Finding saplings of the plants or trees we want is a huge challenge. The obvious solution is a plant nursery. To the best of our knowledge, there are three major government nurseries we can source our saplings from. One, the JNTBGRI (Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute) at Palode in Thiruvananthapuram. It sells more than 100 species of saplings. Two, the Kerala Forest Research Institute at Peechi. We can purchase saplings from there at moderate prices. Three, the Forest Department. But it does not boast of many varieties.
A private nursery named “Raariyathu” in Thrissur has a great collection. There are nurseries near the sub-station at Madakkathara in Thrissur, and one of them owned by Eenashu chettan is very good. We bought most of our collections from him. My friend Cherian Mathew was the person who discovered Eenashu chettan’s nursery which largely stocks saplings of fruit-bearing trees.
My Puliyarakonam plot has been left practically untilled for the last 10 years. What happens when earth remains untouched is that after the rains, seeds that had lain buried and dormant will begin to sprout. I have identified more than 100 varieties come up on their own in my plot.
Such plants will be found in all vacant plots. The trick is to wait till the monsoon is over and uproot these saplings without damaging their roots. When they grow into trees, plenty of seeds will be available. We have been able to collect seeds of Flame Lily in this manner and grow more saplings. We bury the seeds and when they sprout, we plant the saplings in our forests.
Identifying which plants to grow is a great challenge indeed. But I get help from my friend Dr Mathew Dan, a scientist at the TBGRI. As I studied Botany only up to the tenth standard, I have practically no knowledge in the subject. So if and when I spot a new plant on the roadside, I take a snapshot and send it to him. Thus I have collected a lot of rare plants from roadsides.
In Kerala today, it is not very difficult to collect saplings. For instance, if we find a Coral Wood tree, there will invariably be many of its saplings at its base. However, our native mango tree has almost completely disappeared.
In the past, it was common to find a lot of mango and tamarind seeds lying on the ground, left behind after squirrels ate the flesh of the fruits. Following the rains, they would become saplings. Whenever we find them, we can pot them with care, and help them grow into trees.