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Palm trees going dry on unsuitable soil

August 11, 2014


SAHIWAL: Hundreds of palm trees planted across the national highway have gone dry. — Dawn
SAHIWAL: Hundreds of palm trees planted across the national highway have gone dry. — Dawn

SAHIWAL: Around 300 recently planted palm trees bought from public funds of Rs10 million have started going dry just after three months.

The main reason is that local ecology, horticulture and habitat are not suited for palm trees. Why did our urban planners want to plant palm trees in different urban soils of Punjab?

Punjab is known for its traditional trees like Sheesham, Kikar, Shahtoot, Neem and many more. These trees have certain advantages for our local environment and its inhabitants. But there is hardly any location where one can find them.

For example, Sheesham and other trees not only provide a natural umbrella-like shade, but also economic benefits, as timber of most of these trees is used for industrial purposes. Similarly, Bohar tree has many stories associated with it and some have stood for a hundred years. But recently, urban developers and planners started planting palm trees without knowledge of their relevance to our local ecology and horticulture.

Tehsil Municipal Administrations of Sahiwal and Chicahwatni planted over 300 palm trees around three months ago. This drive got a boost in May when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the 1,320MW Coal Power Plant at Qadirabad. These trees, 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide, were brought on large trucks and planted with the help of machinery at different available spots, including crossings, alongside roads, entrance to main highways and along the national highway from Okara to Chichawatni.

Owner of a local plant nursery said both TMAs spent Rs10 million on planting the palm trees. Market value of each tree of this size ranges from Rs25,000 to Rs40,000.

Sahiwal Tehsil Officer (Planning) Malik Liaquat denied they spent Rs10 million on the plantation. “People have given donations both in money and kind and the palm trees were planted from that,” he said. He added there were 15 private nurseries running in Sahiwal and not a single one had donated a palm tree. Haji Abdur Rehman, owner of Taj Nursery, confirmed it.

Naseem Bari, a local TMA employee, said the maintenance of palm trees was the sole responsibility of the TMA. The official admitted the palm trees would dry out in six months.

This correspondent talked to TMA officials about why they are not making efforts to keep the palm tree fresh and green. “Ultimately all palm trees will go dry, so what is the purpose of watering them?” they argued. Interestingly, they all said the palm trees were planted just so they could go dry. Dawn learnt from sources that three years ago a similar drive was carried out on the pretext of beatification of Sahiwal but not a single palm tree from that drive existed today. Dawn talked to local Forest Department officials but they said they were not consulted regarding the plantation in Sahiwal.

A TMA employee privy to the situation said on condition of anonymity that the municipal corporation spent millions during the plantation season on buying palm trees.

Several questions remain unanswered. Why did the TMA invest a huge amount on palm trees if they would ultimately go dry? Why did urban planners foolishly planted a tree that had no relevance to local ecology and horticulture? Why were our own traditional trees not planted for beautification of urban soils?

It is high time we got rid of this ‘palm tree mania’ on our urban soils. Environmentalists have stressed only the right plant on the right soil and climate can grow and help environment and inhabitants. Palm tree is not the right tree for Sahiwal’s soil.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2014