Thrice every year, in the spring, during the monsoon and in autumn, authorities responsible for keeping our environment healthy galvanize into action and enter into a frenzy of activity that starts with a sapling being planted by some VVIP or the other. I have been privy to these ceremonies countless times and have often smiled to myself as the Chief Guest lowers the young tree into the ground aided by an army of officials and ‘maalis.’ I cannot help but smile when I see someone in high office ‘soil’ their manicured hands with mother earth or wield a spade (albeit for a few seconds before it is taken over by waiting minions) with undisguised ineptness. Nonetheless, I am happy that these luminaries find the time to carry out this activity to motivate the nation.

Trees are vital for the existence of living things for they produce oxygen that keeps us alive. They also arrest erosion by wind and water so that we may grow crops and find sustenance. They provide meteorological balance and assist precipitation so that we may have rain and consequently water. In fact, they are such a critical part of the cycle of life that if taken out of reckoning, the world and all living things in it would not survive. Last but not the least; trees adorn the landscape lending it beauty for our eyes to behold.

Trees adapt to their surroundings and in doing so assume varying characteristics related to shape, size, leaves, flowers and fruit. Nature accomplishes this process in so comprehensive a manner that a date palm planted in the cool hilly regions will not look aesthetically poor, but may not flourish (or even grow) and bear fruit. In other words trees are like ‘jewels’ that must complement the environment around them in order to please the senses and flourish. It is in this area that I take umbrage with those responsible for beautifying cities and organizing plantation drives.

Take the Federal Capital, for example. Islamabad nestles at the very base of the Margalla Range which is part of the Lesser Himalayas. The terrain and climate is suitable for trees such as Shah Balut (Silver oak), Pine, Chinar, Apples, Peaches and almost all varieties of fruits that are preceded by pink and white blossoms. Flowering and fragrant shrubs that cannot survive the heat of the plains grow well here (with very little maintenance). It takes little imagination to see that this entire range of flora would blend in with the pine covered slopes of the Margalla Hills and the climate, which is the hallmark of this city. Regretfully, the Environment Directorate of the Capital Development Authority appears to be staffed with people who either lack aesthetic sense or an understanding of local plant life. I say so because of the authority’s obsession with planting abundant quantities of the ‘Sukh Chain’ tree along roads.

Any environmentalist will tell you that while Eucalyptus is a useful tree when cultivated for commercial purposes, its uncontrolled presence in urban areas is detrimental to the level of the water table. In that context, the CDA should have chalked out a plan to replace the Eucalyptus with pines, chinar or silver oak. A similar action should have been taken in phases, with respect to Paper Mulberry.

As an amateur horticulturist, I have always been a vocal supporter of lining our roads and islands with trees that blossom and I say kudos to anyone who plants trees that bear fruit too. An example of the effect this can create is visible on Islamabad’s 9th Avenue near the Head Quarters of the Traffic Police, during spring.

Our cities, irrespective of which geographical region they are in, can be made beautiful by adorning them with the right kind of flora. For example, while palms of any variety will create breath taking scenes in Lahore, they will not only look out of place in Islamabad but will suffer a high mortality rate because of the cold. There can be no denying the fact that we need to replenish our depleting forests and have green cities. And as we indulge in the latter, we must be sensible in the plants we choose to create those greener spaces.

The writer is a freelance columnist.