Fifty-two-year-old G Mullaivanam has planted 98 lakh saplings across the state and has donated 1.4 crore plants over the past 40 years, and continues to do so to conserve greenery.
“Back then, these localities didn’t have any buildings; only palm tree fields. My grandfather would take me to the fields and on the way if he would spot any seeds, fallen leaves or broken branches, he would gather them to replant, use as mulch and build fences with. Looking at him, I would try to plant creepers and climbers in and around my home,” recalls Mullaivanam. “If someone ate a mango and disposed the seed, I would wash and plant it in a tin can or coconut shell.”
When he couldn’t finish high school due to various reasons, he began cultivating saplings of native trees full-time. He says, “My mother would go from door to door and ask people for used milk, curd and oil sachets — I would take fertile soil from the fields and plant seedlings in them. My neighbours thought I was mentally ill but I didn’t let that stop me. I am 52 years old now and have been planting trees since I was 13,” he smiles.
Slowly, word began spreading that Mullaivanam was donating plants for free. He also released an ad in the paper because he wanted children from schools and colleges to understand the importance of reforestation. He shares, “To facilitate widespread tree-planting, I curated a tree bank in 2009 that stands strong even today. I house around 20 varieties of native trees like neem, punga (pongame oiltree), poovarasa (pacific rosewood), naval (jamun), iluppai (mahua), kalyana murungai (Indian coral tree), athi (cluster fig tree) and arasa maram (Peepal tree).”
He says he chose these varieties because they attract a lot of birds. “Humans wants the luxury of food being delivered to their homes, but they cut down trees and deny birds of their home. The trees that I help cultivate provide many animals and birds plenty of place to nest and rest. Moreover, such species once they grow to their full size won’t fall even if a cyclone hits. They also protect the quality of the soil and fertilise it,” he explains.
So far, this ‘tree man’ has planted 98 lakh saplings across the state and has donated 1.4 crore plants. “My birthday is on May 1 and I’ll be donating 1 lakh saplings, along with which I’ll give a pamphlet containing instructions on how to care for it. Children need to be encouraged to plant trees, play and feel the soil in their hands,” smiles Mullaivanam. To honour his efforts, late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam presented him with a gold medal during his presidency. “I have also made many friends through this activity like the actor Vivek, who is fond of trees,” sums up the quinquagenarian.