An Exploration of Nature in Urban Spaces of Mumbai Photography Assignment by Hindol Hazra, FYBMM

Perhaps, mankind's greatest achievement till date is the advent of civilizations - a systematic manner of survival and functioning of society and its people. Urban cosmopolitan societies are often considered to be the peak of such ideas of civilization, although with its own set of contradictions. Amidst the soaring high rises, abandoned, decaying bungalows and slums challenging all notions of civilized existence, Mumbai has another civilization that exists in tandem with these more familiar settings. The flora and fauna in the city have not had a very harmonious co-existence with the rapid infrastructural development, but through the efforts of citizens, social organizations and sometimes, even the governments, the biodiversity is being preserved to a considerable extent.

This series explores the various species of plants and flowers in suburban areas of Mumbai which are of residential as well as commercial importance to the city. These areas (Santacruz, Khar, Bandra, Juhu, Andheri) were selected on the basis of the diversity seen in terms of traditional architectural heritage and the extent of modern infrastructure being developed. Certain areas of South Mumbai (Churchgate, Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Horniman Circle) were also covered for the various architectural styles observed here and their juxtaposition against the flora. The species covered here range from some of the commonly found ones across the city to some rare and unusual ones. The scenes that follow are spread all around us but are often overlooked, and this project aims to be a lens towards a better understanding of the spaces we inhabit, and interact with.

The Usual Suspects

Common trees found across the city

In the spotlight (Location: West Avenue, Santacruz - West)

Some of the most commonly found trees in suburban areas, the trees of Peepal (Ficus religiosa, center), Gulmohar or Royal Poinciana (Delonix regis, right) and Mango (Mangifera indica, left) have their own distinct characteristics. The Gulmohar tree blooms in the summer season (months of May-June in Mumbai) which is also when the Mango tree can be seen laden with raw fruits.

Reverence, celebration and conservation (Location: Juhu)

The Peepal (Ficus religiosa) has immense mythological as well as spiritual importance in Hinduism and Buddhism. It has many scientific and medicinal properties and is an example of conservation of plant species through religious codes of conduct. Domestic plants such as Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) are integral to the traditional Indian lifestyle for their various uses and through the associated rituals, such species are protected for future generations.

The Jack of all trades, and trees (Location: Santacruz)

The Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is one of the most popular tropical fruits in the subcontinent. Locally known as phanas, it is used extensively in the completely vegetarian cuisine of the Chitpawan Brahmin community associated with the Konkan region of Maharashtra. The ingredients used in this cuisine such as coconuts, jackfruits, colocasia etc. were all grown in the backyards of the families' residences and the dishes as well as the ingredients spread across the region with the community itself.

Plumerian Pleasantries

Plumeria is a genus of flowering plants indigenous to warm regions such as India. Frangipani (locally known as Champa or Chafa) is the most commonly found variant of this family and owing to differences in climate conditions, soil components and other similar factors, variations are observed. These flowers are found in several regions across the city and have interesting variations.

Gleeful blues (Location: Churchgate)
In the pink of health, and radiance (Location: Nariman Point)
Street blossoms (Location: Khar)
In its pristine, white glory (Location: Patwardhan Park, Bandra)

Plumeria obtusa or commonly known as White Frangipani is a very popular variant and is used for rituals as well as ornamental purposes. Nature parks and planned conservation of such species are extremely helpful for their sustenance.


Rare and unusual species in urban spaces

Fibres in the land of cables (Location: Bandra)

Gossypium arboreum is a variety of cotton indigenous to India. This particular tree belongs to the Ceiba pentandra species which is known for white fibre or 'kapok' that wraps the seeds.

An unusual blossom (Location: Bandra (Ranwar Village))

Locals claim this to be a variant of the Plumeria rubra, which is originally native to Mexico, Central America and Venezuela.

Going nuts in the city (Location: Khar)

Areca nuts (commonly known as betel nuts) are grown extensively in the coastal regions of India and find mention in traditional scriptures and rituals as well. This tree is a palm tree species under the family Arecaceae.

A prominent figure of the promenade (Location: Marine Drive)

Locals suggest that this tree could belong to the Anacardium genus, commonly known for cashew nuts and sumac flowering plants.

Tales of the Concrete Jungles

The City and its Nature

For the times they are a-changin' (Location: Santacruz)
"There are layers of truth and friction between them. The question is, what are you closest to ?" - Anonymous (Location: Santacruz)

The present norms and regulations for construction sites in Mumbai have recognized the need for conserving rare species of plants or any heritage structures that may get affected due to the projects. However, the need for planned growth of plant species across the city has not been realized by the present administrative bodies. Initially, trees such as Delonix regis (Gulmohar or Royal Poinciana) and Peltophorum pterocarpum (Copper Pod or Yellow Poinciana) were planted by city planners for balanced growth. Unfortunately, not many of those trees survive today but some can still be found in suburban regions.

Big Brother, and Mother Nature are watching you (Location: Bandra, Ranwar Village)
For Sale: The Environment (Location: Andheri)

Often, species of flowers get conserved through the efforts of citizens. For example, the flower Bombax malabaricium is found in private societies around the areas of Versova and Jogeshwari which were protected by the residents. Flowers such as Rose, Hibiscus, Marigold, Petunia, Bougainvillea etc. are commonly found in houses across the city.

Poseidon's possessions (Location: Juhu)

The sea plays an important role in Mumbai's ecological diversity. Initially a merger of seven islands, the present shape of the city was achieved through reclamation of land from the sea and its expansion continues till date.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

After observing the common as well as rare species of trees, the following are a few flowering plants and shrubs seen across the city.

Blowin' in the wind (Location: Air India Building, Nariman Point)

Barringtonia asiatica is a wetland species from Oceania and the Indian Ocean, marked by large beautiful flowers and sea-floating fruits. Locals share that this particular tree is the oldest among the trees of this species on the promenade.

The red scare (Location: Khar)

Chenille flower plants (Acalypha hispida) are cultivated in households for their bright, furry flowers and are native to parts of Hawaii and Oceania. If ingested, these plants can prove to be poisonous for animals.

Tangerine hues (Location: Nariman Point)

This particular plant is an orange-pink variant of the Nerium oleander species which bears pink or lavender flowers. These plants are some of the most commonly grown poisonous garden plants, and are often seen on medians and similar spaces in urban cities.

"There are no lines in nature. Only areas of colour, one against another." - Eduardo Manet Location: Marine Drive

The Bougainvillea is a genus of flowering plants with various colors of flowers as a result of interbreeding among the plant species. The most commonly known pink variant of this species has the scientific name Bougainvillea Glabra and is a garden plant.

This project would not have been possible without the support and guidance of the residents of these areas who shared valuable information that helped in further understanding of the subject matter, and is dedicated to the efforts being taken by the citizens to protect and foster whatever remains of the city's natural heritage.

Created By
Hindol Hazra

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