Is it okay to plant non-native but potentially naturalized trees?

Hello everyone!

We’re starting a reforestation project in Gadchiroli this month and have received requests from the community to plant the following non-native trees / plants:

  • Papaya
  • Guava
  • Sitaphal
  • Kaju
  • Banana

These trees will be planted in areas where the forest is either degraded or where the forest was previously cleared for either agricultural or other purposes.

We’ll be planting a mix of species (about 25-30, all native and suited to the area) and wanted to understand if it was okay to include the above in the mix as well? If we do decide to go ahead and plant them, are there any potential adverse consequences we should be aware of?

Thanks in advance for your help!


Local people often ask if useful fruiting trees can be planted, but our suggestion would be not to plant them in a forest area where the stated goal is reforestation or restoration. It would be better if the seedlings of species such as banana, papaya, guava etc. are given directly to the local community to plant in the vicinity of their own houses as home gardens, along streets, or adjoining the village common areas (temple/school premises etc). Guava is known to spread on its own into ecosystems (and in some places cashew as well) and could be considered to be potential invasives besides being non-native/naturalised.

For the reforestation area itself, it is better to stick to a diversity of native species. Also, by native species, I take it you are referring to a species that is:
(a) native to the target ecosystem in Gadchiroli (and not just a generic native because it is found somewhere in India or some other wider region in the country)
(b) also locally raised from seeds (or collected as seedlings) in a responsible manner from a local Gadchiroli ecosystem or nearby area.




What is the goal is agroforestry adoption in farms? Did forests also not have fruit and food (e.g. the Amazon was very food rich).

I would agree with Shankar. For our Sundarbans restoration, we are focusing on mangrove for restoration and providing fruit plants for local livelihood.



The Agroforestry approach could be linked to the Amazon in some ways…

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Native species are still a niche subject, and the challenge on ground becomes the availability of these species in forest nurseries as well as a market interested in buying it.

For restoration/conservation projects of forest land the ecological function is to bring only native flora back.

But for an agro forestry farm the functions vary and lots of naturalised species do the job. We should always collect and propagate the native flora from our wild zones, but planting a Naturalised+Non-invasive sapling growing in a bag on to the ground is better than not planting it and waiting to procure native alternatives at the expected scale.

While our current flora is global and habitats keep changing based on need, one must consciously avoid species that proliferate very quickly and are tagged as invasive.

For a farmer, the ecological function of a certain species along with its availability of seeds/saplings becomes the priority over native or naturalised.


If the status of land is a forest land it is important to plant species native to Gadricholi forests - specific to that region - none of the species from the above list qualify. First step is to understand dominant species in undisturbed forests in the area , identify native species that are local to Gadricholi. It would also help understand the primary objective of the planting and where it is being planted. My limited understanding of Gadricholi says it is mostly moist deciduous forests - which means the species type also need to be chosen accordingly if it would be planted under wild conditions.

If private lands where farmers are direct stakeholders with a monetary component associated with planting, farmers typically know and plant what is best for them - primarily from economic perspective along with other aspects like climatic conditions, soil conditions, human animal conflict aspects etc. If it is private lands, the best method is to do a short survey with farmers before selecting species on their behalf.



Thank you so much for the responses everyone! It’s definitely given us a lot of food for thought.

One common problem we struggle with is ecology vs. economy - we can’t restore hundreds of hectares of (forest)land without community support and in order to get the community involved, interested and ensure our reforestation efforts last long-term we also have to take community interests and choices into account. We’re trying to perfect that balance…

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That’s a tougher/longer question.


Clearly the existence of so much in our ecological world allows for both human society, and within that, human economic activity to exist. To now represent the ecology inside bounds and artefacts of economic activity, and represent that as a subset, is actually absurd.

We have to also link the ecology to our health/wellbeing, nutrition, sense of pride and resilience. There are many intangibles that are super tough to capture in economic parameters.


We have to also link the ecology to our health/wellbeing, nutrition, sense of pride and resilience. There are many intangibles that are super tough to capture in economic parameters.

Completely agree! However, convincing income-strapped communities is difficult, sometimes potentially unfair to them. Which is why we’re trying to find the balance between ecology and their economic interests. Not an easy balance to find, definitely!

Just jumping in again… with apologies for not responding earlier (was tied up in work).

@sameershisodia The concept of agroforestry is slightly different, I feel, involving bringing trees into farmland with cultivated crops. Which is different from taking and planting cultivated trees in forest areas. Cropland typically grown as monocultures (whether cereal, or herbaceous, or shrubby) can be integrated with trees in different ways in agroforestry: trees among crops providing shade as in coffee, trees along farm boundaries as in cereal crops etc. But bringing cultivated (non-native or naturalised) trees into forest areas is not agroforestry, and if planted in previously non-forested ecosystems (grasslands, savanna) then it is a form of afforestation that could have negative impacts, too.

@ganeshram As for the Amazonian example, it is also a different scenario. We do know that pre-Columbian people cultivated or encouraged useful/edible species and especially palms in parts of Amazonia. How widespread it was is still a matter of debate, but we know that a lot of so-called pristine rainforest was never really free of human influence (I have written a little about this in a paper referred below). But the species they used was from the local tree species pool: species found in the same forest. The Gadchiroli parallel would be to find what native species growing in forests can be harvested/encouraged/planted and nurtured, rather than introducing species such as guava or neem, for example. Madhu Ramnath writes about how people of Bastar use a lot of native trees for this (Woodsmoke and Leafcups); there are other places such as forests in Thailand that have dozens of edible/useful native tree species. We should prioritise such species in forest areas I feel before resorting to more easily available non-natives.
Raman, T. R. S. 2018. Expanding nature conservation: considering wide landscapes and deep histories. Pages 249-267 in G. Cederlöf and M. Rangarajan (editors), At Nature’s Edge: The Global Present and Long-Term History, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. 331 pp.


Agree–local knowledge and involvement is crucial and you would be best placed to weigh all the pros and cons discussed here (and other issues that local people may raise) to arrive at an appropriate solution for your location.

This year, in the Anamalai Hills, Kadar tribal people took some tree saplings from our nursery and were keen to plant them: they liked and seemed to prefer useful native rainforest species such as dhoop, wild nutmeg etc. so it aligned with our goals and the species we had available (our nursery is strictly native species only).