In this article we will discuss about the Survey of Botanic Gardens in India.
Indian Botanic Garden:
As early as 1786 Colonel Robert Kyd, a Military Engineer of the East Indian Company and a keen lover of gardening sent a proposal to the Directors of the Company in London that a Botanic Garden be established near Calcutta.
The purpose of establishing such a garden was mainly to raise in the nursery different economic plants, such as spices, medicinal plants, timber trees, etc., and grow them in the garden and distribute seedlings of such plants among the local people for cultivation in different parts of the country.
By this the people of this country would be directly benefited and the East India Company would also have some profit directly from the increase of trade and commerce. The Directors of the Company approved the proposal and asked Col. Kyd to take steps for establishing the garden, appointing him as the Hon. Superintendent.
Accordingly a large plot of land was acquired on the western side of the Hooghly River and the garden was established in July 1787. The garden was named at that time as the Hon’ble East India Company’s Botanic Garden but to the Botanists of the world this came to be known as the Horto Botanico Calcuttensis.
It remained under the management of the East India Company for a long time and after the Queen’s Proclamation when the Indian Government of the East Indian Company went directly under the British Crown, the name of the garden was changed to Royal Botanic Garden, Sibpur. It is now called the Indian Botanic Garden and forms a section of the Botanical Survey of India.
The area of the garden is 273 acres although it had a larger area to start with. After its establishment Col. Kyd set about to arrange the garden according to his own ideas. But after six years he died and Dr. William Roxburgh who already made a name as a good botanist was appointed as Superintendent at a handsome salary. He gave the garden a botanical shape by introducing many interesting plants.
He prepared and published a catalogue of the plants cultivated in the garden at that time wherein he gave botanical names to a few Indian plants which were unknown to the botanists till then. Roxburgh wrote a comprehensive flora of India and prepared a set of coloured plates of Indian plants of portfolio size which are still preserved in good condition.
Roxburgh was succeeded by Dr. Nathanial Wallich who also made great contributions for the advancement of our knowledge of the Indian flora. A herbarium was started in the Botanic Garden during his time which now functions as the Central National Herbarium.
The collections of plaint specimens during Wallich’s time were enormous and these after identification were entered by him in a catalogue. This Wallichian Catalogue serves as a very important record of authenticated specimens from India and adjacent countries.
Sir George King became Superintendent of this garden in 1870. He rearranged the garden on a geographical plan. A portion was set aside as student’s garden, where plants of different families were cultivated in different plots.
Conservatories were constructed for cultivation of Orchids and shade-loving plants. Several pools were excavated for cultivation of water-lilies, lotus and other aquatic plants. The phytogeographic arrangement is still maintained with some modifications and improvements.
The centre of attraction to the visitors is the Big Banyan tree which is over 200 years old. This was a small tree when the garden was established and since then growing and extending in all directions.
The leafy crown covers an area of 15,000 sq. mtr. and is resting on 1,142 proproots, the main trunk no longer existing. There are several good specimens of banyan tree in the garden other than this one of which has attained almost equal size as the Big Banyan noted above.
The garden has a good collection of palms in a separate section called the Palmetum, where are found Hyphaene thebeica—the African branching palm, Corypha—the monocarpic Talipot palm, Elaeis guineensis—the African oil palm, Caryota—the Fish-tail palm and many other tall and dwarf species of the family. The Double- coconut—Llodoicea maldivica is to be found in one of the green houses.
Like Palmetum there are other sections, e.g., Bambusetunij Pandanetum and Pinetum with collections of different species of bamboos, screwpines and conifers. Of the beautiful trees mention may be made of Amhertsia nobilis, Brownea, Monodora, Tabebuia, Lagerstroemia, Jacaranda and Cassia.
The giant water-lily of the Amazon; — Victoria amazonica is in cultivation in several ponds with different varieties of water- lily and lotus. Among curiosities Ficus Krishnae, the banyan with pouch-shaped leaves, the tall un-branched Dipterocarpus, Taxodium distichum with flying buttress deserve mentioning.
The Indian Botanic Garden was maintained by government from the beginning as a separate entity until it was merged with the Botanical Survey of India in 1963 and formed a section of the same.
In addition to the Indian Botanic Garden the Botanical Survey of India has under it 5 experimental gardens, at:
(1) Barapani, Meghalaya,
(3) Pauri near Dehra Dun,
(4) Mundwa near Poona and
(5) Port Blair and 2 National Orchidaria at Shillong and Yercaud in Shevaroy hills.
Lloyd Botanic Garden, Darjeeling:
This beautiful garden was established in 1878 on 40 acres of land donated by Mr. William Lloyd and for that reason was named after the donor. It has a good collection of Orchids and many Indian and foreign plants of the temperate region.
From the beginning it served as a nursery for the introduction of many exotic ornamental shrubs for the purpose of cultivation in the hill stations of India. It has a good herbarium with representative collection of specimens from the E. Himalaya. It is financed by the state.
National Botanic Garden, Lucknow:
This was the garden of the Nawabs of Oudh who had their capital at Lucknow. It was later on maintained as a pleasure-garden and afterwards converted into a botanic garden. It occupies an area of about 70 acres and is nicely decorated. It has a good herbarium with a collection of about 100,000 specimens of plants from India and adjacent countries. It is financed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi.
Garden of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi:
This is also a nice garden occupying an area of about 60 acres. This is maintained mainly as an experimental garden of the Research Institute while carrying on other functions of a botanic garden.
Garden of the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun:
This is a small garden with an area of over 20 acres, attached to the institute, maintained as a pleasure garden and for helping in researches carried on in the institute. There is also another large garden attached to the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre at Trombay.
Botanical Survey of India:
Exploration of the plant resources of India and preparation of floristic accounts started by the middle of the 19th century by several botanists and naturalists working in different parts of the country. It was felt that co-ordination of their works was necessary and a central organisation should be created for that purpose.
A scheme for the organisation of a Botanical Survey was accordingly drawn up and this having met with the approval of the Secretary of State for India in July, 1887, the Survey was formally established on the 13th February, 1890.
Its functions were laid down as:
(1) Exploring the vegetable resources of the then Indian Empire and
(2) Coordinating the botanical researches of the workers in different parts of India.
Sir George King who was then the Superintendent of the Calcutta Gardens was made the central authority of the Botanical Survey and was designated as the Director, Botanical Survey of India. One wing of the Indian Museum, known as the Industrial Section, containing collections of economic products, art-ware and ethnology was placed under the control of the Director, who had his office in this wing.
The administrative set up was reviewed in 1936 and accordingly the posts of the Superintendent of the Botanic Garden and of the Director of the Botanical Survey of India were separated in 1937. The filling up of the post of Director after the retirement of Mr. C. C. Calder was kept in abeyance for several years.
In 1954 the Botanical Survey was reorganized and expanded, when a Chief Botanist was appointed to function as Director. Four regional circles were established under the Survey at Dehra Dun, Poona, Coimbatore and Shillong, the Headquarters having been stationed in Calcutta. A Botanical Laboratory was established at Lucknow to be transferred later to Allahabad and finally to Sibpur.
The herbarium at Sibpur was taken over in 1957 and was designated as the Central National Herbarium and the Botanic Garden with its library was also transferred to the Botanical Survey of India in 1963. A regional circle was started in Allahabad and was called the Central Circle. Two more regional circles were added, one at Jodhpur, known as the Arid Zone Circle, and the other at Port Blair, the Andaman and Nicobar Circle.
At present the Headquarters of the Botanical Survey of India is located in the Indian Botanic Garden. The Headquarters Organisation consists of the following sections, viz., Ecology, Cryptogamic Botany, Plant Chemistry, Pharmacognosy, Palynology and Publications, in addition to the administrative section.
The Central Botanical Laboratory consists of the Economic Botany, Plant Physiology, Biochemistry and Cytogenetic sections. The Publication section publishes two important journals devoted to plant taxonomy, e.g. the Records of the Botanical Survey of India and the Bulletin of the Botanical Survey of India and prints and circulates the Annual Report and News Letter giving the activities of the Survey.
In addition to all these units in India the Survey maintains a liaison Botanist at Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, London, whose duty is to supply information, on taxonomical problems to workers all over India in the Botanical Survey as well as in other institutions.
In Botanical Survey researches on almost all branches of Botany are carried on at present. And information on every aspect of plant life is furnished to research workers and interested public. Seedlings and plant-materials are also distributed to other institutions, municipalities and persons interested in gardening.