Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
An internet-based discussion group sharing pictures of trees and their flowers, fruits, etc. for the purpose of accurate identification
Today, efloraofindia is an extremely popular website with more than 3200 members and more than 1,00,500 visits per month. It is one of the biggest non-commercial citizen science efforts not only in India, but in the world. Currently we have a huge database of around 14,000 species under 2,834 genera, 258 families of seed plants along with numerous species of ferns and fungi, showcased by more than 3,00,000 unique photographs. More than 80% of genera and family pages already have comparative images, providing easy identification. Numerous species have been posted here (just to show a few examples), before these were described as new to science. No other site in the world has come up with such a large database and facility of comparative images as provided in efloraofindia. It is the result of a movement of tens of thousands of people from diverse backgrounds and from every nook and corner of the country, including top class experts from India and abroad, coming together. It shows what can be achieved even without a single penny being spent or any one even physically meeting. It has a long story, which is narrated below in brief.
‘The Monk who Sold his Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma motivated me to start this work as something useful for the society rather than for myself. Thus on 18th of June 2007, a Google group ‘Indiantreepix‘ was created. For sharing pictures of trees and their flowers, fruits, etc. for the purpose of accurate identification, I contacted a lot of members of other groups on bird, butterflies etc. to join this group. Despite my initial reservations a lot of individuals joined. Prominent among them being Dr. Satish Phadke, Sh. Mahadeswara Swamy, Dr. Neil Soares etc. A lot of them declined, but there were more who wanted to join to learn about our Flora.
My initial work included posting images of a lot of trees and identifying the species (e.g. the mango tree (called by different names in different languages) is called Mangifera indica in scientific language used by those who study trees) as also helping others in identification. My role changed as per the requirement of the group. I always tried to do the work, which other members were not willing to take up.
Though the discussions and membership, kept on increasing, more constructive change came when we decided to make a database of these discussions in a spread sheet and distributing it among the members.
Over a period of time, a new breed of experts/ members like Dr. G. Singh, Dr. Pankaj Kumar, Dr. Vijayasankar Raman, Dr. E S Santhosh Kumar, Dr. D S Rawat, Sh. Dinesh Valke, Sh. Prashant Awale, Sh. Giby Kuriakose, Sh. Tabish Qureshi, Sh. Shrikant Ingalhalikar, Dr. Balkar Singh, Dr. Nidhan Singh, Sh. Surajit Koley, Dr. Navendu Page, Dr. Tapas Chakrabarty, Dr, Ritesh Kumar Chaudhury, Sh. Saroj Kumar, Dr. Usha Desai, Ms. Aarti Khale, Dr. P. Santhan, Sh. Anurag Sharma, Sh. Alka Khare, Sh. TSP Kumar, Sh. Tanay Bose, Sh. N Muthu Karthik, Ms. Bhagyashri Ranade came in. They had varied ideas about how to present info. on trees and plants of India on the internet. They not only contributed heavily with their expertise and posting images on the group but guided me at every stage in the creation and updating of eflora of India (a collection of plants from all over India arranged in a systematic way, with images, descriptions, identification keys, pronunciation, distribution, discussions, references etc.)
In view of increased constructive activity, our group too was renamed as efloraofindia to reflect its growing importance.
The Journey was not without potholes and bumps, but these were handled well by our group of contributing moderators (persons who accepted higher responsibility of managing the group). My role of a compiler of the database continues to be time intensive with increasing number of uploads and discussions. At times, we had more than 2000 individual mails in a month, requesting for identification and other related information.
It is said ideas are very scarce and can be generated only by a few gifted people. Sh. Dinesh Valke is a fountain of these and promptly comes up with new ones whenever there is a need for one in a difficult situation at efloraofindia. His foresight lead to the creation of efloraofindia, a google website with the same name on 2nd of Nov.’ 2010 and he gifted it to the managing team to organise and display all the information and pictures. To start with it was meant for putting the posting guidelines. And rest is history, as they say. He continues to add names of name of hundreds of species in all vernacular languages, with proper links, giving from where these have been taken along with background information.
We thought to putting up our database on this website in the beginning of 2011, so that all our discussions and uploads are easily searchable and available to a wider set of users all over the world. It took me one and a half year of all my spare time to simply put up the entire database on the website while I continued my regular activities on the group. It took another year to be up to date by putting all subsequent discussions on the web site. This was demanding work – it required me to put in extra long hours every day for two and a half years. And it continues so. In fact I have to forgo all my regular trekking activities along with regular local photography and exploration trips. I avoided all those activities which may hinder my regular work on efloraofindia. By 2014, my life revolved around it and I continued to enjoy the support work being done in order that all the hard work put in by its members reaches a wider audience.
As a lot of plant identifications on the group were not satisfactorily resolved on the group, a new idea came to my mind in 2014. How to involve more and more expert taxonomists (scientists who work in the field of plant identifications), who did not want to be active members? I made a database on Experts along with their specific area of expertise in the plant group. Whenever any discussion went without proper identification, I tried to forward it to such experts in a systematic way. This approach paid a good dividend as we were able to crack very difficult identification challenges. Even those members, who could not find time to go through all the posts, responded positively to such resurfacing work. The names of such humble and extra ordinary taxonomists (from both India and abroad) can be seen on our website under Subject/ Area Experts, some prominent ones being Dr. Manoj Chandran, Dr. N. P. Balakrishnan, Dr. M Sabu, Dr. V.P.Prasad, Dr. Chris Fraser-Jenkins. I have no words to thank them but would like to say that but for them, we would not have been what we are today. Every little contribution from them counts to form the ocean, as that eFloraofindia is today.
We were guided intensively in our journey by Sh. Gurcharan Singh, who was named as Pitamah of efloraofindia in 2014, for his outstanding contribution.
As its popularity increased, a need was felt to make the information in the website more and more accurate. So I introduced the concept of genus (group of similar but non-identical species) pages. All the species found under a genus (like the fig family containing Banyan, Peepal and other fig species) in India were collated from diverse sources available on net and compiled. A lot of them have keys (points which differentiate the closely related species in a genus) along with other relevant details. Based on this and on further discussions on the group, all the pages for such species under such genera were updated. More and more information is also being added onto the site from creative common licence sources with full credits.
Around five years ago, we started adding thumbnail images (opening to posted size on clicking), onto our site, on an experimental basis. On seeing the benefit, it was expanded to include a few representative images on every species page, along with starting comparative images at genus pages. After that, a massive and time intensive exercise was undertaken to not only provide thumbnail for every species but also above every post along with comparative images at genus and family pages, for easy identification. In the process, many misidentifications were corrected. These form the photographic keys at genus and family pages, which along with textual keys and distribution, help even a layman to identify a species easily.
During the last five years, we have seen the blossoming of Sh. Saroj Kr. Kasaju from Nepal, from a simple layman to a top Expert with his intensive field visits and postings at our group. He has been a consistent top performer (with maximum no. of posts and identifications to his credit) during this period, every month.
Our group is much different from others as it is much more constructive, has a goal of making available images of most of the species found in the Indian Subcontinent with all related details and believes in the multi-disciplinary approach to do this. It has grown from strength to strength and will continue to do so under the leadership of its managing group.
For me life is not the same as it was before this group was started. Now it has a purpose, a purpose to bring all the taxonomists of India on to a single platform along with all the plant lovers for discussions in a harmonious manner. Today, it is like a big banyan tree providing shade to countless travellers.
Despite many hurdles in developing, designing, maintaining, refining and updating eFIoraofindia, our commitment to serve nature and the nation has never diminished, but is only growing.
Our sincere thanks to Outstanding Contributors, The Pillars, Subject Experts, Moderators, Major contributors, members (and those who have contributed but not mentioned here), who are rendering selfless service to the group & have made this endeavour succeed for the benefit of everyone.