Kochi’s Maharaja’s College has digitised the flora on its campus with QR codes that lead straight to information
If you are in Kochi’s Maharaja’s College and are curious about any one of the 100-odd species of trees on the 25-acre campus, all you need to do is to whip out your phone and scan the QR code on the tree to get details such as its botanical name and properties. The trees have been ‘inventoried’ by the Botany Department of the college as part of a project to create a digital garden.
As part of the digital garden project, the trees now have boards with their names and a QR code, which when scanned would lead to a link to the college website with information about the garden.
The college is known for its lush foliage and shady trees, some almost as old as the college itself which was founded in 1875. “The trees are part of the heritage of the college. Besides, the digital garden is part of our [the college] green initiative. We have been conducting a green audit to assess our carbon footprint and find ways of reducing it. Digitising the flora also becomes an authentic database,” says Jameela Fathima, assistant professor (Department of Botany) and co-ordinator of the digital garden project.
The trees and plants were last audited in 2013-14. This time round, the inventorying was done in less than three months. The Botany department collaborated with the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation, University of Kerala for inputs on how to go about the project. The college worked with A Gangaprasad and Akhilesh SV Nair of the Thiruvananthapuram-based organisation behind the digital garden of Raj Bhavan (Thiruvananthapuram).
“The taxonomy of plants and trees changes often, so documenting is done often. Trees on campus have been identified and named, but since taxonomy changes based on the new things we learn about trees or plants, the names also change and this is a means of keeping updated,” Jameela says.
The species have been enumerated, not individual trees.The smaller plants have also not been documented.
Due to the pandemic, the participation of students was kept at a minimum but the college plans to get students involved in the next phase. “Taxonomy is a subject for them, so this would be hands on training,” she says.
Usually documenting fauna takes longer than the two-three months that were spent on this project. The trees are studied over the course of a few seasons so that a tree is studied during its various stages — flowering, bearing fruit and shedding.
The experience of the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation with their other projects made the work easy in terms of the protocols to follow. Plans include publishing a book with these findings.