KOLKATA: If you thought the cosy nooks and corners on the verdant grounds of were a haven just for lovebirds of the non-feathered kind, think again. The campus is home to a myriad varieties of plant and animal life.
Apart from rare trees, many of which the British had brought from other countries, the Victoria campus houses at least 50 different varieties of butterflies, scores of caterpillar species, at least 40 different varieties of bees, more than 100 different varieties of Indian birds and 25 varieties of migratory birds, a large variety of snakes, a variety of fish and countless types of worms.
A team of botanists and zoologists are now working on the sprawling 57-acre grounds to draw up a census of Victoria Memorial’s non-human life. Once the exercise is complete, the authorities want to highlight this ‘whole new world’ through signage, publications and guided tours.
The tree census, which is almost over, has enumerated 2,825 full-grown trees on campus. The census has also been able to pinpoint the trees’ approximate age. Work on clearing the grounds and preparing it for building the memorial and its surrounding gardens started in 1905 after the decision to build a memorial to Queen Victoria was taken by Lord Curzon. The place originally housed Presidency Jail, which shifted to Alipore to make way for the memorial. Though William Emerson is credited with being the architect of Victoria Memorial, the gardens were developed jointly by superintending architects Vincent J Esch and Edward White. Every tree was planted at a vantage point according to the plan.
The oldest trees are the palms, the deodars and the parkias on the northern, southern and western fringes of the lawns. These date to 1905, according to the census report. “We are two years from the centenary of Victoria Memorial, and this census of trees and non-human life on campus is part of a dossier that is being prepared for public circulation,” said Jayanta Sengupta, curator of Victoria Memorial.
“We have completed the tree census and are nearing the end of the census of birds and organisms. Botanists and zoologists from the Botanical Survey of India and Zoological Survey of India have helped us in this cursory census. We have requested the West Bengal Biodiversity Board to vet this and prepare a final report, after which the dossier will be published,” he added.
The census report says 23 varieties of trees, in large numbers, were planted in designated places as natural protection against pollution. Some of the main ones were Acacia auriculiformis, Albiziz lebbeck, Calistemon lanceolatus, Butea monosforma, Cassia auriculate, Lagestromea parviflora and Madhuca indica.
“Among the unusual trees worth mentioning are the Calabash tree, native to central and South America, and the national tree of St Lucia. It was brought in and naturalised here by the British. The tree not only flowers and bears fruit throughout the year, but is also home to the rare Chinese rose beetles and leaf-webbing caterpillars,” explained Sengupta. Another rarity is the Cuban Royal Palm or the Florida Royal Palm, native to , parts of Central America, the Caribbean, and Southern Florida. This national tree of has a religious role in Santería (a pantheistic Afro-Cuban religious cult), where it is used in observances. The British brought in 90 of these to Victoria and all of them are still alive. The Canon Ball tree from the Amazon rainforest and the breadfruit tree from the Pacific are two more examples of rare trees housed inside Victoria Memorial.
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