Ramblings about learning, life and other stuff

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Looking at trees- through the eyes of an amateur tree spotter

I think I have always been interested in plants and trees, and felt very comfortable in nature. I remember playing alone in the ‘garden’ around our house in Chennai when I was 8-10 years old- it wasn’t much of a garden as far as I can remember, but even the vasaka plants with their milky sap were good enough for me. I never knew the names of any plants or trees though (except for very common ones like neem and gulmohur :-)).

When we moved to Delhi, I was lucky to live in one of the old government colonies which had large old trees which provided a lot of shade. I never knew the names of these trees though. One day, I shall go back and find out which trees they were… Then 4 years in IIT Madras, a veritable forest- with so many trees- but somehow I think I didn’t take interest- or was it the lack of information about trees? More likely the obsession with liquor and sport and all the other things probably didn’t leave my eyes free for trees. Though I remember the comfort the tree just outside my 2nd floor hostel room provided me…

On my various trips to Bangalore, I would be completely taken in by the breathtaking flowering trees- blooms of purple, yellow, pink and red…only years later did I learn that these were jacarandas, cassias etc.

Kadamba- Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore

Pink tabebuia- Kamaraj Road stretch between Dispensary Road and Cubbon Road

It is only in the last couple of years that I have been fortunate enough to learn more about the names of these trees which I have always loved so much, and only in the last few months have I started looking at finer details like the shapes of leaves. Till then, I was primarily interested only in flowering trees…a shallow and superficial interest I accept- akin to the time I could not listen to instrumental music- I impatiently waited for the words! Really a crude and insensitive mind and attention span! That is still the case..but I think I am beginning to appreciate subtleties.

badminton ball tree, Frazer town, Bangalore

One could argue that reducing a tree to an identified name is not seeing the tree at all (and I completely agree with that), but somehow knowing some of the names, and their histories has made me feel more intimate with trees…Having spotted one badminton ball tree, suddenly I find myself spotting several of them on the streets of Bangalore- even at a glance as I am driving. And knowing the names of trees as I move around these streets makes me feel that I am always surrounded by friends I know (and who know me).

I want to thank, and list, all things that have helped me to start identifying trees, and learn more about them.

1) Books on trees– Started with purchasing ‘Celebration of Indian Trees’ a large coffee table book by Ashok Kothari of BNHS. Given its size and bulk and its selection of photographs, it wasn’t much help though as a field guide. My good old friend Rocky told me about the ‘Trees of Delhi’ by Pradeep Krishen a couple of years back- I had the sense to but it only a few months back- and what a find this book has been- an absolute gem! A must for anyone interested in nature and living anywhere in India.

2) Websites- http://www.flowersofindia.in is an excellent website- my challenge though has been to use it as a field guide as it is hard to carry a laptop with a net connection along to identify trees 🙂 Karthikeyan’s ebook ‘flowering trees of bangalore’ from his fantastic blog http://www.wildwanderer.com has been a great find.

3) efloraindia googlegroup– Botany experts, professors, and amateurs are highly active on this googlegroup- people on this group have been very helpful in identifying different trees I have photographed.

4) My Fuji Finepix HS10– This camera with a 30x zoom has been a big boon in photographing trees and birds in a way where their distinguishing features become visible. My mobile phone camera is just not good enough to photograph leaves and flowers on trees in a satisfying way. Still even this camera is too large to carry around always..so I am hoping to find an even more compact camera with a decent zoom- I think I need 20-24 X zoom at least.

5) My ipad– Thanks to the ipad, I can actually carry around the ‘flowering trees of bangalore’ ebook along with me as I look at trees, and try to identify them. Unfortunately I cannot use the flowersofindia website when on the move as my ipad does have 3G; am hoping I can figure out a way to save flowersofindia locally on my ipad…

Flower I never tried to identify- Horton's Plains- Sri Lanka

Hoping to do much more treewatching and documenting my treewatching over the months and years to come!

Under the Java fig tree- Kandy, Sri Lanka