Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skywatch Friday

TheNorfolk Island Pine Araucaria cookii seems to be pointing to the sky vehemently in front of Crawford Hall in Mysore which houses the administration block of the Mysore University.
Although the Araucaria is not a native of India, it grows happily to great heights in Bangalore and Mysore. It is a favourite tree of gardeners of public gardens because of its shape and dark green colour. The Araucaria gets its name from Arauco district in Chile, which is its native place. The cookii part of its name is in honour of Captain Cook, who discovered the the tree in New Caledonia during his second voyage to Australia.The tree has hard wood which is sometimes used for building .
Wish you a very happy and fulfilling New Year.
You can see more sky pictures at

Friday, December 24, 2010

Umbrella Sedge

The Umbrella Sedge Cyperus scariosus is found in marshy places , and near river banks. It is a tuberous plant which can become invasive in a garden. Many types of butterfly larvae feed on it. The tiny seeds are food for small birds and squirrels.
Egyptians used it for making papyrus. In Tamil Nadu, pretty mats are woven using this grass. The grass is also used in hair care products, since it encourages hair growth. The tubers of this plant are used in herbal medicine to cure diarrhea and general weakness.
The plant looks pretty when it is planted near a pond.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ivy-leaved Morning Glory

The Ivy-leaved Morning Glory Ipomea cairica is also known as 'Mile a Minute vine'! Because of its quick growth habits, it used to be planted along railway lines. It has leaves which are lobed. The vine flowers profusely in all seasons and gladdens the heart of the beholder.
This specimen has covered a whole tree in the park surrounding a lake in Mysore.
Being a native Indian plant, this Morning Glory is used in folk medicine.

Monday, December 6, 2010

American Elder

I understand that this plant is the American Elder Sambucus canadensis. I got a cutting from a tribal village in B.R.Hills last year, and now the plant is full of lacy white flowers. They do not have any smell.
It is a native of Mexico , Canada and the U.S.A. It is used as a hedge in tribal villages. Wikipedia says that the flowers and berries are edible, but the rest of the plant is poisonous.

At first, the local butterflies did not recognise the flower and they were not pollinated. Now , the plant is besieged by pollinators and their predators, and there are bunches of dark berries .I forgot to ask the tribals whether they ate the fruit ,which I am scared to eat. I tasted one berry today, and it was nothing great.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Wild Flowers

I found this exquisite flower growing by the wayside on one of my long walks. After a long search on the net and in books on wild flowers of India, I discovered that it is Nepeta hindostana.
This was another wild flower I found . It grows on a short tree, which is full of flowers in this season. I think it is Dalbergia lanceolaria.
Both these native flowers are beautiful, but nobody bothers about them. I hope some nurseryperson will start growing them commercially.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wild Flowers of Wayanad

Wayanad is a hilly , tropical district in Kerala, the southernmost state of India. The wild flowers you see there are different, although it is only 300 kilometres away. The pink flowers in the picture above were blooming everywhere in the roadside. They look like the Touch-me-Not Mimosa pudica, but they are a different mimosa. Their leaves are not sensitive to touch unlike the Touch-Me-Not.
These white flowers were also in profusion at the edges of the coffee gardens.

I saw these huge barleria flowers while going on a trek in the jungle. The flowers were a beautiful blue and as large as Morning Glory flowers. Since it was dark, I could not take a good picture. I could not get the seeds, as I was scared to go in the thick undergrowth in the dark.

The Butterfly Pea Clitoria is usually blue or white here. I found these lovely mauve flowers on a trek to lake Banasura.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dangerous Plants

Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I could not see anything clearly with my right eye. Everything was in a haze, I could not even see the wall clock with my right eye, but I could see everything clearly with my left eye. When the situation did not improve even after washing my eyes repeatedly, I became panicky.I took an appointment with my Ophtholmologist and met her at 10.30 a.m.

She did lots of tests and peered into my eyes with her instruments. Fortunately for me, her friend, a cornea specialist was also present there, who too peered into my eyes. He asked me whether I did a lot of gardening. I said yes, and he told me that there were multiple abrasions on my right cornea, caused by plant juices. He prescribed some steroid eye drops
which I have to continue using for 3 weeks. I have been thinking about the poisonous plants I handle daily, and here are some. The lantana in the topmost picture with its cheerful flowers, is a poisonous plant. All parts of the Nerium Oleander whose flowers I gather every day, are very poisonous. The Brugmansia plant is very poisonous, but its flowers are very beautiful.

The plant of the tomato, which I pulled out the day before , is also poisonous. I have a sneaking suspicion that the plant juices of the tomato have caused the injury to my eye.
There are many other mild and strong toxic plants in my garden, which I handle every day.I have learnt one important thing from this experience: If some plant juice gets into your eyes, you must immediately wash your eyes with water. That way, the risk of injuring your eyes are minimised.
My right eye has improved a bit, and today, I can see the wall clock, and also tell the time using my right eye.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Barleria cristata is flowering in all the gardens now. It has flowers in a range of colours from purple to pink to white. Little girls make garlands with the flowers and wear them in their hair.
The yellow Barleria Barleria prionitis is a wild flower which grows in vacant plots.It is an important plant used by the practitioners of Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine. It is know as Vajradanti in Sanskrit. The name means "Diamond Teeth". Yes, the plant is used for relieving tooth ache. It is claimed that if you brush your teeth with a paste made of the leaves and roots of this plant daily, your teeth will be as hard as diamonds. The leaves of the plant have germicidal properties. They are used in beauty preparations and shampoos. The plant is used for relieving fever and joint pain.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sickle Bush

The dense forests of the Papanasam Tiger Reserve were dotted with the beautiful Sickle Bushes in full bloom. The Mimosa like tree is short, and its flowers are half pink and half yellow. The tree is quite small and the flowers attract small birds and butterflies.
The Sickle Bush Dichrostachys cinerea would look well in a garden, but for some reason, it has not attracted nurserymen. It is known locally as khairi.
Like all Indian native plants, it is used in Ayurveda, the Indian medicine system.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


The common Broom is found in the Himalayan regions of India. It is full of yellow flowers in spring and summer in the hillsides. It has royal connections. The Plantagenet kings of England took their name from the Latin name of the broom, Planta genista., and the plant itself was the royal emblem. The plant is considered unlucky, so you don't see it in gardens in India.
The strong scent of the flowers were thought to tame wild horses.
The broom is a host plant for the larvae of some butterflies.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kali River Valley

The Kali River valley in the Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot. Many unknown and hitherto unidentified species of plants are found here. There are quite a number of gingers. The picture above is a Glabba ginger flower, with its typical tail. The air itself smells fresh and invigorating in the jungle. The water of the numerous streams are pristine pure. This invaluable rainforest houses 31 different types of birds. The Malabar pied Hornbill is endemic to this region. This forest is diminishing due to human activity.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clock Vines

Clock Vines are native to India. The large blue flowers of the Bengal Clock Vine Thunbergia grandiflora are a beautiful sight . The vine gets its name from the fact that it always curls itself clockwise around a support. The Bengal Clock Vine becomes very heavy after some years. It can be pruned to the desired size. Once established, it does not need any care except occasional watering.
The Black- Eyed -Susan Thunbergia alata is a moderately sized vine. the bright yellow flowers with their black centres make the plant very attractive. It is self seeding , and sometimes becomes invasive.

The Mysore Clock Vine, Thunbergia mysorensis flowers profusely all through the year. Its flowers hang like chandeliers from the support, making it one of the most attractive flowering creepers. It also needs a strong support as it becomes quite heavy over the years.
Thunbergia erecta is a shrub with blue flowers , while Thunbergia fragrans is a vine with white flowers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Open Sesame

Sesame Sesamum indicum is a small plant with great properties. Although it has been domesticated since thousands of years, it also grows in the wild. The flowers are white or pink, tubular, and attract bees. Its name in Sanskrit is Tila. The word 'Tailam', meaning 'oil' comes from this word. Sesame is grown extensively in south India and its oil is used for cooking, for massage, and for lighting the oil lamp in the sanctum sanctorum of temples.

Many types of sweets are made in India using sesame seeds and jaggery. Ayurveda practitioners prescribe eating sesame seeds and dry copra for relief in hemorrhoids.
There are two main types of sesame seeds, one black and one white. The black seame is appreciated for its flavour. After removing the oil, the husk is sold as 'oil cakes'. This is a good additive to the compost, and makes the plants grow healthy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Perfume for the Hippies

Patchouli Pogostemon cablin is a herb of the mint family, native to India. Its name comes from the Tamil- Patcha meaning green and elle meaning leaf. In India, its oil has been used for thousands of years as a perfume. The leaves and flowers have a spicy scent which some people cannot stand. It was made famous by the hippies in the 1960s and '70s. It is still used to make the essential oil which is a valuable base of many modern perumes.
The patchouli leaves have germicidal and insect repellant qualities. The dried leaves are kept between their silk sarees by Indian women, to repel moths. In ancient times, silk from China was wrapped in Patchouli leaves when it was delivered to Europe.
The plant is easy to grow and propagate, as it can tolerate shade.
Patchouli is used in Ayurveda medicine as it is anti fungal anti bacterial.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Amrutaha Balli

The Amrutha Balli , Tinospora cordifolia is aptly named . Amrutha in Kannada means elixir which gives immortality and Balli means vine. This vine which grows all over India is an elixir which protects from innumerable diseases. Theplant is called Giloi in Hindi. It is used extensively by Indian, Thai and Malaysian healers. The leaves and stems of the vine are dried and powdered, and used to treat liver disorders and Diabetes. The leaves are also used as an anti malarial drug. The powdered dry leaves mixed with buttermilk is said to cure piles.
There are two other varieties of Tinospora, both of which are said to have high medicinal value.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sign for the flower thieves

My heliconium flowers are often stolen by the village urchins on their way to school. So as a deterrent, I drew this sign with a picture of a cobra and hung it next to the heliconiums. The sign says "Cobra! Be careful!" in the local language, Kannada. I was very pleased to see the sign working , until....
a snake- catcher came and demanded money for "sending the cobra away"!
Thanks to the team of Everday Life Around the World for hosting the meme.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Indigo for Independence

The Indigo plant, INdigofera tinctoria is a native wild plant which grows throughout India.Although the dye obtained from it is blue, the flowers of Indigofera tinctoria are mauve or pink. Indigo has a long history as a dye. It was so valuable that it was called the Blue Gold.Newton named one of the colours of the spectrum after the colour of the dye.
Although many plants belong to the Indigofera family, it is the Indigofera tinctoria which was used historically to obtain the blue dye. The leaves of the Indigo plant are boiled and allowed to ferment to obtain the dye.

The Indigo Revolt of 1858 in Bengal was considered by many historians as the precursor to the struggle for independence in India . The British East India Company, forced the farmers of Bengal to grow indigo instead of food crops , which led to mass revolt by the farmers. The famousBengali play , Neel Darpan is based on this revolt. In 1897, Indigo was grown in 7000 square kilometers . Even though they produced 19,000 tons of the precious dye for their foreign masters, the conditions the farmers lived in were abysmal. Everything changed suddenly, when the commercially viable synthetic indigo dye was synthesised in 1860.
Indigo has been used since pre historic times to dye cloth. The Greeks and Romans valued it as a luxury dye brought from India. In Japan, the summer Kimono Yukata, is dyed blue using Indigo, as it represents nature and the blue ocean. In America, the blue jeans were dyed with indigo. In India, indigo has been used to dye silk and cotton.
The Indigo plant is the host plant for the larvae of many butterflies.
In Indian alternative medicine, Indigo plant is used for alleviating pain.
The plant is known for its soil improving properties.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today's Flowers

The Indian Balsam Impatiens glandulifera is a great attractor of honey bees. It has many colours ranging from white to pink to purple.

The wild variety makes its appearance during the monsoon season. The wild balsams are usually magenta flowered. The double blossomed variety is also very popular. A vendor promised that the seeds he gave were double flower variety, but they turned out to be single.
The Balsam is called Karna Kundala in Kannada, because the flowers resemble ear ornaments.
The plants are very useful for biology teachers in school, as you can easily show children transportation of water and nutrients in a plant, using the translucent stems of balsam.You can see more flowers from different parts of the world in Today's Flowers at

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Gum Arabic Tree

The Gum Arabic tree Acacia nilotica, with its tiny leaves , is well suited for life in semi deserts. The trees of this acacia were in full bloom in Rajasthan last week. It is a native of India and Africa.
The fragrant small golden flowers of the Gum Arabic attract swarms of bees. The tree is full of thorns, and this makes it an ideal tree to plant at the edge of fields to deter marauding deer and Neelgai.
Farmers use the leaves of the tree as fodder. Camels, which are used to carry loads in Rajasthan like to eat the leaves. They don't seem to mind the thorns.
The bark of the tree is used to alleviate cough. All parts of the tree are used in Siddha medicine .

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Natural Shampoo

The Shikakai, Acacia concinna is a thorny shrub, whose fruits are used to make a natural shampoo in India. The brown fruit which is called Shikakai or Soapnut is dried and powdered . This powder is used to wash oiled hair. Hair glows with a sheen after using this shampoo.

Shikakai is mild, but it can remove oil as well as a detergent. People use it to clean oil lamps and oily vessels too.
This acacia is a host plant for the Common Laskar butterfly.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Hot, the Loud and the Proud

The huge flower of the Golden Chalice vine seems to be loudly proclaiming the contenders for the title!
The yellow and red leaves of the Amaranthus are louder than its flowers.

The Queen's Tears Russelia is making a statement in the shade.

The flower of the bromeliad is slowly emerging, sheathed in red.

Inflorescences of the Pyramid Billbergia are springing up in surprising places inthe garden. To view more hot, loud and proud images of tropicals, please visit Noel's blog- A Plant Fanatic in Hawaii.