Ptero’s story as told by a Jack tree

It was an unsettling place to land on, no leaf litter, no shade, not much moisture in the soil, and no kin around, unlike places it had visited earlier. It was April, almost peak summer. Ptero, a seed, had been drifting with the wind for a few days, finally to land on this treeless clearing, a rather unusual spot in this vast stretch of forest.

But this wasn’t just any field and Ptero wasn’t just any seed. This was field cultivated by villagers who used to live within Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The villagers had left when the Forest Department had offered them a voluntary relocation programme. Relocation programmes are meant to allow the forest to expand and to lessen the presence of people in places reserved for wildlife.

Ptero was exhausted, it had travelled far—about half a kilometre from its parent Pterocarpus marsupium tree to this Vadihaddi clearing in a week, and was cursing its luck for landing in what seemed like an unfriendly environment. To make matters worse, at night, rats and other rodents were all over the clearing looking for seeds they could feed on.

Luckily, they were looking for large seeds full of nutrition and left skinny Ptero alone. But Ptero had heard that they sometimes pick up skinny seeds too, when others are not available.

The people who earlier lived inside Bhadra were rather clever—they had only cultivated along the Somavahini river and other streams, to make irrigation of their fields easy. After a month long wait, Ptero was pleased when the showers began. The former fields were flooded and there was plenty of water and sunshine. Ptero germinated and lo! we have a seedling in the clearing.

Over the next nine months, Ptero grew to about a foot and half. The seedling looked at another clearing nearby and was glad it had not landed there. That clearing was carpeted by Chromolaena odorata weeds that had invaded from elsewhere and was preventing native plants and trees from growing. There were hardly any tree seedlings in the Chromolaena patch.

Narrow escapes

Soon, a herd of about fifty spotted deer visited Ptero’s clearing, nibbling at every fresh growth there was. Was Ptero in danger?

Luckily, a bunch of prickly shrubs near Ptero protected him.

But there was another problem: the next monsoon downpour submerged Petro’s field and the seedling lay under water hoping for some sunlight, for a whole month. It had almost died when its buds finally saw some sunlight. And then days got warmer, and in the next three months Ptero transformed into a sapling 1 metre tall. Now, neither the rains nor the harsh sun could stop it from growing. That’s when it heard the rumble of elephants passing by, trampling everything in their way. Again, Ptero had a narrow escape when they walked just a couple of metres from where our sapling stood.

One bright morning, it was drizzling and two human beings were walking in Ptero’s field. They carried umbrellas and wore brown and green coloured clothes hoping that would make them difficult to spot. Every 20 minutes they would take few steps, stop to discuss, write down something, and take photographs of other seedlings and saplings in the clearing. They soon reached Ptero, and one of them was said, “Wow, this one made it!” The other replied, “Idu Honney gida.” (This is Pterocarpus marsupium sapling). They held a tape from the ground to Ptero’s head and said “110 cm” and Ptero tried to smile as they took a photo.

That’s Ptero’s story and hopefully we will hear of its adventures as it grew into 40 metre tall tree in the beautiful forests of Bhadra.

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 20 March 2013.

Photo credit: Karthik Teegalapalli