very advantageous - she filled in all that were question marks in my mind and made me realise that we ingenuous south indians have devised ways to utilize all parts of the banana (or plantain) tree herb (yes, thats right, the banana is not a tree, it is in fact a herb) in our cooking!

The plantain and the banana are, botanically, the same - the musa acuminata. The banana is a cultivar of the original plantain.

The banana plant grows from rhizomes. Each plant produces fruit only one, then dies and a new one comes in its place. The tender 'trunk' is used in south indian cooking. The flower - called vazhaipoo in tamil - is also used to make a vegetable dish, as is the unripe fruit - the vazhaikai in tamil. The unripe fruit is also used to make chips, that are just as popular as potato chips in this part of the world. The ripe bananas are eaten just as they are, without the skin of course. Another variety of the plantain - called the nendrankai in tamil - is somewhat sweeter - when raw it is  used to make chips and when ripe is steamed/baked/roasted and eaten with jaggery.

And if all that weren't enough, the leaves of the banana plant have traditionally been used as plates! Yes that's right, south indian marriages still use banana leaves in lieu of plates. So there you are, a very useful herb, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Siemens - Nizhal 'Go Green' Initiative

All School/ College Meet in Gandhi Nagar

Media release:

Nizhal (meaning ‘shade’ in Tamil) is an NGO that came into being in September 2005 to promote concern for trees in urban areas, particularly Chennai. Nizhal focuses on sensitive greening which in the long run will help in regenerating the vanishing biodiversity of local flora and fauna.

Siemens, a corporate with a commendable record of CSR values tied up with Nizhal to conceptualize and implement the ‘Go Green’ initiative, a landmark project in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar in November 2008. This initiative is the first of its kind in Chennai as it is focused on holistic greening of the entire neighbourhood through the student community and volunteers from Siemens. In this project, 9 educational institutions in Gandhi Nagar participated.

The year-long project has been entirely funded by Siemens and included the following components:

Awareness programs included talking point presentations on tree issues, tree walks and tree surveys in and around the educational institution.

Tree surveys and Tree Walks inside the campuses, in some institutions, were followed by sessions where the students and teachers learnt how to make name boards which can be displayed in a tree friendly manner.

‘Free the Tree Campaigns’ , in some institutions, involved students in activities that help prevent tree abuse, like removing advertisement boards nailed onto trees.

Planting of trees included the planting of 100 saplings in and around the neighbourhood, with a systematic plan for their maintenance factored in by Siemens.

Siemens employees participated enthusiastically in the project and have put in great effort to conduct tree surveys across the neighbourhood, to identify number of tree species, types of tree abuse and care needed for the trees in the neighbourhood. Siemens volunteers have also played a major role in involving school children to take this project to a qualitative level.

The educational institutions involved are

Kumara Rani Meena Muthiah School
Kumara Rani Meena Muthiah College
Bala Vidya Mandir
Rani Meyyamai Higher Secondary School
St. Michaels Higher Secondary School
St. Louis School for the Blind
St. Patricks Matriculation School
St. Marks Primary School
Patrician's College

Eco friendly trophies

To complete this project, an event has been organized on the 21st of November’09 at St. Patricks School between 9.00 AM and 11.30 AM. The program will comprise of a tree quiz, sharing of experiences by students and volunteers, drawing up an action plan for a greener neighbourhood and distribution of certificates.

This project is replicable in other neighbourhoods, and we hope other corporates will follow the Siemens example!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday flowers - Bachelor's buttons

I photographed these white and purple button like flowers a long time back at a local nursery, and learned quite recently that they have a most amusing name - bachelor's buttons. I wonder how this name came to be?! They have a rough feel to them, but look quite pretty. They are also called the Globe Amaranth and botanically the Gomphrena globosa.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


When it comes to the tomato plant from the garden i can only share flowers and leaves with you, dear reader. It refused to bear fruit, despite all our coaxing and cajoling, manuring, weeding and watering. Some things just aren't meant to be!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Little Ms Sunshine - Mexican heather

 Its been raining cats and dogs, so what better time to post a picture from earlier this year, when the sun was at its peak?

Mauve is one of my favorite colors, so it is no wonder that i absolutely love these tiny mauve beauties - the  Mexican Heather (cuphea hyssopifolia)

Ferns & Creepers ?

These two started out in pots - that was sometime last year. We soon found that they are really fast growing plants, requiring regular trims (if you want to stop them from taking over all of the neighbouring areas).
They were later moved from the pots to the ground, where they grow now, unencumbered by boundaries. I've found that allowing the purple wandering jew (trandescantia pallida) to grow in the midst of a bed of these ferns, particularily the second, makes for a very pretty picture - purple necks sticking out of the sea of green, with the perennial pink flower.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tree robbery

Heavy interminable rains in the last couple of days. I expected to see newspaper articles about fallen trees, but instead saw one about tree robbery! Two sandalwood trees at the Theosophical Society disappeared during the rains.
Apparently this is not the first time this has happened. The lashing rains make it hard for the security guards (10 for the 250+ acres) to do their job, leavign the trees vulnerable to sandalwood smugglers. It is theorized that the smugglers enter through the estuary and cut up the trees during the rains. They either take the trees with them or bury them in small bags in the beach, returning later to collect their goods.

Here is today's article from the Times of India.
And here is one from November of last year from the Indian Express.

Although the Indian Government has imposed many regulations on the harvesting and cutting of sandalwood trees, be they on public or private property, there is no ban on its export. Most of the smuggled sandalwood from India finds its way to the Middle East or to the US, where sandalwood oil is used as a base to make many perfumes. Sandalwood has traditionally been used extensively in Indian cultural practises, making sandalwood oils, pastes, incense sticks and the like prized possessions among the Indian diaspora. The internet and the newspapers tell me that the illegal sandalwood trade continues to grow, endangering this species in many parts of south and south east asia.

Aerial view of the Adyar estuary from wikipedia

How do we protect these trees?

Maybe each one of us can do our bit by not patronizing sandalwood products, be they in soaps, powders, oils, perfumes or incense sticks. I for one love my perfumes, but it saddens me deeply to see the indiscriminate cutting of trees to make them. Here are some perfumes that i realised use sandalwood as a base. To their credit, I do not know whether they use natural sandalwood or synthesized compounds.

Ardenbeauty by Elizabeth Arden
Emporia Armani Night for Her by Armani
Dior Addict by Dior
Sicily by Dolce and Gabbana
Hot Couture by Givenchy
Mahora by Guerlain
Glow by J.Lo
Absolu by Rochas
Manifesto by Isabella Rossellini
Boudoir by Vivienne Westwood
Mahora by Guerlain
Kenneth Cole Black by Kenneth Cole
Paris Hilton Siren by Paris Hilton
Chanel Coco by Chanel
Hanae Mori Butterfly by Hanae Mori
The Love, Ralph Lauren by Ralph Lauren

Diva by Ungaro
Obsession Night by Calvin Klein
Donna Karan Cashmere Mist by Donna Karan
Jennifer Lopez Still by Jennifer Lopez
Kylie Minogue Perfume - Darling by Kylie Minogue
Pure White Linen Pink Coral for Women by Este Lauder
Parisienne by Yves Saint Laurent

There are many more, I'm sure..

Do you know more about this issue? Do share your knowledge and thoughts through the comment form.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Friday flowers - Little pink n white stars

Remember the little red stars i blogged about a while back? Here is a cousin. Both belong to the Pentas lanceolata species, also called the star flower/star cluster.

Nizhal tree walk - Kothari road

I missed a tree walk by Nizhal last weekend, the need for sleep overcoming my love for the trees, and am told that i missed quite a few trees - The walk started at the intersection of Kothari Road and Sterling Road and continued in the neighbourhood. Apart from the usual suspects - the gulmohar, copperpod, raintree etc, the walkers came across rows of the arjun tree (terminalia arjuna), queen's crepe myrtle (lagerstromia speciosa), purple orchid tree (bauhinia purpurea) and the palmyra palm (borrasus flabellifer). Each row had about 10-15 trees of the species.

Which made me wonder - how good an idea is it to plant a row of trees of the same species? I can understand why that might appeal to the aesthetic sense of the town planning folks (if such a group exists in this city!) but from an ecological point of view, what are the pros and cons?
If a disease struck one tree would it not strike all others on the same road ?
Does this not compartmentalize the ecological diversity of the area? What are the consequences of doing so?
Do you live in a city with one species of tree planted along a road? What do you think of it?

Share your thoughts - comment away!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#44 Circus of the Spineless & #41 FOTT

The hammerhead worm and the lynx spider from Guindy National Park have been featured in the #44th Circus of the Spineless. Do spend some time visiting the circus and checking out the other amazing invertebrates that have appeared this month.

And while you are at it, give a glance to this month's Festival of the Trees - edition #41. I was absolutely astonished at seeing the tree stump carved into a dragon featured by Granny J at the Walking Prescott.

Enjoy the festivities of November!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Leaf galls

Leaf galls - i finally overcame my revulsion and took a picture of these tumourous looking things.

Another plant IDed

An earlier post showed a succulent plant that i did not know the name of. It has now been identified as the Flaming Katy (kalanchoe blossfeldiana). Through the course of the year, this plant lost all its leaves, stood bare for a while, then started sprouting tiny new leaves that grew well. I think it is going through this cycle once again and im still trying to figure out why. too much sun? too much water? too little of either?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scale insect infestation

These pictures were taken during a routine monitoring of the Kotturpuram PWD park. The scale insect, which has struck all over the city seems to have found its way here as well. It secretes honeydew that attracts ants. Indeed, i saw many big black ones right next to the scale insects.

How do you get rid of these vile creatures? Someone suggested cutting and burning of the affected branches. Any less drastic ideas?