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Activities

The tree nursery is the focal point for routine distribution of Shola saplings. We are actively working to develop the nursery as an educational facility, with a covered structure for the display and cultivation of our rare, endemic and threatened species, with explanatory text. The glasshouse is for low elevation species and ornamental exotics eg. Cacti.

 
 
Shola saplings in the tree nursery
photo courtesy Supraba Seshan
 
Nursery policy and methodology; a brief history
1. 1989 – 1993: Exotic and utility trees were a major factor for distribution free of charge to small farmers etc. Shola species were also raised.
2. From 1993 onwards: Focus almost exclusively on native, woody species.
3. From 1995: Attention to all kinds of native plants especially endangered shrubs, herbs, tree ferns and orchids.
4. From 2001: Glasshouse, endangered plants from lower elevations and Cacti and succulents.
From 2004: Extra emphasis on grassland species for future restoration projects.
The period 1989-1993 accounted for over half our plantings to date. With the fuel wood crisis solved fewer saplings now leave the nursery and the emphasis has switched to quality over quantity. We now keep Shola seedlings for c. 5 years before planting, for example in the Pambar Shola Restoration project. These sturdy saplings require less after care in situ and are more resistant to grazers such as Bison. Some 70 species of Shola tree are included in the Pambar project.
 
Of the 31,141 woody specimens that have been planted/distributed in recent years the following are especially noteworthy. The numbers of some planted as indicated, although small are significant, as some are known by only a few individuals. In the case of Elaeocarpus blascoi there is only one individual mother tree. However 3 saplings have been planted out, having been raised from seed. Apart from this species status applies to the Palni Hills only.

Some of the rarer trees distributed
1. Michelia nilagirica var. nilagirica, restricted though not uncommon. The numbers distributed are typical of our more important reafforestation species.
2. Casearia thwaitesii, only found above 2000m.
3. Pittosporum tetraspermum, highly restricted.
4. Gordonia obtusa, Western Ghat endemic.
5. Elaeocarpus blascoi, previously considered extinct, mother tree discovered by VCT in 2000. 
6. Elaeocarpus munronii, restricted.
7. Elaeocarpus recurvatus, restricted.
8. Ilex denticulata, highly restricted.
9. Cassine paniculata, vulnerable for the Palnis.
10. Psydrax ficiformis, was thought probably extinct on the Palnis, known only from one type specimen. Rediscovered in Pambar Shola 1999.
11. Vernonia arborea, was known from only one individual c. 1921, Tiger Shola. Reintroduced to Pambar Shola 2004.
12. Syzigium caryophyllatum, restricted, subject to re-classification.
13. Myrsine wightiana, restricted.
14. Xantholis tomentosa var. elengioides, highly restricted.
15. Symplocos foliosa, restricted.
16. Myristica dactyloides, distributed to lower elevations, vulnerable for the Palnis.
17. Actinodaphne bourneae, restricted, Western Ghats endemic.
18. Actinodaphne malabarica, highly restricted, Western Ghats endemic.
19. Cryptocarya stocksii, highly restricted.
20. Neolitsea fischeri, highly restricted.
21. Bentinckia condapanna, vulnerable for the Palnis.

When it comes to non tree species, lianas, shrubs, vines, herbs and ferns, the plants raised in the nursery are usually more vulnerable in status than the trees owing to the destruction of grassland and other open habitat. For lack of suitable planting space our policy is to distribute plants to private landholders. This has been very successful in bolstering fragile populations of many species. Other interesting species distributed and planted under the Pambar project include;
 
1. Clematis munroiana, a liane, vulnerable for the Palnis
2. Impatiens species, though attempts to reintroduce I. tangachee have so far failed.
3. Allophylus concanicus var. lanceolatus, a liane, highly restricted
4. Circaea alpina ssp. imaicola, a herb, vulnerable for the Palnis.
5. Valeriana arnottiana, a herb, scarce
6. Hoya wightii ssp. palniensis, a vine, Pambar endemic.
7. Sarcandra chloranthoides, a shrub, recorded probably extinct in 1999. One seedling raised 2004. Mother plant not located.
8. Phyllanthus chandrabosei, a shrub, Pambar endemic.
9. Chrysoglossum maculatum, an orchid, vulnerable for the Palnis, very restricted.
10. Peliosanthes courtallensis, a herb, highly restricted.
11. Pteris argyraea, a fern, very rare in the Palnis.
12. Microlepia platyphylla, a fern, very rare.

 
The Greenhouses in Vattakanal and Pambarpuram
The greenhouse in Vattakanal was completed in August 2001. Initially it was built to house our growing number of hobby plants, mainly cacti and succulents, many of which suffered during the monsoons. It soon became apparent that we could now propagate seeds from native species from lower elevations, especially endangered plants (Palnis) like the palm, Arenga wightii and the shrub Leea indica, reported extinct in the Palnis 1999, rediscovered 2003, and the tree Artocarpus hirsutus, previously known only from one pocket at 800m.
The glasshouse has developed into a very attractive feature of the nursery, where visitors may learn about several plants that have labelled written accounts. Attached is a display of our rare and endangered plants under cultivation. We wish to develop the educational dimension of both these features in the future.
Ornamentals and other plants cultivated here are also not for sale but surplus stock may be gifted to interested parties such as the Vattakanal gardening club.
The glasshouse in Pambarpuram was completed in 2006 and has more of an emphasis on greener plants requiring more humidity. A water garden is one of our favourite features.
 
Impatiens hensloviana - easy to grow from cuttings                                                                                                                  The greenhouse in Pambarpuram
 
Germination data
The Vattakanal nursery was the first to be established in South India which attempted comprehensive cultivation of high altitude Shola species. These were mainly woody species; trees, shrubs and lianas but gradually attention drifted towards herbaceous plants, many of which belonged to the grasslands and were seriously threatened by habitat loss due to commercial forestry. The tree nursery was shifted to a new site in Pambarpuram in 2013.
The accumulated data on the germination and cultivation of some 250 species was published in the Flora of the Palni Hills, Fr. K.M. Matthew, 1999, Appendix 5. Since this publication the range of species being documented has expanded to include plants from the lower altitudes assisted by the glasshouse put up in 2001.
 
Muniandi and Thomas making grass "plugs"
 
Expansion of nursery
On 16.07.04 the Pambarpuram grassland nursery was founded with the help of five volunteer students from the Sholai School, Centre for Learning Organic Agriculture and Appropriate Technology, Pettuparai.
Over two days 800 cuttings of Strobilanthes kunthiana were established in bags in a protected compound, well on our way to our initial target of 3,000 for the proposed Kurinji Sanctuary which never managed to happen. At the same time seeds were gathered and sown of common native herbaceous species that are quick colonisers of disturbed ground. These will help stabilise the soil during grassland restorations. Cultivation of rare grassland species is already well advanced in Vattakanal.
We now grow c. 300 species of grassland plants in the grassland nursery. Some planting has been undertaken in the Pambar area after a landslide destroyed our tree planting and left us with very shallow soil.
 
Vattaparai marsh restoration
Here we have been working with the Forest Department to restore a marsh that once had four perennial streams running into it.

Volunteers from VOYCE Wattle bashing
 
                                                                                                                           The stream leaving Vattaparai marsh

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