Pillars of Life – Magnificent Trees of the Western Ghats

Written by Divya Mudappa & T.R. Shankar Raman

Botanical Illustrations by Nirupa Rao; Sketches by Sartaj Ghuman

About the Book

For millions of years, the forests of the Western Ghats mountains have been home to a host of extraordinary trees. These range from the peculiar conifer, Nageia, whose family origins can be traced back to the age of the dinosaurs, to the grand trees in the rudraksh family, to the jack and fig trees that occupy a familiar presence in India’s forests and countryside. ‘Pillars of Life’ showcases thirty remarkable tree species through beautiful illustrations and artwork. It conveys the wonder arising from the beauty, the diversity, the individuality, and magnificence of trees in the Western Ghats, and evokes a greater sensitivity to the diverse values and enrichment that trees bring to our lives.

Pradip Krishen, author of books such as Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide & Jungle Trees of Central India has written the foreward for this book. In it, he says: 

“…I am particularly delighted to discover Nirupa Rao’s illustrations, which combine a beautiful lambent quality with what is obviously the result of careful study. Her rendering of light and texture and translucence is delicious! Botanic artists of this calibre are rare in this country, probably for the same sorts of reasons that we turn our backs on our indigenous plant wealth…

…The authors Divya Mudappa and Shankar Raman bring formidable learning and experience in ‘rewilding’ to their book. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I would feel more ‘safe’ in trying to explore the secrets of a south Indian rainforest. They have cast off their academic gowns to write short lucid notes for each tree that are easy for a lay reader to follow. This is excellent policy, because if we can’t reach out to ordinary people, we’ll never get much beyond the 4 per cent of our indigenous trees that common people know and cultivate.”

About the Authors

Divya Mudappa and T.R. Shankar Raman are wildlife biologists with the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF). Working together in the Anamalai Hills for the last two decades, their research focuses on the field of tropical ecology and ecological restoration, particularly of rainforests. While Divya’s work focuses on plant-animal interactions and conservation biology, Shankar studies birds and other wildlife and writes about natural history and human connections to the rest of nature.

Nirupa Rao is a botanical illustrator based in Bangalore, India. Her illustrations are inspired by regular field visits into the wild, and are informed by close collaboration with botanists to achieve scientific accuracy. In 2017, she was named a National Geographic Young Explorer, and received a grant to pursue her work. This book is the outcome of 2 years’ collaboration with the authors, resulting in the detailed illustrations of trees, leaves, fruits and seeds to follow.

Sartaj Ghuman was born in urban Punjab and works and travels in various beautiful parts of India. He is a trained wildlife biologist who prefers poetry to academics. He divides his time between gallivanting in the mountains and masquerading as an artist. In 2018, he was the first ‘Artist in Residence’ at NCF’s Rainforest Research Station in the Anamalai Hills. Five pen sketches of the Anamalai landscape that intertwines people and trees are contributed by him to this book.


‘Pillars of Life’ can be purchased here. Your purchase supports NCF’s Rainforest Restoration Project in the Anamalai Hills.