The 42-year-old banyan tree which was recently transplanted to Ponanni is drying fast due to saltwater incursion post floods.

A beloved banyan tree is dying slowly after Kerala floods Speaker seeks help
news Environment Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 11:56

A 4-decade old banyan tree which is drying to death in Kerala’s Ponanni taluk in Malappuram has found an unusual sympathiser. In a heartfelt letter, Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan has sought the Kerala Forest Research Institute’s help to nurse the tree back to health.

“I am writing to you with an utmost tense state of mind. This letter of mine is an urge to support and resolve a crisis that a banyan tree which has given us 4 decades of shade and oxygen is facing,” he wrote to the director of Kerala Forest Research Institute in Peechi, Thrissur.

The banyan tree, which was originally growing in Malappuram’s Marancheri town, has had an eventful life. Just last year in June, it was transplanted to a new location, to save it from being cut down by the PWD, which was looking to expand the road next to it.

“Most of the tree’s branches were chopped off by the PWD and only its 40 feet long trunk remained. Finally, in a three-day long effort, we transplanted the huge trunk and roots with a  crowd-funded project where people donated a combined Rs 83,000,” said Jamal Panambad, a member of Mission Bodhi, a tree transplantation initiative in Kerala.

The tree, which had suffered many wounds by the PWD, was replanted in the Nila Heritage Museum campus on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river. This was in a village called Easwaramangalam, 13 km away from Marancheri.

The tree’s wounded trunk was treated and bandaged and the tree soon began sprouting leaves, much to the joy of the locals in Marancheri.

But the good times lasted just two months. In August, the floods in Kerala submerged the area, bringing in salt water in the area.

“The place where this tree is currently transplanted is between the river and the sea. It’s like an estuary. When the floods happened, a lot of saline water and slush flowed into the ground and entered its roots,” Jamal explained.

The saline water trickled into the cuts and wounds of the still recovering tree and these parts started drying up. The dried up bits, in turn, turned into an ideal breeding ground for the rice yellow stem borer – a species of beetle, which lays eggs on dry wood.

“Soon, the supply of water and air got cut off due to the drying trunk. Now we can spot no new leaves that the tree has sprouted. It is visibly drying to death,” Jamal added.

In a final bid to save this banyan tree, whose life several locals had scrambled to save once before, Jamal and others from Mission BODHI spoke to the Kerala Assembly Speaker who also happens to be the Ponnani MLA.

“The speaker was in charge of the Nila Heritage Museum project - to build a word cultural facility - under his supervision. He then visited the tree in the campus and wrote to KFRI,” Jamal added.

Following this, 2 officials from KFRI have visited the tree to prepare a first information report (FIR) of its present condition. Once the FIR is submitted, discussions by experts will be held and attempts will be made to revive the tree.

“My office and my teammates from Mission Bodhi have spoken to Principal Scientist of your Institute Dr KV Muhammad Kunhi who has remarked optimism in the rebirth of this ficus,” the speaker’s letter read.