Clean Air We All Seek

But Indoor Plants Won't Bring It To Us

Amidst news of annual winter occurrence of pollution and hazard from breathing such air at New Delhi, we heard from a news report recently that the air at Thane is relatively cleaner. Before we celebrate for Thane's supposedly clean air, let us remember that the city is among most polluted Indian cities (for air and water) due to presence of industries within and in neighbouring cities. Indian cities are all prone to air pollution to varying degrees with automobile exhaust, construction, dust in the environment (roads particularly) and burning of garbage being common sources of air pollution.

Every adversity has its benefits and in case of air pollution manufacturers of respiratory protection (masks) and home air purifiers have taken advantage of the situation. As for air purifiers, they have been promoted for cleaning air inside homes and offices. These machines come with sensors that detect the levels of pollutants in the air and accordingly filter and supply the air within a structure. If we look at the dust collected on any surfce not regulalry cleaned at our homes, one can know the extent of dust prevalent in homes. In a township like Rustomjee Urbania which has buildings still being made, it is dust from construction that can be found and even at the higher floors of tall buildings. Regulation now requires such buildings to have screens to prevent dust and debris from spreading and at Rustomjee Urbania we do have such protection. However, fine dust still carries through from a building site and will have to be endured till all construction is complete. Air purifiers are good for construction dust and one can get an idea of extent of dust by taking a look at the filters inside them which will have layers of dust sucked by the machines. So, air purifier machines are an aid to improving air quality at our homes.

Natural air purifiers? A lot of hype has been created around so-called natural air purifiers or plants that apparently miraculously improve air quality and supply purified air. Some such plants are also being touted as oxygen plants which is a misnomer. As happens with most misinformation the myth about plants that purify air has been spread by social media, helped by websites, magazines and newspapers. All plants absorb carbon-dioxide and release oxygen when they make food - this is not air purification but photosynthesis! As for removal of pollutants, some plants have been studied and found to absorb volatile organic compounds from air. After National Aerospace Administration (NASA) of USA released reports of some plants with ability to absorb harmful compounds from air, the hype about special air purifying plants started. That even NASA had studied and used Chlorphytum, Areca Palm, Peace Lilly or Spathophyllum, Snake Plant or Sansiveria and Pothos or Money Plant for air purification. Now more plants have been added to that list which runs to nearly 2 dozen. Biggest beneficiaries of such news are the plant nurseries which are seeing huge demand for so-called air purifying plants.

Indian Rubber Tree commonly used indoors and claimed to purify air

Reality check: Plants CANNOT purify air to make it free of pollutants. Agreed some plants have been shown to absorb air pollutants. But most of those studies were in controlled conditions & may have had continuous lighting (needed for photosynthesis). Further, number of plants required to remove gaseous pollutants in a room may have to number enough to completely fill the room. As for particulate matter, some may settle on foliage but cannot be absorbed. As for oxygen production by some plants at night that is a hoax. Unless a plant photosynthesises it won't produce oxygen & that won't happen in a dark room at night in a house.

Beautiful inflorescence of Spathophyllum or Peace Lilly popular as air purifier

So what should you do? Have indoor plants at home by all means. But don't depend on them for air purification but for decor. For cleaner air you need electric air purifiers. Also, at Rustomjee Urbania the apartments are fitted with U-PVC doors and windows which are dust proof. If you feel it is very dusty outside keep the doors and windows closed to keep our solid particles from entering your house. Those dust particles which enter your house can be cleaned by a vaccum cleaner. A hedge of Hamelia (you can see it in front of Acura) very tall and fully covering length of your balcony can absorb dust too but will also cut light.

Hedge of Hamelia that can guard you from dust

Going Bananas and getting stoned

A fun look at fruit picking and also some ideas on growing your own fruits

In their promotional brochures and videos Rustomjee has highlighted fruit picking at Urbania and even shown it in the visuals. As we wonder where and when the fruit picking will happen, remember we do have fruit trees all around. There are pomegranates, figs and grape fruit (also called Pomelo and not to be confused with grapes) on Podium level of Azziano. At Urban Farming of course there are many more fruit trees including banana, mango, guava and chikoo. At ground level of Azziano too there are banana plants.

The banana plants at Urbania have borne bananas and you may have seen the bunches on some trees. However, no fruit picking has happened and this issue deals with the subject. Coming back to bananas at Urban Farm as you enter the banana trees have fruit now. Still green but will soon ripen. When yellow these fruits can be eaten but will have stones in them. Wondering what is happening. Read on.

The banana you eat have small black seeds or sterile seeds those that won't germinate into a plant. Commercial bananas are grown from rhizomes, a stem modification. Due to such vegetative propagation all banana plants are related to one mother plant. Humans took one soft-seeded banana variety (called tripoloids in genetics and which have sterile or immature seeds) and propagated it by rhizomes for banana fruits. In the wild including our own Western Ghats grow bananas that continue to have large seeds and can be propagated by seeds too. Such bananas are called Jungle Bananas and are generally not favoured commercially. I have eaten Jungle Bananas which need you to separate in your mouth the fruit part from the hard seed and spit them out. Bit of an effort. But worth it since the Jungle Bananas too are sweet and like any other. They look like regular bananas but have large seeds which you can feel after biting into them.

Bunch of bananas at Urban Farming clicked on 26 October 2019

So this then is the story about the Urban Farm and Azziano Banana trees. They are wild ones with stone like seed. You can eat them but remember to spit out the seeds. As for fruit picking read the rest of the article on how you can grow fruits at your balcony.

First at Azziano A wing where we lived and now ar Azziano G Wing, we have been growing a Thai Guava tree. It is a small tree about four feet high and yields large guavas that can weigh more than one kg. Per fruit. It does bear fruits several times a year. As the fruits can be very high and sometimes are borne in pairs the branches sag and the fruit touches the floor if there are two per branch. Our guava tree is not a bonsai as some people think - it is a grafted tree with the scion (upper, fruit bearing stem of the tree) being a Thai Guava. We got it from Tukai Exotics, a nursery at Pune.

Growing fruit trees in your balcony is not very difficult. You need a large pot - we use one about one foot wide and more than one foot tall. A large pot with good potting mix planted with a grafted fruit tree is all you need. We can grow guavas, chikoos, pomegranates, mangoes, figs, bananas, custard apples and more in our fifty square foot balconies ar Rustomjee Urbania. Remember the fruit variety we grow will be suited for small spaces and though small our fruit trees will yield fruits like a regular tree. Their numbers will be lesser as compared to those from a large tree in an orchard.

To encourage urban farming we have a Whatsapp group of gardeners that helps enthusiasts source plants, take care of them and become a balcony farmer. Get in touch with me to join the group if you are interested - we are soon starting classes for vegetable farming at balconies.

How to make a butterfly park

Thoughts on butter fly spotting at Rustomjee Urbania and Thane city

Volume 1 Issue 32

2 November 2019

This morning I was out for a walk at Urban Farming Zone, our community's green oasis and home to plants, birds and insects.  There were butterflies fluttering and dragon flies zooming around amidst bird calls and chirping.  A lady was showing the butterflies to her daughter and both mother and child were absorbed in the moment enjoying nature.  I make a round around our campus during daily walks and thus had been to the Festival Plaza too this morning where I spotted more butterflies.  I spotted butterflies at the skating rink of the Festival Plaza and also in the bamboos planted along the road from Saket to Rustomjee Urbania. There were butterflies at the Club House level of Azziano Phase II too this morning on the plants used in landscaping all around.

The title is actually a pun on the phrase - butterfly park.  I am using it to convey that this article is about how to attract butterflies and make them park or rest.  Actually very little needs to be done to lure butterflies.  They are all around us, both on natural vegetation as also landscaped areas. At Rustomjee Urbania just by stepping out you can spot them flying around.  Those of you curious to know which butterflies I spotted this morning - note there were 2 types - mottled emigrant and common grass yellow (most common butterfly in India).  You can learn more about Indian butterflies here:

Some butterflies even enter the building like the Evening Brown I spotted sitting at lobby of Azziano G wing.  As it was resting on the wall I could get very close and take many pictures of it one of which you can see below.  I found more Evening Browns at the P4 level on way to the parking area.  Taking pictures of butterflies is tricky but possible.  You have to go very close to them and click without distrubing them.  Do try that next time you are out in the garden and spot butterflies.

Common Brown clicked at lobby of Azziano G Wing at Rustomjee Urbania

Butterflies in your balcony: One of our Gardening Club members reported that a caterpillar was eating up leaves of her lemon plant.  We told her that it is the young one of a Lime Butterfly which is also called Lemon Butterfly or Citrus Butterfly or Swallowtail.  The adult butterfly lays eggs on plants of lime family and thus found a lime plant in a balcony good place to do so.  The young caterpillar called larva hatches from the egg and feeds on the leaves.  The larva then turns to a pupa or resting stage for which it makes a protective casing or.shield for itself and remains on the plant but motionless.  Our gardener who had the pupa on her lime plant did not notice the adult that emerged from the pupa but it would have, leaving behind an empty pupal case. Read more about it here:  So growing flowering plants of any kind is another way to attract butterflies to your balcony garden and even have them multiply there like on the lime plant described above.

For those still wanting to go to a butterfly park, there is one such at Ovalewadi.  On the foothills of Yeoor a farm has grown flowering plants favoured by butterflies and allows visitors to go on and observe butterflies. It is open only on Sundays and they serve simple food for visitors.  There is an entry fee and the food has to be paid for too.  Here is link to their details:
This is a farm where butterflies occur naturally.  Thane also has one more Butterfly Park called SGNP Butterfly Park close to Tikujiniwadi.  Here is its location:

In the enclosed Butterfly Parks (seen abroad and now in India too) these insects are first caged inside the structure and multiplied.  It is a forced method of having butterflies and seems avoidable.  Like we have read here butterflies are natural insects of our environment at Thane and just letting plants grow naturally or by planting attracts butterflies. 

Happy Butterfly spotting over the weekend.

Five more trees of Rustomjee Urbania

That you can watch flowering this winter

In the sixth issue of our newsletter dated 4 May 2019, we introduced readers to five trees of Urbania:

In this issue we learn about five more trees of the community.  Of course, if we total all types of trees at Rustomjee Urbania that is in range of 50.  Here is the list of five more trees of Rustomjee Urbania.  The trees have been chosen from those planted in large numbers.  The details also include where you can find the trees in the community.

Indian Almond: This is not the tree which produces almonds but has a seed resembling an almond in colour and taste and thus gets its name (note that it is called Indian Almond).  This tree has radial branching - its branches originate at same point on its trunk in a whorl. The tree has large dark-green leathery oblong leaves (the fruits resemble the leaves in shape and colour - both go from green to maroon as they age) and bears spikes of tiny white flowers.  These flowers grow to be oblong fruits and green to start with and turning reddish and purple as they ripen.  The sour fibre of the fruit mesocarp is eaten (not very appealing but as children we all are game for anything).  When you get through the fibre you end with the seed inside the fruit.  You have to actually crack open the shell outside the seed to get to the almond-like seed.  Rustomjee has planted these trees on the north east section of C level facing the school of Azziano Phase II.  Those trees have started flowering and fruiting.  There are some more in Urban Farming Zone too.

Alstonia scholaris or Scholar's Tree:
Driving towards Rabodi this October I noticed one tall Scholar's Tree in flower on our right after the bridge on the nalah. The tree was in flower top to bottom.  Other trees in vicinity too were in flower.  Going to Jambli Naka the same day, I noticed that most of the Scholar's Trees there too were in flower.  This is the flower that adds fragrance to your October evenings.  In fact the aroma is to strong it is bewitching and overpowering (sensitive people can actually get a headache) when the tree has fully bloomed.  The white flowers in bunches are attractive and colour the tree white.  They drop on ground below creating a white floral carpet. The tree has radial branching meaning branches arise at the same point.  Leaves too are whorled.  The leaves arise seven in number in one whorl giving the tree the Sanskrit name Sapta Parni or Seven Leaved One.  The tree is called by several names including Scholar's Tree and Devil's tree.  The former name is due to use of it's wood in making slates for children and also blackboards.  The tag of Devil's tree is on account of superstition engendered by even cattle shunning the tree due to its poisonous milky white latex.  All parts of the tree are poisonous but used in Ayurveda extensively for many ailments including dysentery, fever, ulcers etc.  Scholar's Tree leaves were being given to graduates of Viswa Bharati University at the convocation. The practice is now done symbolically with only one leaf being given to the Vice Chancellor to avoid denuding trees of leaves.  At Rustomjee Urbania this is one of the most common trees on podium level of Azziano.  It has also been planted on the internal road leading upto Azziano Phase II. 

Close up of Scholar’s tree flowers opposite Rustomjee Cambridge International School

Champa: Sampige in Kannada and Sampangi in Tamil is a good tree to have in our community.  It is a tall tree that bears very fragrant flowers.  At Malleshwaram locality of Bangalore, an important road is called Sampige Road as it still has many Sampige trees.  The Champa flowers creamish or yellow are not very large but very fragrant and popular in worship.  One variety is called Kenda Sampige or Hot Coal Champa due to its orangish yellow hue.  Our Azziano Phase II trees will be good addition when they start flowering.  At C level they complement the Tabeubias or Pink Trumpet flowers.  Both Champas and Tabeubias are tall trees, the former bearing yellow and the later bearing delicate pink flowers. One of the residents has grown Champas in her apartment balcony!

Pink Tabeubia: This tree had been planted on the podium by Rustomjee both at Azziano ABC and Azziano Phase II.  At Azziano Phase II you can see it both on the creek side wall and the wall facing Acura.  This is a spectacular flowering tree and you can say is our equivalent of the Japanese Cherry Blossom.  Along rhe Eastern Express Highway (EEH) at Vikhroli one can see it along the highway on the western side during winter.  When flowering the tree is leafless but is full of blooms that are light pink.  A carpet of flowers can be found beneath the trees as all trees in a row tend to flower together creating a pink wall.  At Urbania the trees being at the podium have not flowered very well so far and may also be because they are still very young.  The flowers are trumpet shaped and so the tree is called Pink Trumpet.  When Tabeubias at Urbania all bloom together either in the winter of 2019 or the next it will be quite a sight.  At Azziano ABC Tabeubias have flowered already and at Phase III we saw a few flowers on some of the trees.  Pink Tabeubias on EEH are all the rage in winter with leafless trees covered in pink flowers and a pink carpet below giving an ethereal loom to the scene.

Gorgeous Tabeubia or Pink Trumpet on Eastern Express Highway

Plumeria: We lived for some years at Nahar's Amrit Shakti where all buildings are named after flowers.  One building we lived in was called Frangipani.  This is the name for Plumeria - a small tree that bears flowers in white, yellow, pink and red. Some flowers have shades of one colour or combination of two colours. The tree can have leathery and glossy leaves or rough leaves based on variety.  The stem has latex - a Milky secretion.  This is one of the most common trees of Rustomjee Urbania and is found all around including by the roads, at the Urban Farming Zone and the podium level at Azziano.  Plumeria is very common across Asia and also is grown in South and North America.  The flowers are used for worship and also for making garlands exchanged during weddings. The Hawaiian floral garlands are made of Plumeria.  Fragrance from the flowers is used to make incense sticks. Some of the trees have beem affceted my pests - mealy bugs - which can be identified by small cottony masses on the stem.  This tree can be propagated by stem cuttings.

White Plumeria at Azziano shot at night

The Moth That Browned The Mangroves

And Showed Us Yet Again The Quirks Of Nature

The Winged Invaders From The Sky: For past two weeks residents of Navi Mumbai have been experiencing the presence of caterpillars and moths in their city. These creatures emanating from the mangroves surrounding the city have been seen in large numbers in the residential areas. In some cases the insects have startled two wheeler riders when caterpillars have fallen on the riders using the roads. Though there have been reports of skin reactions in people who contacted the caterpillars that seems an exaggeration. Fact is, the Navi Mumbai Muncipal Corporation (NMMC) too had panicked and sent the city's Fire Force to tackle the 'insect invasion.' The Firemen sprayed trees having the insects and in their overenthusiasm even lopped branches off trees having these insects. Newspapers found it good to have the insects which created news including pictures for few days.

Small patch of mangroves with less damage

If you as resident of Rustomjee Urbania didn't know that the annual insect visitors had landed close to us, you are forgiven. Not too many residents of Urbania have noticed that mangroves in our neighborhood have dried up and turned brown. I too didn't know this and got my first glimpse of browning mangroves peeking out of an apartment at Aurelia where I had gone with a friend to look at apartments on sale. I clicked pictures of the sad looking mangroves and shared them on Green Crusaders group. This week I went over to a friend's apartment on 30th floor of G-wing after having seen large brown patches near Thane Creek shared by a group member on Green Crusaders. I could click the wide swathe of deaf mangroves in front of the TMC office on the Balkum Saket Road. I could also click small patches of brown in green stands of mangroves in the park reservation adjacent to the nalah north of Azziano. And this afternoon I went close to the Thane Creek and took a closer look at the affected mangroves. I was happy to note that the plant was not fully brown and had patches of green and no insects in it.

Browned mangroves as seen from Aurelia

The Winged Visitor's Identify Revealed Finally: Sorry for a long prelude without even telling you the reader which is the insect I am talking about. I first heard about it thirty years ago when we learnt about an insect called the Teak Defoliator or Hyblaea purea. As the common name suggests, this insect feeds on leaves or foliage of teak trees. The insect also feeds on many other species of plants numbering nearly 50. The resident at G Wing who helped me click pictures of Teak Defoliator affected mangroves told me they had them even in Ghatkopar where they lived earlier. The brown moths would invade homes post monsoon and the easy way to keep them out was by keeping doors and windows closed at evening. Moths are attracted to light and keeping a place dark too helps not attract them.

The Teak Defoliator moths are the adults and female moths lay eggs under Mangroves. The eggs hatch into larvae which eat leaves. The larvae before pupation move around and likely that is what caused them to fall on to people at Navi Mumbai. This is an annual phenomenon and happens post monsoon. This year the lush growth of mangroves after prolonged monsoon seems to have also helped increase the population of Teak Defoliator. So, don't panic if you have Teak Defoliator moths at home. They are part of our ecosystem and help control the growth of Mangroves. Wait for few more weeks for the affected Mangroves to turn green.

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