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The Vetal hills: An urban wildscape in peril

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The Vetal Hill complex, an urban green space, is located in the heart of the city of Pune, India. The aim of the present work was to evaluate the total species lost prior to 1997 as well as to record new additions to the flora. The most recent flora of this hill complex has been used as a central reference. Past published records and herbaria data were consulted for plants that have not been recorded and opportunistic visits made to the hills resulted in additions to the flora. The study disclosed the loss of 84 species from this hill complex (54 species reported in the present study along with 30 species mentioned in earlier literature) over a period of more than 110 years, with 72 native species out of 84 showing a distinct decline. Twenty species are reported as additions to the flora out of which eleven are exotics and nine native. Regular monitoring is crucial in understanding such long term changes in any forested area. This hill complex is an important forest patch in the city that has undergone severe habitat degradation over the years and hence is in urgent need of conservation.
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MAJOR ARTICLE
72 TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
THE VETAL HILLS: AN URBAN WILDSCAPE IN PERIL
Section Editor: James L. Reveal Submitted: 12 May 2014, Accepted: 06 July 2014
Ashish N. Nerlekar1 and D. K. Kulkarni2
1 Graduate student, Department of Botany, Fergusson College, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India;
E-mail: ashishadmirerofficus@gmail.com
2 BAIF Development Research Foundation, Dr. Manibhai Desai Nagar, Warje, Pune 411058, Maharashtra,
India.
Abstract
The Vetal Hill complex, an urban green space, is located in the heart of the city of Pune, India. The
aim of the present work was to evaluate the total species lost prior to 1997 as well as to record new
additions to the flora. The most recent flora of this hill complex has been used as a central reference.
Past published records and herbaria data were consulted for plants that have not been recorded and
opportunistic visits made to the hills resulted in additions to the flora. The study disclosed the loss of
84 species from this hill complex (54 species reported in the present study along with 30 species
mentioned in earlier literature) over a period of more than 110 years, with 72 native species out of 84
showing a distinct decline. Twenty species are reported as additions to the flora out of which eleven
are exotics and nine native. Regular monitoring is crucial in understanding such long term changes in
any forested area. This hill complex is an important forest patch in the city that has undergone severe
habitat degradation over the years and hence is in urgent need of conservation.
Key Words: floristic diversity decline, India, monitoring, native species, Pune, urban green space.
Introduction
The proportion of urban residents is increasing
globally and thus the subject of urban
ecosystems is gaining importance (Savard et al.
2000). Increasing urbanization can cause
alteration of habitats including fragmentation of
natural vegetation, increase in regional
temperature, degradation of air and water
quality, and soil erosion all affect species
composition and proportion of alien species
(Moore & Palmer, 2005; Tratalos et al. 2007).
Urban green spaces can support significant
biodiversity and are of great importance as they
help in mitigating the urban heat island
phenomenon, carbon sequestration, recharge
ground water, and provide suitable habitat for
rare and endemic species (Nehru et al. 2012;
Singh et al. 2010). Vetal Hill and its
neighbouring hills are one such urban forest that
provides invaluable ecosystem services for the
city of Pune.
TAPROBANICA, ISSN 1800427X. February, 2015. Vol. 07, No. 02: pp. 7278, pls. 35.
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& Taprobanica Private Limited, Homagama, Sri Lanka
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THE VETAL HILLS: AN URBAN WILDSCAPE IN PERIL
73 TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
The city of Pune (formerly Poona) in
Maharashtra State, India, has been fortunate to
boast a rich history of botanical workers since
the early 19th century (Razi, 1952). Botanical
studies by Blatter & McCann (1935), Burns &
Chakradev (1921), Cooke (19011908), Dalzell
& Gibson (1861), Ghate (1993), Graham (1839),
Gunjatkar & Vartak (1982), Narayanayya
(1928), Vartak (1959a, b, c), and Woodrow
(1897-1898) deal indirectly with the flora
around the city; whereas works by Bonde
(1988), Ghate & Vartak (1981), Kulkarni et al.
(1989), Kulkarni & Kumbhojkar (1995), Nagare
et al. (1990), Puri & Jain (1960), Puri &
Mahajan (1958), Varadpande (1974), and Vartak
(1958, 1964) deal directly with the flora of
different geographical areas of Pune.
The hills in and around the city have also
received considerable attention from botanists
since the early 20th century. The Vetal and
adjacent group of hills have been well studied by
Burns (1931), Ezekiel (1917-1918), and Phadnis
(1925), followed by more recent studies by Joshi
(1991), Joshi et al. (1992, 1994), Joshi &
Kumbhojkar (1997), and Punalekar et al. (2010).
Joshi et al. (1992) presented a comparative
account and highlight species missing from the
flora of Ezekiel (1917-1918). Yet, a review and
comparison of other literature apart from Ezekiel
with the flora of Joshi & Kumbhojkar (1997)
remains undone. Hence, the aim of this paper is
to enumerate such lesser known plants from
Vetal Hill and surroundings that were listed in
earlier sources but are absent in the latest
comprehensive published flora of Joshi &
Kumbhojkar. Also, we wish to highlight some
additions to the flora of the hills.
Study Area
The city of Pune is located at the confluence of
the Mula and Mutha rivers on the Deccan
Plateau in western Maharashtra. The Vetal Hills
as defined in this paper refers to a group of three
hills (Vetal Hill, Law College Hill and
Chaturshingi Hill) that are inter-connected.
(18°30′N to 18°32′N and 73°48′E to 73°49′E).
The Vetal Temple on Vetal Hill is the highest
point in the region with an elevation of 705 m.
Law College Hill is located to the southeast and
Chaturshingi Hill is north of Vetal Hill (Fig. 1).
Three distinct seasons are observed in Pune: The
summer lasts from February to May with an
average high temperatures ranging from 31.9° C
to 36.9° C. The winter lasts from November to
January with average low temperatures from
14.4° C to 11.0° C. The monsoon season lasts
from June to October with an annual rainfall of
29.17 inches (=740.918 mm).
The underlying rock in the entire region is
basalt. The vegetation type in the hills is
Tropical southern dry mixed deciduous (Type
5A/C3) as classified by Champion & Seth
(1968) with the Anogeissus-Lannea-Boswellia
community being common. Other common
plants are Capparis grandis L.f., Grewia
tiliifolia Vahl, Dolichandrone falcata (Wall. ex
DC.) Seem., Santalum album L., Azadirachta
indica A. Juss. Cassia tora L., Mimosa hamata
Willd., and such exotic plants as Gliricidia
sepium (Jacq.) Kunth, Eucalyptus globulus
Labill., and Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de
Wit.
Materials and Methods
The study was divided into two sections. The
first was a review of the available literature and
herbarium data for species reported before 1997
but not mentioned by Joshi & Kumbhojkar
(1997). [This excluded already analyzed data
from Ezekiel (1917-1918)]. The second part
consisted of opportunistic visits made by the
first author which resulted in the collection of
specimens that are here considered to represent
additions to the flora of the Vetal Hills.
All scientific names were corrected for
synonyms using The Plant List (2013) with this
information corrected based on more up-to-date
nomenclatural information. Out of all the
sources reviewed pertaining to the flora of these
hills, Cooke (19011908), Razi (1952), Vartak
(1959a), Agharkar Herbarium of the
Maharashtra Association (AHMA), and the
herbarium of the Botany department, Fergusson
College, Pune, India, were found to contain
plants that were lacking in the 1997 flora. Some
species were reported missing by more than one
of the above sources (e.g., Echinochloa
colona (L.) Link) as indicated in Appendix I.
For the second part of the study, opportunistic
visits were made from January 2012 to July
2014 with the specimens collected deposited at
AHMA. Specimens were identified using Cooke
(19011908), Lakshminarasimhan (1996), Singh
& Karthikeyan (2000), Singh et al. (2001),
NERLEKAR & KULKARNI, 2015
74 TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
Ingalhalikar & Barve (2010), and Potdar et al.
(2012).
Results
Section 1: A total of 51 plants were found in
Razi (1952) that were absent in Joshi &
Kumbhojkar (1997) as well as Ezekiel (1917-
1918). This indicates that over a period of 45
years, 51 species have disappeared from the
study area. From Vartak (1959a), a single
species, Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb., which
was mentioned as “common” on the Vetal Hills
is missing from the latest flora. The herbarium
records at AHMA revealed three species:
Eriocaulon cinereum R. Br., Dopatrium
junceum (Roxb.) Buch.-Ham. ex Benth., and
Vitex pinnata L. that were found missing from
the latest flora. From the herbarium of the
Botany Department of Fergusson College, three
species, namely Callistemon lanceolatus (Sm.)
Sweet, Holmskioldia sanguinea Retz., and
Erigeron bonariensis L. were found not
mentioned in the 1997 flora. Cooke (19011908)
has two species (Grewia abutilifolia Vent. ex
Juss. and Fimbristylis complanata (Retz.) Link)
not reported by other workers. Thus, a total of
60 plants are listed in Appendix I which were
reported earlier but vanished by 1997.
Section 2: Visits made during 20122014
resulted in the collection of 26 plants not listed
in Joshi & Kumbhojkar (1997). Of these, six
species (Dalbergia latifolia Roxb., Diospyros
melanoxylon, Acacia ferruginea DC.,
Albizia lebbeck (L.) Benth., Gardenia
turgida Roxb., and Arthraxon lanceolatus
(Roxb.) Hochst.) were reported by Razi (1952)
and by Vartak (1959a) indicating that these
plants were overlooked by Joshi & Kumbhojkar
(1997). Thus a net of 20 species are listed as
additions to flora (Appendix II). Of these, eleven
species are exotics (Michelia champaca L.,
Khaya senegalensis (Desv.) A. Juss.,
Cassia roxburghii DC., Senna siamea (Lam.)
H.S. Irwin & Barneby, Terminalia catappa L.,
Grevillea robusta A. Cunn. ex R. Br.,
Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.,
Parkinsonia aculeata L., Euphorbia milii Des
Moul., Zinnia peruviana (L.) L., Cuphea
hyssopifolia Kunth) and nine are native
(Bambusa arundinacea Willd., Murraya
koenigii (L.) Spreng., Saraca asoca (Roxb.)
W.J. de Wilde, Ficus virens Aiton,
Senegalia polyacantha (Willd.) Seigler &
Ebinger, Albizia procera (Roxb.) Benth.,
Albizia amara (Roxb.) Boivin, Cadaba fruticosa
(L.) Druce, and Schleichera oleosa (Lour.)
Oken).
Thus out of 60 species that vanished prior to
1997, the aforementioned six species were
collected again during 20122014. Hence, we
report 54 species that have disappeared. Along
with the 30 species mentioned missing by Joshi
et al. (1992) and 54 species listed in the present
study, a total 84 species are now extirpated. Out
of these, 72 species were native and 12 were
exotics.
Additional remarks: Of all the areas, we would
like to highlight some areas of botanical
importance. The Law College Hill and the
plateau just above it (18°31′08.14″N,
73°49′25.86″E) houses many rare plants.
Cochlospermum religiosum (L.) Alston,
Dalbergia latifolia and Jatropha nana Dalzell
& A. Gibson are rare in general, but seen
abundantly on the plateau. Locally rare plants
(as per Joshi & Kumbhojkar, 1997) like
Hardwickia binata Roxb., Semecarpus
anacardium L.f., and Manilkara hexandra
(Roxb.) Dubard, as well as a lesser known tree,
Gardenia turgida, are seen near the pathways
leading to the temple (Fig. 2). Other areas,
including the area behind the Vetal Temple
(18°31′33.78″N, 73°48′54.03″E), the grassland
beyond the quarry (18°31′57.97″N,
73°49′01.18″E), and the slopes of Patrakar
Nagar (18°31′26.16″N, 73°49′20.01″E) also
support a fair percentage of native vegetation
and hence should be protected. Herbarium
specimens of Gardenia turgida and Schrebera
swietenoides Roxb. dating back to 1902, are
shown below (Figs. 3 & 4).
Discussion
The 84 species reported extirpated in the Vetal
Hill complex is compiled from sources starting
from Cooke (19011908) to Joshi &
Kumbhojkar (1997) and on to the present day
span more than 110 years and this indicates an
alarming rate of species loss. This number is by
no means insignificant and highlights the rapid
change in species composition on these hills.
Out of the 84 species most were natives, an
unambiguous indication of a rapid decline of the
native vegetation in this area.
Six species that were listed before 1997 and also
collected during 20122014 point out that they
THE VETAL HILLS: AN URBAN WILDSCAPE IN PERIL
73 TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
were/are of rare occurrence and thus not
collected. The eleven exotic species listed as
additions to flora pose a potential threat being
invasive and spreading on the hills. At present,
exotics like Michelia champaca, Ceiba
pentandra, Cassia roxburghii, Khaya
senegalensis, Euphorbia milii, Cuphea
hyssopifolia, Grevillea robusta, and Terminalia
catappa were probably planted by the local
authorities and do not seem to be invasive. On
the other hand, Senna siamea , Zinnia
peruviana, and Parkinsonia aculeata seem to be
spreading probably due efficient seed dispersal.
Improving the biodiversity of urban ecosystems
is important (Savard et al. 2000) due to the
multiple ecosystem services they provide.
Regular monitoring of any ecosystem with
respect to its status and condition at several
points in time is crucial for better management
(Noss, 1999). The Vetal Hill complex has been
subjected to such periodic monitoring since the
early 20th century and continuing such studies
will help give us a better understanding of the
health of this ecosystem.
Unplanned plantation programmes of exotic as
well as native species, fires, and changing land-
use are some of the threats that these hills
currently face. Understanding and protecting the
original dry deciduous nature of these forests
and implementing suitable plantation
programmes [similar to those discussed by
Kulkarni & Kumbhojkar (1997)] of plants that
have been extirpated due to anthropogenic
pressures would help in the conservation of this
unique urban ecosystem.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank V. N. Joshi
(ARI, Pune) for providing valuable literature,
the Librarian, Fergusson College, Pune for
library facilities, the Head, Botany Department,
Fergusson College and A. S. Upadhye (ARI,
Pune) for providing access to their valuable
collection of herbarium sheets. We are grateful
to P. Agarwal for providing inputs on the
manuscript. Thanks are also due to A. Watve, N.
Diwanji and S. Raje for assisting during the
collection visits, and S. Lapalikar and N. Patil
for procuring selected references. The authors
are grateful to Mr. G. G. Sohani (BAIF, Pune)
and the Principal, Fergusson College for
encouragement in the current work.
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Appendix I: List of species not reported by Joshi & Kumbhojkar (1997); * plants that were mentioned in the
earlier literature as well as collected during the present study; HFCBD, Herbarium of Fergusson College Botany
department (not a standard acronym); LCH, Law College Hill; VH, Vetal Hill; CH, Chaturshingi Hill; **See the
end note below.
Family
Species
Loc.
Acanthaceae
Andrographis echioides (L.f.) Nees
LCH
Asteracantha longifolia Nees
LCH
Calophanes dalzellii T. Anderson ex Bedd.
LCH
Justicia simplex D. Don
LCH
Rungia repens (L.) Nees
LCH
Anacardiaceae
Buchanania lanzan Spreng.
LCH
Apocynaceae
Wrightia tinctoria R. Br
LCH
Asclepiadaceae
Ceropegia tuberosa Roxb.
LCH
Asteraceae
Cyathocline purpurea (Buch.-Ham. ex D. Don) Kuntze
LCH
Erigeron bonariensis L.
VH
Lactuca runcinata DC. ex Wight
LCH
Boraginaceae
Heliotropium ovalifolium Forssk.
LCH
Heliotropium supinum L.
LCH
Burseraceae
Garuga pinnata Roxb.
LCH
Caesalpiniaceae
Cassia auriculata L.
LCH
Cassia marginata Roxb.
VH
Capparaceae
Capparis divaricata Lam.
LCH
Celastraceae
Celastrus paniculatus Willd.
LCH
Cleomaceae
Cleome monophylla L.
LCH
Combretaceae
Terminalia arjuna (Roxb. ex DC.) Wight & Arn.
LCH
Commelinaceae
Cyanotis axillaris (L.) D. Don ex Sweet
LCH
Cyperaceae
Fimbristylis complanata (Retz.) Link
CH
Ebenaceae
Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb.*
VH
Eriocaulaceae
Eriocaulon cinereum R. Br.
VH
Euphorbiaceae
Acalypha malabarica Müll.Arg.
LCH
Euphorbia elegans Spreng.
LCH
Euphorbia tirucalli L.
VH
Jatropha glandulifera Roxb.
LCH
Phyllanthus niruri L.
LCH
Lamiaceae
Holmskioldia sanguinea Retz.
VH
Leonotis nepetifolia (L.) R. Br.
LCH
Mimosaceae
Albizia lebbeck (L.) Benth.*
LCH
Acacia ferruginea DC.*
LCH
Myrtaceae
Callistemon lanceolatus (Sm.) Sweet
VH
Orchidaceae
Habenaria longicalcarata A. Rich.
LCH
Papilionaceae
Aeschynomene indica L.
LCH
Crotalaria linifolia L.f.
LCH
Crotalaria mysorensis Roth
LCH
Dalbergia latifolia Roxb. *
LCH
Desmodium diffusum DC.
LCH
Taverniera nummularia DC.
LCH
Poaceae
Andropogon pumilus Roxb.
LCH
Arthraxon lanceolatus (Roxb.) Hochst.*
LCH
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Arthraxon microphyllus (Trin.) Hochst.
LCH
Brachiaria ramosa (L.) Stapf
LCH
Cenchrus biflorus Roxb.
LCH
Chionachne semiteres (Benth.) Henrard
LCH
Cymbopogon citratus (DC.) Stapf
LCH
Echinochloa colona (L.) Link
LCH
Pennisetum hohenackeri Hochst. ex Steud.
LCH
Setaria intermedia Roem. & Schult.
LCH
Sorghum purpureosericeum (A. Rich.) Schweinf. & Asch.
LCH
Themeda quadrivalvis (L.) Kuntze
LCH
Rubiaceae
Gardenia turgida Roxb.*
VH
Scrophulariaceae
Dopatrium junceum (Roxb.) Buch.-Ham. ex Benth.
VH
Tiliaceae
Corchorus fascicularis Lam.
LCH
Corchorus trilocularis L.
LCH
Grewia abutilifolia Vent. ex Juss.
Grewia obtusa Wall. ex Dunn
LCH
Verbenaceae
Vitex pinnata L.
VH
Appendix II: Additions to flora discovered during the present study; LCH, Law College Hill; VH, Vetal Hill;
CH, Chaturshingi Hill.
**End note: The authors have retained the taxonomic disposition of families in the above tables as cited in the
references; likewise, we have kept the species names used by those authors. We are well aware that both
Caesalpiniaceae and Mimosaceae are best retained in a broadly defined Fabaceae which includes Papilionaceae.
Also, we are aware that Phyllanthus is now assigned to Phyllanthaceae, and Tiliaceae may be assigned to a
broadly defined Malvaceae although there are current systems of classification that accept Tiliaceae. A number
of species have been revised since the above cited publications made their appearance. For example, Grewia
obtusa is now considered to be a synonym of G. bracteata Roth and Acacia polyacantha is now S. polyacantha
(Willd.) Seigler & Ebinger. The name, Erigeron linifolius, is more a matter of taxonomic opinion than
nomenclature with opinions varying on accepting E. bonariensis L. or Conyza bonariensis (L.) Cronquist. In
either case there is no debate that E. linifolius is a synonym. As may be seen from our use of species names in
our text, we have attempted to use current nomenclature.
Family
Species
Loc.
Remarks
Asteraceae
Zinnia peruviana (L.) L.
LCH
Exotic weed seen spreading
Bombacaceae
Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.
VH
Planted
Caesalpiniaceae
Cassia roxburghii DC.
CH
Planted
Senna siamea (Lam.) H.S. Irwin & Barneby
LCH
Few well-grown planted specimens
Parkinsonia aculeata L.
VH
Only a single plant seen
Saraca asoca (Roxb.) Willd.
VH
About a dozen trees planted, growing
well
Capparaceae
Cadaba fruticosa (L.) Druce
CH
Couple of plants seen
Combretaceae
Terminalia catappa L.
VH
Planted
Euphorbiaceae
Euphorbia milii Des Moul.
VH
Planted near temples
Lythraceae
Cuphea hyssopifolia Kunth
VH
Planted
Magnoliaceae
Michelia champaca L.
LCH
A couple of young trees seen
Meliaceae
Khaya senegalensis (Desv.) A. Juss.
CH
Planted
Mimosaceae
Senegalia polyacantha (Willd.) Seigler & Ebinger
CH
Occasionally seen
Albizia amara (Roxb.) Boivin
LCH
VH
CH
Native and plenty of well grown trees
seen
Albizia procera (Roxb.) Benth.
CH
Couple of trees
Moraceae
Ficus virens Aiton
LCH
CH
Few well grown trees seen
Poaceae
Bambusa arundinacea Willd.
VH
Planted and growing well
Proteaceae
Grevillea robusta A. Cunn. ex R. Br.
VH
Planted
Rutaceae
Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng.
VH
Planted
Sapindaceae
Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Oken
VH
A fine grove of three full grown trees
seen along the pathway
78
TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
PLATE 3
Figure 1: The study area is outlined in white and shows the three hills that are inter-connected.
Figure 2: (A) Manilkara hexandra (Roxb.) Dubard, (B) Acacia ferruginea DC., (C) Gardenia turgida Roxb.,
(D) Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Oken, (E) Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb., (F) Cochlospermum religiosum (L.)
Alston (photos: A. Nerlekar).
A
B
C
D
E
F
TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
PLATE 4
Figure 3: Herbarium specimen of Gardenia turgida Roxb. collected by L.D. Garade on 17 Jun 1902 from
Chaturshungi Hill. Courtesy of the Department of Botany, Fergusson College, Pune, India.
TAPROBANICA VOL. 07: NO. 02
PLATE 5
Figure 4: Herbarium specimen of Schrebera swietenoides Roxb. collected by L.D. Garade on 17 Jun 1902 from
Chaturshungi Hill. Courtesy of the Department of Botany, Fergusson College, Pune, India.
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Flora of Maharashtra State
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Some imperfectly known plants from Poona and Satara districts (Part II)
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Vartak, V. D., 1959b. Some imperfectly known plants from Poona and Satara districts (Part II).