Horticulturists urge plantation of native trees this season

July 29, 2018

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A banyan tree on the bank of a pond in Minhala village in the Salt Range located some 38km from Chakwal city. — Photos by the writer
A banyan tree on the bank of a pond in Minhala village in the Salt Range located some 38km from Chakwal city. — Photos by the writer

With the realisation that Pakistan is among the countries most affected by climate change, tree plantation has emerged as a way to counteract adverse effects on the environment. This plantation season, horticulturists have emphasised the need to plant native trees instead of alien species.

According to Chakwal Divisional Forest Officer Junaid Mumtaz Khan: “Native trees are the best ones to tackle to tide of climate change.”

The Potohar region is home to a number of trees of various species, such as Bair (Ziziphus mouritiana), Phulahi (Acacia modesta), Keekar (Acacia nilotica), Dharek (Melia azedarach orchinaberry), Peepal (Ficus religiosa or sacred fig), Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Tahli or Sheesham (Dalbergia sissoo), amaltas (Cassia fistula), Toot, (White mulberry or Morus alba) and many others.

The most significant of these are the Banyan – known locally as the Bohar or Bargad – and the Peepal trees, both of which have been the hallmark of village ponds used for religious worship.

An old Peepal tree in the fields of Thoha Bahadur village near Chakwal.
An old Peepal tree in the fields of Thoha Bahadur village near Chakwal.

However, instead of focusing on native trees, people from this region tend to prefer alien varieties that put the ecosystem at risk and are pushing native species to extinction.

“Our many native trees are on the wane. For example, the number of Bair, Peepal and Bohar have bee decreasing alarmingly as people do not prefer to plant new saplings of these species because they consider them to be slow-growing,” Mr Khan explained.

“Lahora, Dhaak [flame of the forest], Peepal, Bohar, Amla, Pilkan, Kangar, Bahira, Batangi, Phagwari, Dhaman, Kahu and Amlok have become rare because their saplings have not been planted for many years,” said Sheikh Saqib Mahmood, the Rawalpindi division forest conservator.

‘Flame of the Forest’ locally known as Dhaak or Chachra grown near Amrila village in Salt Range area of Choa Saidan Shah.
‘Flame of the Forest’ locally known as Dhaak or Chachra grown near Amrila village in Salt Range area of Choa Saidan Shah.

He said a loss of habitat and pollinators, the introduction of competitor alien species, slow-growing habits, an absence of proper nursery techniques, economic reason in terms of wood and climate change have led to a reduction of the population of such trees in the region.

Mr Khan, the divisional forest officer, said the “senseless” widening of roads were depriving the area of trees that were hundreds of years old.

He gave the example of the Mandra-Chakwal and Chakwal-Sohawa roads, which were recently widened and for which scores of old trees on the sides of the roads were felled.

A tree laden with berries. Berries (Bair) are a tropical fruit tree is hallmark of Potohar region.
A tree laden with berries. Berries (Bair) are a tropical fruit tree is hallmark of Potohar region.

“We should not uproot old trees while widening the roads, and instead should adopt alternative measures,” he said.

In addition, Pakistan has also seen the invasion of many alien species caused by plantation drives. In one example, the conocarpus tree was planted in various parts of the country eight years ago, and it was after seven years that the authorities learned that the tree species was harmful to the ecosystem because it caused allergic reactions.

Similarly, the water-guzzling Eucalyptus tree was imported from Australia in the 1960s and planted in water-scarce areas.

Wild Injeer locally known as Phagwara or Phagwari grown in the outskirts of Dhakku village. — Photos by the writer
Wild Injeer locally known as Phagwara or Phagwari grown in the outskirts of Dhakku village. — Photos by the writer

Scores of Eucalyptus trees line the sides of the Choa Saidan Shah-Kallar Kahar Road in Chakwal, an area that is facing a severe water shortage. The trees can also be seen on the premises of the Government Postgraduate College and other educational institutions, in fertile fields and on the sides of the Islamabad-Lahore motorway.

“Eucalyptus doesn’t pose any hazard to the environment, but it should be planted in waterlogged and barren areas,” Mr Mahmood said.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018