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What Are Trees For?

As told to Anitha.S

27 August, 2013

PHOTOS| By Suresh Elamon

I am Ananthu.. I am 13 years old and live in the city of Thiruvananthapuram,Kerala. I study in a small Upper Primary School in the heart of the city. This year during summer, I noticed that the heat was intense and there were many instances of people dying and or being victims of heat stroke. There were even instructions from the Government to people not to get out and so on. I always thought how this can be a solution when you need to work and move out.How many of us can stay indoors? For example, my father who is a painter works a lot outside in the sun.My friend Kannan’s father is an auto-driver who also has to be out a lot.

Everyday, I walk to school along a road that is lined by trees. I hardly know their names, but this summer I found that it is these trees that made the walk possible. Holding on to my little sister’s hands we watch the trees, some with yellow and others with mauve or red flowers. At the turning to my school there is a tree that is called Mahogany that is green and with dark bark. When we reach school after a waste dump that is often burning and letting out smoke and dust there is a very tall tree with green leaves and a big seed that falls down and breaks ready to germinate.I took it home one day but my grand father said it is Kunthirikkam tree (White Dammar) that cannot be grown in our small compound. He said we should have small flowering shrubs and trees for our garden that will make it beautiful.I wondered about such plants about which my text books do not have any information. It is this summer that I understood I knew so little about trees and their names.

Yesterday we were taken from school for a photo exhibition on Trees called the Tree Land marks of Thiruvananthapuram. Being taken outside and to miss some classes is always exciting for me and my friends. I hoped I could get the names of some trees which I have being seeing along the familiar path walked everyday. The exhibition was in memory of a late Professor of Botany Dr.C.Thankam who taught about trees in many colleges. The exhibition was divided into 4 parts – The Tree land marks of the city in which some places are either known by tree names or where trees grow in full view. In the former category one cannot forget the Pulimood where a Tamarind grows, the Aalthara where a Ficus is found. The latter has some good examples where a big Thanni Tree dots the War Memorial at Palayam or where a row of Mahogany trees occupy the footpath in front of University College. I got alert to know if the names of the trees I see every day are there.I was delighted to see that the shabby overhanging tree that we crouch under on a rainy day is the Utraksham and the tree with fading violet flowers in front of the Trivandum Development Authority is the Tabebuia, a native of Central America.

What really made me like the exhibition was the section Plants to Plant- Time to Plant which gave the list of 10 small plants that one can grow in small spaces, that flower well and attract birds and butterflies to you. I forgot everything and wrote the list down in my notebook. I woke up from this when I heard the teacher remind me to hurry. This included the Rajamalli, the Bauhinia with white flowers, the Parijatham and Pavizhamalli with their fragrant blossoms, the yellow flowers of Techoma, the red showers of Quasia, the Pagoda tree and the Hemelia shrub, the thrilling Mickey Mouse Plant and so on.

My friends and me were so excited to see a section called the Wonder Dozen which grows in the 55 acre Napier Museum Compound in the middle of the city. The volunteers who were explaining the posters to us said that this place is like a green lung. We decided to go to Museum to see the 12 trees on our own one day. The names of the trees like Candle tree, the Ivory tree, the Peenari, Rose of Venezuela, the Shimshipa, the Ebony, Cheru or Malabar Marking nut, Buddha’s Coconut tree, the Trincomalee tree, the Tree lettuce and Hopea made us wonder at Nature and its diversity.

The section on Unique ones showed us trees that are special in that they are found only in certain locations in the city. The Spanish Tamarind, the Elantha and Ilippa are found only in a few areas. They may not be rare as such, but they do deserve attention in that they have somehow come to be part of the city.

I had filled quite a few pages in my note book by the end of the exhibition. The organizers said that trees play a great role in bringing down the heat and purifying the air. As the city grows with more and more concrete and vehicles increasing the heat and carbon dioxide, it is only trees that can bring down the heat and make life healthy. They had information about the temperature difference in summer under a tree and outside – more than 5 degree difference with variations depending on the tree. We cannot all have air- conditioners in our homes, anyway. But we can have a tree in our neighborhood that asks for so little and gives so much. I always remember my grandfather’s home in the village where we spend all the time under two trees in the courtyard enjoying the breeze and the coolness. For us “ eating out” is not going to a restaurant but taking food in our plates and being under the tree. My cousin would tease the crows with pappads and the cats would come by wanting the fish bones. We would watch the squirrels scamper past, the roost of bats in the Ficus tree, and the many small plants growing on the branches of the Rain tree that shuts its leaves in the evening as if sleeping.

As we got out, we played under the shade of the trees in the compound and looked at trees in a new way. I went back with a new awareness about the names of trees along the familiar path and also the decision of finding the saplings of plants to grow. I had written my name there to get a Mickey Mouse Sapling to grow in my garden as it attracts lots of birds.My friends said we should go back to school and check on the saplings we had planted on June 5th. We often forget to take care of trees once they are planted Yes, the Time to Plant has begun and also to care..let me start with the small Rajamalli sapling I got from my neighbour.

Ananthu, Rakesh, Midhun, Adityan,Aleena, Alisha, Abita, Samyutka, Govind, Sandeep in conversation with Anitha.S after seeing the exhibition TREE LAND MARKS OF THIRUVANANTHPURAM’ that the informal network TREE WALK organized in association with BALAVIHAR on Aug 23rd and 24th, 2013.For details please mail to sarmaji1916@gmail.com. Photos are by Suresh Elamon.



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