Flora of Madh (North Mumbai)

Flora of Madh (North Mumbai) : VG-APR-01 : 2 posts by 2 authors. Attachments (9)

In the mid-to-late 1950s, one of the most discerning field botanists to have contributed to the flora of Mumbai, Gopalkrishna Shah (who would go on to author the seminal Flora of Gujarat), carried out an extensive floristic survey of the western segment of Salsette Island covering the region of Madh in the suburb of Malad, North Mumbai, under the guidance of his teacher Father H. Santapau. 

His efforts culminated in an impressive enumeration of 640 taxa (including 71 grasses) belonging to 109 families & 401 genera. These numbers would conjure up a vision of a lush type locality for the native flora of the region and lead one to believe that Madh would surely be an important fixture on the maps of nature lovers in Mumbai. However, the rich biodiversity of the picturesque Madh Hill has suffered a surprisingly severe neglect from naturalists in the last sixty years except for a rare intervention from Santapau & Shah whose lament is documented in the opening sentence of their paper on the flora of Madh: "Though many distinguished botanists have explored various parts of Bombay, none seems to have paid particular attention to Bombay and Salsette islands." [A Contribution to the Flora of Salsette Island, Bombay (Malad-Madh Area) by H. Santapau & GL Shah, JBNHS, vol. 66, no. 3, p. 430, December 1969].

The extreme severity of the crisis impending the flora at the time was pronounced in their description of the habitat: "There is practically no spot in the area, which has not been subjected to very drastic deforestation; constant cutting of woody species, overgrazing on herbaceous plants, and summer fires have all combined to turn the area into a very poor type of Southern Moist Deciduous Forest..." [ibid.]

These words bear an all-too-familiar ring even forty-six years after they were written and the fate of the flora has undergone a fatal slump over the years. A large portion of the hill is private property as of now and most of the native flora, as old as the hill, has made way for concrete edifices. What remains is fast being cleared by the incessant construction mania. Also, Madh Island happens to be a popular destination for film & TV shoots and much of the real estate in the region (including the hill) is the property of film production houses or of those who lease out their property for such ventures. The horrendous pollution ensuing from many a shooting schedule has been thrust upon the forest with alarming regularity.

The rash manner in which the character of a natural hill is altered has been symptomatic of the degeneration of Mumbai's flora i.e. the large-scale deforestation of the indigenous hilly & coastal flora for brick-and-mortar urban development with a few native relics lingering anachronistically amidst the intensive propagation of exotics. A naturally endowed city of luxuriant hills, Mumbai succumbed to the lure of urban garden culture. While the ancient Krishnagiri (Kanheri) Hill came to be protected within Borivali National Park, the preponderant wild flora of several other hills and tekris in Mumbai (Cumballa Hill, Malabar Hill, Antop Hill, Pali Hill, Sewri Hill, Madh Hill, Talzan Tekri etc.) has consistently knuckled under the pressures of human exploitation, encroachment, quarrying, construction and other commercial temptations.

I started exploring the flora of Madh in September 2014 and my hopes were dashed after witnessing the ravages but, in spite of the dreadful deforestation, I've been compelled to revisit time and again only to be captivated by the 'remnant' flora dwelling precariously in these hilly slopes.

Will share some of the unique observations and insights gathered from my trespassing on Madh Hill so far in separate emails. 

Have attached a panoramic view of Madh from atop the hill along with some images of tree-felling and pollution amidst the frantic construction activity.
Thanks ... for this beautiful write-up; interesting (and alarming).