Call to trace and revive lost waterbodies

Our friend Frank Heckman is interested in restoring the health of watersheds led by local communities, in a program he calls Green River, which is starting in the Gundar Basin in India in association with the Dhan Foundation. The work at the Sanctuary has been a big inspiration including the idea of the Green Phoenix as expressed by Wolfgang and others at the Sanctuary. This article in the Hindu describes presentations by Frank and Supi during the 21st Dhan Foundation Day celebration:


Hindu article: ‘Green river’ and ‘Green phoenix’ projects launched.

Gundar river basin, a system as unique as the Vaigai basin, must be protected as old tank systems work effectively. All lost waterbodies must be traced and revived, said Frank Heckman, founder of Embassy of the Earth.

Speaking on Green river- future of humanity at the Dhan Foundation’s 21st Foundation Day celebration, he said Gundar basin was spread over five districts.

As part of the celebration, Green river and Green phoenix projects were launched. Mr. Heckman said tanks-based watershed development programmes were vital for the Green river initiative. “There was a time when people could drink water directly from rivers and streams. It is now unimaginable. The process of greening the river is to ensure that areas around Gundar basin are recharged,” he said.

Modifying policies on waterbodies, effective local governance and proper education would facilitate change.

Conservationist Suprabha Seshan, managing trustee of Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, said those interested in conservation of flora and fauna were welcome to participate in Green Phoenix project. “The Western Ghats have been denuded due to rapid industrialisation. We work with village women at Wayanad in Kerala in protecting the habitat. The project is aimed at bringing nature back to life from ashes – like the mythical phoenix,” she said.

Ms. Suprabha said over 1,000 plant species had been preserved at the 67-acre sanctuary in Wayanad. She said that she envisioned a world where men and women lived in harmony with nature. Community participation included waste management, pollution control and rainwater harvesting, she said.

link to the original article

To the Rescue of Lantern Flowers

From Laly Joseph, plant conservationist and ecosystem gardener: “We have around 30 species of Ceropegias under cultivation, most of them are endangered or threatened in the wild, from habitat destruction and over-extraction of the plants for their edible tubers, and now for ornamental collections. We have been working on them for the last few years. Main difficulties they face are fungal and caterpillar attacks. Climate change is also becoming a problem for many of the Ceropegias. Pollen production is affected by weather. Also water availability during their growing period, affects seed production. We have managed to propagate 20-30 plants per species. A few are very difficult and we have only one or two plants. Prof Yadav of Kolhapur University was so happy to see C mahabalae under conservation cultivation here, that he organized an expedition so that we could find more. Now all the species here are making seeds, so we hope that next year the population under ex-situ conservation at the Sanctuary will double at least.”

From Wikipedia: “Ceropegia is a genus of plants within the family Apocynaceae, native to Africa, southern Asia, and Australia. It was named by Carl Linnaeus, who first described this genus in volume 1 of his Species plantarum, which appeared in 1753. Linnaeus thought that the flowers looked like a fountain of wax. From this the scientific name was derived: ‘keros’ meaning wax and ‘pege’ meaning fountain (Pooley, 1998). They have many common names including lantern flower, parasol flower, parachute flower, bushman’s pipe, string of hearts, snake creeper, wine-glass vine, rosary vine, and necklace vine. Ceropegia species are traded, kept, and propagated as ornamental plants.”

Ceropegias are sometimes mistaken for carnivorous plants, because of their elaborate flower structures that are indeed meant to trap flies. But this is not to “eat” them, but rather to entice and trap them for long enough that the flies pollinate them as they try to find a way out.

The Western Ghat Ceropegias all tend to be weak trailers or climbers. They grow from round potato-sized tubers sitting fairly deep in the soil. They are inconspicuous for most of the year, until they start to flower in their unique spectacular fashion.

From the Succulent Plants website:

This genus contains a diverse group of over 160 species distributed across Africa and Asia, from the Canary Islands, to Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Phillipines, New Guinea and Australia. The flowers occur singly or in umbel-like clusters and have a tubular fused petals and sepals. The base of the tube is often inflated and may have downward pointing hairs on the inside as well as the outside. Flowers can vary in colour from deep purples and reds to greens and yellows. In several species, the tips of the lobes form a cage-like structure. All this elaborate structure in order to trap flies which can remain inside until the flowers wilt.

The genus used to be placed in the family Asclepiadaceae which has now become a sub-family (Asclepiadoideae) within the Apocynaceae. Other genera in this family include Tabernaemontana and Rauvolfia in India, as well as the widely planted Frangipani, originally from South America. (Wikipedia).

Above: the potato-like tuber of a Ceropegia plant in a pot. Under cultivation, especially in pots and in this humid environment, Ceropegia tubers need to be planted close to the surface of the soil, even a little exposed, as they are very susceptible to rot induced by high moisture.

Above: Laly Joseph at work planting Ceropegias. Here it’s possible to see how slender these vines are.

Purvy Jain has had success with conserving three Ceropegia species in habitats. These are now making seeds which are germinating on their own, and beginning to form small populations.

Photos by Abhishek Jain and Suprabha Seshan. All the plants shown here are Western Ghat species under conservation at GBS.

Rare water-plants find a niche.

From Purvy Jain, plant conservationist and GBS ecosystem gardener: “Rearrangement of the stones and the space around the pond, helped to create a habitat for some very rare species. Eriocaulon ensiforme, Lagenandra keralensis, Phyllanthus singampattianus, to name a few”

Purvy works on a wide range of plants in a variety of communities: everything from rocky habitats to different sized water bodies and shola edges. Note the cliff-like backdrop to the pond with myriad species enjoying the steep vertical surface. This location had been a quarry and was landscaped for planting originally around 1998. Many species have been tried out here, and over time the shifting mosaic of ferns, impatiens, mosses, lycopods, gesneriads and grasses gives this hollow, with its pond, a quality of charm as well as intrigue. It’s always interesting here!

Photo by Purvy Jain

Happy Bamboo Orchids

From GBS plant conservationists and ecosystem gardeners Suma Keloth and Sora Tsukamoto: “We had Arundina graminifolia in the greenhouse for many years. After learning about their natural habitat we created a space for them on one of the new rockeries a few years ago. Last year we have noticed them self propagating on the mud bank in quite large numbers. Arundina graminifolia is quite wide spread but we have seen it only a few times in the wild on rocky slopes in grasslands in southern Kerala. It seems quite rare in south India.”

This south Indian ecotype of Arundina is very different in colour from its commoner north east Indian relative. The latter is a popular garden plant and commercially available. The genus Arundina is recognized to have only one species: A. graminifolia, with several ecotypes.

Above: the new outdoor habitat for Arundina at GBS, a rockery on a slope which once had tea. When out-planting techniques are successful, and we find the right location for species, the reward is often exuberant growth.

Above: baby Arundinas on the mudslope. Clearly, a self propagating population is robust, and can even be independent of our direct care in time. We can look forward to a mixed species grassland community, rehabilitated habitat formed from rehabilitated species.

Photos by Sora Tsukamoto

We did it!!

The crowdfunding campaign has been successful! Rainforest Concern raised £8790 of the £7,000 target with 71 backers in 56 days.


Thank you from everyone who has supported our Gardening back the biosphere. Now we can get stuck into working to protect the fragile ecosystem in this corner of the Western Ghats.

And as if in celebration, the Titan Arum at the sanctuary decided to bloom late this July for the first time in its nine year life. Classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, this species has the world’s largest inflorescence, as well as being one of the smelliest flowering plants! It is also known as the ‘Corpse Flower’ because of the strong and unpleasant stench it gives off to attract carcass eating insects to pollinate it. And its attracted more than insects, many visitors have come to the sanctuary to marvel at this rare flower.

60 days to support the Sanctuary

Today a Crowdfunding has started for the Sanctuary!

The aim: £7000 will train 5 young rural women in plant species conservation at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Western Ghats, India.



We need to raise £7000 to train five young rural women as ‘Ecosystem gardeners’. In a small corner of the Western Ghats, the Gurukula Botanicla Sanctuary has been conserving the herbaceous flora of the forests. This includes instruction and practice in the cultivation of endangered plants. Trainees are provided with meals, lodging, and a stipend. English language classes are available. Graduates of the one-year course would be expected to continue in fully-paid work at the Sanctuary for at least one more year.

We’ve got 60 days to raise the funds.