Meet Purushothama Kamath, a horticulturist, who is on a mission to protect endangered herbs and trees
A quiet spot of lush greenery right in the heart of the city, enter into Alungal Farms. Owned by A.V. Purushothama Kamath, ‘Gurukul’ as the farm set in an area of one and a half acres is called, is home to more than 600 rare medicinal flora. There is a meditative calm about the century-old ancestral home of Kamath. A natural canopy, is formed by a huge mango tree laden with juicy Jahangir mangoes on which the ‘Changalam Peranda’, a rare old medicinal creeper intertwines with bright red berries. There are thick aerial roots and a Brazilian cherry tree with small cherries that resemble tiny, ripe tomatoes overlooks the verandah.
Sitting in the coolness of the verandah, Kamath unravels the tale of this success story. He says that they have been living in the typically traditional way with a passion for horticulture. “Horticulture is in my blood. Both my father and grandfather were agriculturists. Some years back, I read about rare medicinal plants facing extinction and wanted to do my bit to save at least 10 varieties. That’s how I got started.”
The farm is the result of his vast hands-on experience and keen observation. He is very particular in finding out the details regarding the plants he has collected. This he does from books and partly from Botany professors. He has in his possession several ancient ‘granthas’ based on horticulture.
“There are lots of ‘duplicates’ among these exotic plants. They are often mistaken for the original species.” Pointing to a short tree with almond-shaped leaves growing in clusters, he says, “This is really ‘Malaveppe’, but was thought to be ‘Devadaru,’ which is usually not found in Kerala, but in the Himalayan region. ” Kamath has a rare seedless collection of jackfruit, mango, chaampa and lemon. Then there is the ‘valliplaavu’ which grows to a height of only around four feet, sometimes near the roots and bears very sweet jackfruit. All the work behind this venture is done by Kamath himself. Family members lend him a helping hand.
It takes about five hours to water the whole garden. The coconut trees are watered through drip irrigation with water pumped from an adjoining pond. He does not make use of any chemicals. The pesticides used here are wholly organic. For instance, the chilli ‘kandari mulaku’ is mixed with water and blended in a mixer-grinder and garlic is added. The mixture is sieved and diluted with water and sprayed as an insecticide. Compost wash is diluted and sprayed as a natural fertilizer. Kamath meticulously explains the speciality behind many exotic names. Beside each plant is a small but very useful green signboard with yellow letters that spell out the genus and medicinal properties of the plants. Holiday trips with family become occasions for collecting rare plants. Kamath studies the conditions peculiar to a region that help a plant to flourish. He is an active participant and contributor to various horticultural exhibitions. Some of the various herbs and plants that he has collected during the course of his many travels across the country are, ‘Nakshatra’ trees, a tree corresponding to each Malayalam birth star, nine varieties of the Tulasi plant, ‘Parijata’, ‘Rudraksham’,’Bhadraksham,’ ‘Neelambari’ and ‘Nagalingamaram,’ which, Kamath informs is an important part of Shivaradhana.
There are rare medicinal plants here like, ‘Orila Thamara,’ ‘Garudapacha’, ‘Samudrapacha’, ‘Keezhanelli’, ‘Guggulu’, ‘Pinari’ etc. believed to be remedies for a wide range of physical ailments. ‘Arogyapacha,’ mentioned in the Ramayana, ‘Kattamrit,’ ‘Kattukaachil,’ ‘Analivegam,’ ‘Kallurukki,’ ‘Koduveli,’ ‘Kalloovanji,’ ‘Aattuvanji,’ ‘Chakkarakolli’ and ‘Ekanayakam’, a very rare medicinal plant, are all found here.
Plenty of trees, several sorts of plantains, various varieties of flowers, spice trees, 34 kinds of hibiscus, orchids, oranges, lemons, West Indian, Brazilian cherries, guavas, pineapples, more than 34 varieties of mango trees and a lot more adorn the place.
“I like to leave a few fruits like mangoes on the trees for the birds and squirrels to have their fill. We must, after all, think of everyone,” Kamath remarks, as he looks fondly at his garden.PARVATHY MENON