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"What does the forest bear?
Resin, timber and foreign exchange... said an forest officer
SOIL, WATER & PURE AIR... so said a village women! "
-A slogan from Chipko Movement


Plants : The Basic Life Support System

With the prolonged monsoon and the first month of the rainy season completely going dry, the need to understand the climate change is becoming more and more relevant. With not only the farming community but almost every individual eagerly waiting for the rain, let us take a break from the current series and take a look at the world of plants - the ultimate 'weapon' to fight the root cause of global warming. We will also understand the method of plantation as well as care to be taken when the plants are young.

The first step towards becoming a 'green soldier' can be taken by planting just one tree this rainy season and taking care of it to see that it sustains till it grows up well to take care of itself. The ultimate aim however should be to minimize, as far as possible, our materialistic needs, as most of them are fulfilled directly or indirectly through trees. It will automatically put less pressure on earth's invaluable resources if we adopt a nature friendly life style, thus helping to conserve nature.

Every year at the outset of monsoon we read news, along with photographs of cheerful faces of people, planting the trees. Unfortunately most of the time the enthusiasm recedes so sharply that the participants themselves hardly recollect the incidence, as no effort is taken to persuade the cause. Thus the saplings are left on their own to survive. The result being, inspite of the figure of tree plantation collectively crossing millions, there are only few hundreds which really see the light of the day after that particular rainy season. Thus the plantation ceremony and its rituals are performed at the same place year after year.

Plants as we all know grow everywhere. They grow on land, on mountain tops, in lakes and rivers, in oceans as well as deserts and even in cold climatic polar regions. Of all living things plants have a unique feature. They make their own food! They use energy from the sun to do so. Plants are important because they are the prime source of food to most living beings. Besides food they provide shelter, clothing, medicines and host of other raw material like fiber, latex, oils and resins.

Desert PlantsThere are about 2,50,000 species of plants which include trees, herbs, shrubs, bushes, grasses, creepers, ferns and mosses, algae and sea weeds, as well as microscopic plants. They can be further distinguished according to their habitat, use and peculiarity as; Aquatic plants, Desert plants, Edible plants, Medicinal plants, Alpine plants, Ornamental plants, Carnivorous plants, Parasitic plants and so on.

Early plants were small; their body composed of single cell and soft body tissues. The earliest plants or plant-like bacteria began the process of photosynthesis, which released oxygen as a waste product. Life began to evolve when oxygen became available in its independent form along with suitable atmospheric conditions. So all life forms on the earth today, are indebted to plants in one or the other way.

Let us briefly understand the broad variety of plants. Plants are divided into two groups, depending on whether they circulate water or not. The first grouping of plant kingdom is made up of plants that are Non-Vascular. This means they cannot circulate water through their stems and leaves, but absorb it from the atmosphere that surrounds them. The remaining variety is known as Vascular. They have a system for circulating fluids. This is a larger group. They are further divided into two. The first reproduces from spores, which are minute cells capable of producing a new organism. The second group reproduces from seeds.

A Swedish naturalist Carlos Linnaeus was the first person to systematically classify plants. He grouped them according to their flowers and the number and type of stamens and pistils. He gave each plant two Latin names. The first indicated the Family of the plant and the second represented the particular member of the family. Though the newer, more accurate systems of classification have been developed, Linnaeus' system is still used throughout the world.

Method of planting and care of the saplings*:

It is a good practice to choose a sapling of one to two years for planting rather than raising trees from seeds. Sites for pits should be planned and located well in advance. There is a tendency to plant saplings close to each other, without realizing their eventual growth and the space they will occupy. The distance should be at least 15 feet for small trees and 25 feet for larger ones. The pits should be at least two feet in diameter and equally deep. The pit and the soil should be exposed to sun a month prior, and in early June should be mixed thoroughly with manure or compost in suitable proportion, preferably in ratio of 5:1. The pit should be filled up with this mixture. Fresh or raw manure is not desirable, as it is a breeding ground for white ants. After a shower or two the pit gets subsided and is ready for plantation. The best time for planting is the start of monsoon, though some trees, particularly deciduous types have better period of plantation in winter season i.e. between December to February as they are in dormant state and hence less likely to suffer the transplantation. February is preferable as it gets benefited by spring season growth and gets securely established by the time rains arrive. The best time for planting is either evenings or in monsoon, on a cloudy day.

Removing the sapling from polythene bagWhile removing the sapling from pot or polythene bag, the soil around the roots should not be removed or broken. The root collar should be just under ground level while planting. It is injurious to plant too deep by burying the stem underground. A hole should be made in the pit sufficiently deep to accommodate the roots of the sapling. By holding the sapling erect the soil should be packed tightly around the plant. It should be given thorough drenching immediately. If there are any casualties they should be replaced without much delay. Planting of more than one sapling in single hole anticipating that one of them will survive, should be avoided, as that is our convenience not of the plant.

Grass has a very harmful effect, particularly on young plants. For a healthy growth of plants, a thorough weeding and hoeing are of much greater importance than just watering, as the weeds robs the nutritive material much need for the plant and hoeing up occasionally allows aeration of roots which stimulates the plant growth will naturally be beneficial. Wet soil should not be dug. The entire diameter of pit should be free from weeds. Watering should be done at regular intervals in the dry spells of rains and at least five to six times in a month thereafter, increasing it to twice a week in summer. The watering should be done upto brim of the pit. It is also a good practice to insert an earthen pot with small openings, besides the plant and pouring water in these pots.

In the second year, if the plant develops two or more shoots, it is better to retain only one healthy shoot and remove the subsidiary ones. Pruning should be done with pruning knife. To prevent infection to open wounds it is advisable to cover/apply tar to the exposed surface. The sapling should be given proper support of stick or any other erect object so that the growth is straight. Strings and particularly wire should not be used as it can damage the bark, instead a piece of cloth is a better option.

If the plants are in house premises, protection is not a great problem. But if it is in open areas it has to be protected from stray cattles, goats and mischievous boys. Bricks could be used by placing it in layers to guard the trees.

If possible, a mud structure along with a ditch around can also keep the animals away. Fabricated tree guard is also one of the options where funds are available. They can be reused several times. Thorny branches of Babool or Cactus is also a cheap option. Exotic and ornamental trees should be given lower priority as endemic variety is always preferable for their usefulness to the local environment.

Apart from private nurseries forest department also have plant nurseries, which make available variety of plants at reasonable price. One should take adequate information and proper guidance while selecting the right species to suit the need and the purpose. If one wishes to sow the seeds and if they are hard coated, it should be softened by placing them in boiling water for few minutes and then allowing the water to cool. Thus as we can see, it is almost like taking care of child and raising and grooming it for its healthy future.

So...let's get ready and join hands to perform the holy act! ... Happy Monsoon!

*Adapted from 'Flowering Plants', by M.S.Randhawa, NBT

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