Signatures of Plants, mainly Dicots

Authors introduction to the Website ""

Some monocot genera such as SMILAX, DIOSCOREA, and gymnosperm genera such as GNETUM, GINKGO, TAXUS AND CEPHALOTAXUS, have been included in the database because they have laminas of leaves fairly resembling dicot leaves, either in venation or lamina shape, or fruit form as in taxus. I now propose to go on adding monocot genera like the ARACEAE, SOME OF THE LILIACEAE, AND AMARYLLIDACEAE. For the time being orchids and grasses will be left out. Perhaps these require their own data bases with suitable structures and terminologies.

This website is based entirely on a data base of dicot plants of india, a structured arrangement of the attributes of each species, 6000 of them. This structured database belongs to me, errors in data entry belong to me.

The data have been taken from

  • Indian Trees, by Dietrich Brandis
  • Flora of Assam by Kanjilal, and of course
  • Flora of British India by Hooker
  • Flora of Java by Backer.
The database structure was equipped with macros to quickly get the records of species if criteria for search, the visible attributes of species as observed, were filled into the criteria range.

Work of data entry started in 1994 and ended in 1995 with 4500 species, I and my colleague and member of NEPED, Shri.Simon Hangshing, joint director in the Soil and Water Conservation Department worked together on data entry and structuring. Since then, todate, the number has risen to nearly 6000 by adding species and data from other parts of the subcontinent, including some 100 names with data yet to be entered. The immediate reason then was to help and enable the team of NEPED to quickly get at the scientific names of plants from what they were being shown or told by village people. This need to get to the scientific name from observed visual characteristics, continues to be the reason to this day. There was the awkwardness of not having any botanist on board the team. So my dear friend and senior colleague Shri.T.Angami, from the Indian Forest Survice, suggested I train myself to be one. With his tremendous support, I sat with a botanical glossary and a computer and started converting texts from the mentioned old books into a spreadsheet format of the lotus 123 programme. Simultaneously we issued cameras to the team and told them that, good bad or ugly, a picture was better than no picture. With data entry from Brandis and Kanjilal complete by end 1995, we were able to identify plants upto genus level in 90 percent of cases.

There after was only an expansion - transition from one technology to another, addition of columns or fields,and finally many friends suggested that a website was called for so that the utility of the method of identification would be more universally applicable, and provide plant enthusiasts with a tool for exploring the green wealth, and a means to enable them to reach the scientific names and thereby access world literature on plants which is closed unless the scientific name is entered in the search spaces in the various internet websites. Also, I wanted “taxonomy” to cease being boring and become popular.

In the meantime, sometime in 1996, the NEPED team held our first exhibition on the lawns of Nagaland House, in New Delhi, with about 500 enlargements of plant pictures, not just of flowers but of leaves, thorns, stipules, wherever these showed characteristic features peculiar to the species. This exhibition was followed by another one at Kohima, Nagaland. Later, in july 1997, I took over as Chief Secretary of the state of Nagaland, under Shri SC Jamir as the Chief Minister( who, later, became Governor of Goa, and Governor of Maharashtra), a tenure which ended in june 2000, a period that enabled the NEPED project survive some grave emergencies. Shri Jamir allowed me even as his Chief Secretary, to indulge fully in my botanizing. He himself was very plant minded. There were complaints against me to the effect that “Gokhale loves plants more than people”. Shri Jamir used to tell me this but never said I should cease. During that time, Shri.Shiyito Sema continued to be my driver, and my photography of plants continued. Shiyito is now the “Head Driver” in his parent Agriculture Department. He is a born Naturlist, has such superb plant sense that he, a very natural “mitbhashi” or “talking little”, used to be agog with excitement in explaining to a group of policemen who were attached to me as my body guards under the command of Havildar Shri.Zhuvihe, who was himself a great Naturalist. One day, I was just getting up, when I heard Shiyito explain to the bodyguard policemen, “we are searching for Signatures of Plants, we are not faltoo, tourist photographers”. This was just the end of 1997. My first book was on the drawings board, and I made up my mind that its title would be “signatures of plants” through a camera. This book was published by M/S Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh of Dehradun. Shiyito’s use of the words “signatures” was so telling that I have retained these words in the domain name of this present website.

As we continue data entry, it is my wife Savita who reads out and I enter the data. She ensures that I do the work, and do it accurately without shortcuts. But for her encouragement and vigilance, I would never have continued work which started in 1994.

Finally my deepest gratitude to the late Dr.Ramesh Bedi, who passed away in 2003. A few days before that, he told me “Gokhale ji, kabhibhi retire mat hona”.

He was a lively man, and gave me a hearty slap on the back whenever I produced a signature photograph.