The Shakti Nursery in Auroville is engaged in the conservation and propagation of the Tropical Dry Evergeen Forest (TDEF). The nursery is part of a wider project that aims re-creating the indigenous forest in the Green Belt area of Auroville.
º º º º º º
Once upon a time a young man and his family walked across a land where there was nothing to see except a big building. The land was dusty and barren, cut through by a few gullies,and the building was really not much more than a ruin. But somehow the family, just arrived from Belgium, liked the place and decided to develop it.
Development of Shakti Nursery
The year was 1983, and that was the beginning of the Shakti Community and its nursery. There was no water, no electricity and no fence, and things were not too easy. Right from the start we were involved with nursery work. The first couple of years we cultivated mostly ornamental plants and trees for the many gardens in Auroville, but later we got more concerned about Auroville's indigenous forest. When we managed to get a 7-year funding for the conservation and propagation of the forest - the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF)- we switched almost exclusively to raising the specific TDEF species. The aim of the TDEF project is to entirely re-create the indigenous forest in the Green Belt area of Auroville.
In 1999 the Shakti nursery raised over 50,000 seedlings. In I981, when still living in Aspiration, we published the first issue of the 'Auroville Index Seminum', listing all the seeds in Auroville available for exchange. The booklet was sent to the few Botanical Gardens we knew at that time: just over fifty. Also, our list was still rather short and mentioned only 160 species.
Study of remnants of Tropical Forest
The next activity was the study of remnants of the TDEF, together with 2 other Aurovilians, and the setting up of the Auroville Herbarium. A herbarium is a collection of preserved plants. It is a tool for the taxonomist to use and give answers to the many questions more and more asked about plants: medicinal or other useful properties, habitat, identification, correct name, etc. Criteria for the usefulness of the herbarium will be the completeness of its collection, the quality of the preserved material, and the labels, with comprehensive notes and correct names.
Related video: Studying the TDEF
Source: Sustainable Future, CSR
One of our aims is to build up a so-called 'Special Herbarium', a herbarium with a limited scope, the main purpose being to represent the TDEF project with collections from the remaining pockets of that type of forest over its entire geographical distribution area, as well as a representation of the invading flora in the disturbed, degraded and denuded areas. Collections are also required representing the various plant associations on the different soils encountered in the area of the TDEF, such as the beach, new and consolidated dunes, salt marshes, black cotton soils and others.
The very first collection for the Herbarium (AURO 5001) was made on the 5th of April 1994. Interestingly, as we discovered much later, this involved collection of a plant listed in the botanical literature as "very rare, probably extinct". It is a liana belonging to the Fabaceae family, Derris ovalifolia (Wight et Arn Benth.), found mainly in and around the Auroville plateau.
Botanical survey on Andaman Islands
We then got requested by an NGO, the Andaman & Nicobar Ecological Team (ANET), to carry out a botanical survey on some lesser known islands of the group. We did that for four consecutive years (1995 - 1998) and came home with a sizeable collection from those islands.
In the meantime we began accepting private collections from
students, mostly Indian, but a few also from Europe. Presently, the outcome is that the AURO Herbarium has a much wider variety of species in its collection, and is growing much faster than anticipated, with its more than 7,000 accessions to date. (Accession: if one has in the herbarium a collection of, say, 10 times the same plant, it counts in your collection as 1 species but 10 accessions.)
Last but not least, in the year 2000 Auroville acquired 50 acres of land, with the promise of 50 more adjoining acres to come. The newly obtained land was earmarked to set up a botanical garde and so, at long last, a 20 year old dream to set up an Auroville Botanical Garden finally is coming true.
In 2000 itself, about 5,000 specimens of evergreen trees and shrubs of the TDEF were planted in a stretch along the eastern side of the future garden. This year, at the next planting season, we will develop that part of the area where the arboretum has to come. For that purpose we already have 190 different tropical species ready in the Shakti nursery.