J M Garg is no student of Botany, and yet there is nothing surprising about him rattling off the names of trees you might not know about or have ever seen. Trees are Garg’s passion, and this led him to start Efloraofindia (eFI) in 2007, an e-group on Google, that has the largest database of Indian flora with 10,000 plant species and two lakh pictures.
Garg’s interest in flora was sparked by his passion for nature, trekking and birding. “A couple of years ago I noticed that there was a lot of activity on the Internet on birding, but hardly anything about trees and plants. I started documenting trees and plants, and thus was born Indiantreepix, which was later renamed efloraofindia,” says the 49-year-old who lives in Kolkata.
Initially, only trees were the subject of discussion in the group. Later, talks began on herbs, fungi, shrubs, etc with other groups joining in. That’s how Indiantreepix became efloraofindia. “I started this in June 2007 with a membership of 50 people, going up to 150 people in the first month. Now, we have 2,500 members,” says Garg. “I never imagined that the idea would succeed so well.”
Garg adds that eFl is one of its kind. “None of the members have met one another, and yet there is so much interaction, so much documentation. Pictures of trees and shrubs in urban areas are identified within a day, those in remote locations might take up to a month. Almost all pictures posted get identified,” he says. The group has attracted people such as Gurcharan Singh, an expert on western flora, and Vijayasankar Raman, an authority on south Indian flora and Pankaj Sahani on orchids. “Pictures that have not been identified are sent to experts who identify them, and that is documented forever,” he says. “Biologists may know the names but they do not have pictures. At best, the plants can be viewed in herbariums, but even that is restricted by the government. Our site is definitely the best resource on India’s flora.”
Garg’s venture has turned many into experts. “These lovers of flora are contributing so much, not financially, just their knowledge, their photographs. eFl is a zero cost system, we don’t charge anything,” says Garg. The site has students who are “learning taxonomy and botany outside of the classroom”.
He explains that discussions on e-groups are not always documented. “On eFl, all that is discussed is put on the website; every species has a page,” he says. There is also an eflora group in Pakistan, China and North America which have been started by the respective governments. However, the sites do not have any pictures, just illustrations. He rues that the Indian government has done nothing in this regard.
Garg was conferred with the Sparrow Award in 2014 for his efforts to promote Indian flora. What’s next?
He plans to “identify another 10,000 plant species”.