Nashik-based Nature Forever Society established a Native Plant Research and Conservation Centre & Nursery in 2016 while studying and developing habitats for house sparrows and other local birds. The main objectives of this facility are to study native plants and its status propagation techniques, raise public awareness and conserve and promote native plants. We at NFS believe that native plants should be promoted on an emergency basis owing to the limited propagation and conservation of native plant species and a sharp decline in the plantation area.
- Why conserve Native Plants of India?
Native Plants are rapidly declining owing to an influx of non-native plants. Today, a majority of plants that are being sold in commercial nurseries are imported and introduced in our country without any checks or regulations. From avenue plants to potted interior plants, 90% of the plants are non-native varieties. There is a lack of awareness and plant-blindness as far as native plants are concerned. We lack appropriate regulations to curb this practice. The primary mission of our organization is to save Native Indian Plants. We work on a very strict ethical code of conduct and do not promote any non-native plants.
- Conservation milestones achieved
NFS has been working for the conservation and plantation of native plants since we realized that these species are vital for the conservation of house sparrows. NFS has worked across the country on conservation projects. We also surveyed plant nurseries for the procurement of native species, which was a major challenge, and this exigency forced/pushed NFS to start its own native plant conservation centre and plant nursery in 2016.
We wanted native plants for our plantation drive but realized that commercial nurseries were only selling non-native plants.
Beginning with the conservation of 50-60 native species in a small area with a few hundred saplings, within one year we added another 50 species to cross the century mark. In the last five years, the NFS Native Plant Research and Conservation Centre & Nursery has achieved a remarkable species number of more than 450 native plants, with a composition of common, not very common to rare varieties of all three types, from trees to shrubs and herbs.
- Native Plant Species Conservation
We are based out of Nashik, which has three types of agro-climatic zones, from higher to moderate to scarce rains, similar to the three forest types
a.) Western subtropical hills
b.) Moist tropical and
c.) Dry tropical forests
With this benefit, Nashik represents a wide plant diversity from sub-tropical to dry deciduous plant species. Accordingly, we benefited from this conservation center by propagating plants of all kinds, from evergreen to deciduous species of natives, which are of local origin and are found in nearby areas or forests within the Nashik district.
- Natives are declining and non-natives are prospering due to conventional landscaping, plantations and human interventions, lack of awareness and plant blindness.
Plant blindness is a human tendency to ignore plant species, which is the main reason for a decline in natives from urban, rural and natural areas. Conventional as well as forest plantations have altered ecological balance through mass production, plantation and promotion of non-native and invasive plants. Due to a lack of scientific understanding and ignorance regarding the benefits of natural vegetation, many of the natives have now reached the stage of extinction, and some have already become extinct. It is a myth that natives do not grow fast or are not beautiful. On the contrary, natives grow faster, are beautiful, support wildlife, and most importantly hold mythological, religious and cultural significance in our lives. Meanwhile, the introduction of any non-native plant poses an ecological threat in the form of bringing in harmful pathogens and invasive species.
- Why is it important to conserve native plants (in association with wildlife)?
Plants and animals have evolved simultaneously over a span of a million or billion years, and correspondingly, specificity for pollination, flower colors and shapes have evolved as per the proboscis of butterflies, beaks of birds and tongues of wild animals.
Insects and butterflies have specific host plants where they lay their eggs on plant leaves. These plants nurture the caterpillars of those insects and butterflies, and in this process, a natural plant control occurs. Similarly, the size of fruit-eating birds, their beaks and the body sizes of other wild animals have evolved with fruit sizes and their abundance, where these animals help in seed dispersal and natural regeneration.
Correspondingly, introducing a non-native plant in natural vegetation breaks that specificity and any organism, insect, bird or animal depending on that specificity vanishes. Also, a lot of non-native plants are highly poisonous, and people plant them to prevent animal grazing.
- Types of native plants that NFS propagates and promotes for conservation.
There is another myth that plants which bear fruits or flowers are ecologically important, although each and every native plant has an important role in the ecosystem. Apart from flowers and fruits, natives provide healthy and secure nesting as well as roosting sites, leaves for caterpillars, stem saps for birds and animals. Additionally, thorny plants offer protection, safe roosting space for small birds and other wildlife and there are a number of resources that these natives provide. Based on a scientific understanding of this theory, NFS propagates all types of natives for the benefit of dependent fauna.
- How are we reaching the masses and creating awareness?
NFS uses all possible mediums of communication to convey the message of conservation to the masses. We have been actively using various social media platforms, conduct webinars, seminars and awareness campaigns in conjunction with various stakeholders.
We also work actively with Indian media and convey our message through print, electronic as well as the radio to reach out to masses.
NFS has been actively working with various government agencies in the field of conservation of native plants, bringing about policy changes and spreading awareness.
We are also reaching out to people from various walks of lives in creating awareness about non-native plants & its dangers to our environment and health.
- How is NFS conserving plants in a functional way?
NFS has been working with government agencies, corporates, individuals and associated stakeholders to create functional ecosystems. In the past few years, NFS has created more than 35 high density City Forests where more than 75,000 native plants belonging to 85+ species have been planted.
We are also working with corporates like Wipro, Kotak and CRISIL to create Biodiversity Hubs where a large number of native plants with high species index has been planted.
While creating awareness is one aspect, disseminating information about the importance of natives is a hypothetical aspect, but providing an alternative is the solution. In the past five years, we have reached a state where we are able to provide an alternative to non-natives, whether it is a flowering or fruit or an ornamental plant.
NFS started its journey in native plant conservation to provide a sustainable insect source for house sparrows. During the course of time, we realized that it is important to undertake an ecosystem restoration of urban and rural landscapes, as it will not only help in saving house sparrows but the entire ecosystem which constitutes various forms of flora and fauna.
We are also working with various organizations and individuals for creating Nectar & Biodiversity Gardens which helps in attracting biodiversity and the restoration of Devrai and Vanrai (Sacred Groves).