Cities and Canopies – Trees in Indian Cities

Written by Harini Nagendra & Seema Mundoli


About the Book

What lies at the intersection of history, culture and ecology in urban India? Trees.

The urban identity of many Indian cities is fundamentally shaped by their trees. Trees are perhaps the most visible signs of nature in cities, and draw attention to the complex origins and histories of city growth, coming as they do from different parts of the world, brought in by various local and colonial rulers.

Native and imported, sacred and ordinary, culinary and floral, favourites of various kings and commoners over the centuries, trees are the most visible signs of nature in cities, fundamentally shaping their identities. Trees are storehouses of the complex origins and histories of a city’s growth, coming as they do from different parts of the world, brought in by local and colonial rulers. From the tree planted by Sarojini Naidu at Dehradun’s clock tower to those planted by Sher Shah Suri and Jahangir on Grand Trunk Road, trees in India have served, above all, as memory keepers. They are our roots: their trunks our pillars, their barks our texture and their branches our shade. Trees are nature’s own museums.

Drawing on extensive research, Cities and Canopies is a book about both the specific and the general aspects of these gentle life-giving creatures. It encompasses a range of themes, addressing the controversial debates about the indigenous or foreign origins of trees such as the coconut and tamarind, the use of trees for food and medicines, the role of trees in controlling air pollution and urban heat islands, and the challenges of dealing with invasive tree species. These aspects of the science of urban trees are woven in with bits of history, folk tales, culinary recipes, and art and games ideas to play with trees and tree parts. The book is richly illustrated with detailed sketches.

Cities and Canopies provides an accessible and interesting introduction to the social and ecological spaces that trees in Indian cities occupy, and the important role they play in city memories, culture and the environment. Written by two women who are fascinated by trees, this book aims to pass on the same interest and enthusiasm to readers.


About the Authors

Harini Nagendra is a professor of sustainability at Azim Premji University. She has conducted research on the interaction between people and nature in forests and cities for over twenty-five years. She writes widely for newspapers, magazones and blogs. Her previous books include Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future and Reforesting Landscapes: Linking Pattern and Process.

Seema Mundoli is a senior lecturer at Azim Premji University. She has worked with NGOs involved in conservation, mining, land and forest rights, and education in indigenous communities. Her recent work examines the relationship between people and nature in cities. In addition to research papers and popular articles, she has co-edited the State of the Environment 2005: Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


‘Cities and Canopies’ can be purchased online on Amazon, Penguin and Om Publications.