Spotlight

Caring for every plant: Interview with horticulturist Dr. Murari Mohan Jana

Dr. Murari Mohan Jana is a rose specialist and is IISER Pune’s very own horticulturist, a doctor and nurturer to the ever increasing vegetation covering the sprawling 98 acre campus. BS MS student Lokahith Agasthya sat down with him for tete-a-tete to learn about Dr. Jana’s career and work, horticulture, plants and life. Here’s an account.

DSC_0002LA: Welcome, Dr. Jana. You are in-charge of gardening and landscaping on the IISER Pune campus. Can you tell us what a typical day at the office is for you?

JM: My day-to-day work is of three types. There is the usual administrative work, there is planning and development for the future and most importantly, taking care of the plants on campus. I go on inspection rounds all over the campus to maintain the gardens, find remedies for diseased plants and monitor the upkeep of cleanliness. I work every day to ensure that not a single plant dies and to keep the campus healthy and blooming.

LA: How did you get interested in horticulture?

JM: As a school student, I was always interested in science, especially physics and biology. I loved plants as well. I took a B.Sc. degree in Botany, Zoology and Anthropology. My childhood idol was my biology teacher in school and he was a trained horticulturist. Inspired by him, I decided to take up a one-year training program in horticulture at Reverend Carey Institute of Horticulture, Alipore from the Calcutta University during 1975. That is how I started my career in horticulture.

Jana 2a

LA: What was your first job following this?

JM: After my training, I found a job as the chief garden supervisor at Tocklai Tea Research Institute at Jorhat in Assam where research was being carried out on the growth and care of tea plants. It was in Tocklai that I gained experience in handling tea varieties, ornamental plants, orchids, and greenhouse systems. Since it was a research institute, it was a very conducive environment for me as there were people studying all aspects of plant growth, development, and increase in tea productivity and tea testing.

Two years later, I joined the Sarabhai Foundation at Ahmedabad as a garden superintendent. While in Ahmedabad, I maintained a greenhouse on my own for the first time and even established my own nursery and learnt more about roses, which is my speciality today. I also helped in the development of gardens at Indian Institute of Management and National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and Sarabhai Chemical Gardens in Baroda. During this time, I completed my M.Sc. on medicinal plants (Pharmacognosy) while doing a part-time job at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) Pune.

In 1981, I took charge of the gardens at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) as Horticultural Superintendent and I have been in Pune ever since. I looked after 460 acres of land at NCL, initiated a lot of plantations, many that we see today. It takes years before landscape efforts take shape and the joy one experiences makes it worth the time and effort.

LA: And you went on to do your PhD after that…

JM: Yes, I always wanted to work in a research organization as I was interested in doing my own research work in plant tissue culture. I started doing the field work for my PhD during the evenings while I was at NCL. I worked on micro propagation of forest trees, regeneration of Alphonso mango plants through direct somatic embryogenesis, and ex-vitro rooting/hardening in green house in forest trees. My guide was Dr. A.F. Mascarenhas, who had a lot of experience in this field. He guided me throughout and also motivated me to work on other projects.

I received great support and encouragement from all the NCL Directors of my time—Dr. L.K. Doraiswamy, Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, Dr. Paul Ratnaswamy, Dr. S. Sivaram and Dr. Sourav Pal—as well as HoDs. This allowed me to conduct my research while supervising the garden.

I received my PhD in 1998 and my thesis work won the third prize at the paper presentation for that year at NCL. Apart from my daily work, I also took up the responsibility of developing and maintaining a 12,000 sq.ft green house for the production of 15 lakh tissue culture ex vitro plants under a DBT programme.

I joined IISER Pune as Horticulture Consultant in 2013. I would like to thank Dr K.N. Ganesh for this opportunity to be closely associated with developing the landscape of a new institute. I must acknowledge inputs from him and from the landscape designer in this effort.

LA: Dr. Jana, how have you found your experience at IISER Pune so far?

JM: The design of IISER Pune is very suitable for gardening and landscaping. There are no unanimous decisions taken here with regard to the gardens. All plans are discussed at several levels with all parties involved, like administration, staff, architects, engineers etc., before a decision is taken on them. I enjoy working here and have received great support. The work environment is very friendly.

LA: What has your focus been for developing greenery on the campus?

JM:  Our main aims are for the plants to be healthy, ever-blooming, drought resistant, and economically viable and for the greenery to be seen as a wealth of the IISER Pune community. We, the gardening team, want the campus to be free of air pollution and to create a great ambiance for education here via vegetation.

Over 80 tree species have been introduced to the campus. We have planted saplings of indigenous and exotic species around the housing complex in order to see a year-round bloom of one or the other species. The entrance area towards Pashan has more than 1 acre of garden cover. We are nurturing over 150 varieties of rose plant near the Dining Hall area.

Most recently, through the Biotic Landscape Committee, plans are underway to grow medicinal plants, fragrant species and wild fruit bearing plants.

You can see that the environment here is clean and eco-friendly; many birds are attracted to our campus. Personally, I don’t want even a single plant to be neglected. You can change the plan a 100 times before I plant. But once done, I do not like to kill and remove a single plant that I have planted.

LA: How can we, the students, help you with these efforts?

JM: In society, we all are responsible for our surroundings. I urge students to please avoid littering near the lawns and gardens. They could bring to our notice any plants that seem to be diseased or dying. We want to create a better atmosphere for everyone on campus. We are open to working with volunteers, from Prutha or other individuals, who wish to help us with plantations; this could also be a learning experience for them. We will be happy to give inputs to students interested in the breeding of roses and in other areas such as the molecular biology of garden plants, stress-tolerance and disease-resistance of plants.

LA: You have mentioned taking care of every single plant. You really do love plants!

JM: Yes, I do. I have learnt that if you take care of your plants, they will take care of you. Every plant has a use. Even weeds produce oxygen. Plants have a fantastic regeneration capacity, far greater than humans. I have seen cactuses which are 1/3rd rotten regenerate back to full health when given proper care. Have you ever seen a person grow back an arm?!

LA: Pune is known to be a green city and you’ve been here since 1980. What do you think about the city?

JM: Pune was a naturally air-conditioned city until around the year 2000. After that I have observed that it has been getting hotter but it is still very suitable for gardening and growing ornamental plants. The soil and weather are suitable for any type of plants. For example, Ahmedabad, where I worked, is not conducive for plant growth. The soil is too alkaline and the weather is extremely hot and dry.

LA: And lastly, tell us about your relationship with roses. I see your WhatsApp profile picture is also that of a rose! 

JM: The rose flower is known as the King of the Sow and roses are my speciality. There are about 500 to 600 varieties of roses in India, some of which like Rajalakshmi, Shakuntala and Golden Jubilee varieties are actually my own creation.

I am a member of the Rose Society of Pune and have won several medals at various flower shows and competitions all over India. I am frequently called to be the judge at various rose shows. In fact, Pune is the best city for rose cultivation all year round. It is famous all over India for its roses and is also a centre of export for cut flower roses. As a rose cultivator, this is the best place for me to be.

Over the last few years, the IISER Pune landscape has been transformed from a wild patch of land to a green campus with pruned garden covers and developed natural habitats in equal measure.

 Dr. Murari Jana can be found in IISER’s own nursery or doing his daily rounds of the campus.

– Interview by Lokahith Agasthya

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