Monday, December 12, 2011

Drynaria quercifolia

When you drive through the hills of the Western Ghats, you come across this fern clinging to some trees. This is the Drynaria quercifolia, a fern with sterile fronds, like the Staghorn fern. The locals say that this fern eventually kills its host tree. It is called Kage Rekke in Kannada, which means Crow's Wings. Whether there is truth in the fears of the locals or not, this fern is a beauty.
It has many medicinal uses too. Its leaves are used to alleviate fever and cough. It is also used to treat dyspepsia.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reinwardtia indica

One sees these bright yellow flowers in gardens during winter. It is the Basant, or Reinwardtia indica. This flower is also known as Pyoli in Gharwal. Being a native of the Himalayan foothills, this plant has many medicinal properties. It is used in Indian traditional medicine for the treatment of paralysis. The crushed leaves and stems of the plant are used to heal a suppurating wound.
The people of Gharwal associate Pyoli with a folk tale. According to the tale, Pyoli was a beautiful forest maiden, brought up by the plants, animals and birds of the forest. One day, a wounded prince got lost in the forest. Pyoli looked after him, and he fell in love with her. He married her and took her to his palace. But Pyoli missed her forest friends so much that she fell ill and died. The prince buried her in her beloved forest. After some time this plant with cheerful yellow flowers came up from the place she was buried.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wild Lobelia

I saw these flowers growing in the jungle near the Sirimane Falls in the Western Ghats. When I went too near to smell it, one of the locals shouted a warning, saying it would make me retch!
The Dhaval, Lobelia nicoteanefolia is found extensively in the lower slopes of the Western Ghats. It is also known as the wild tobacco. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but like all native Indian plants, the Dhaval is also used in Ayurveda medicine , mostly for the treatment of asthma and bronchitis. The poisonous leaves can be smoked like tobacco. The plant contains the alkaloid lobeline.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ber Fruit

Ber or Zezyphus sativa ia a native of the Indian subcontinent. It is found in the tropical south as well as in the arid regions of Rajasthan. In December and January, the trees become laden with ripe fruit, inviting birds and small mammals. The dried fruit is preserved and eaten to alleviate sun stroke and thirst.
The name Ber comes from the Sanskrit Badari. Ber trees were believed to have been growing in the region of Badrinath, high up in the Himalayas. For the Hindus, this thorny tree is lovable.
Thetree has many uses- farmers use the thorny branches to keep out atray cattle from their fields. The wood is hard, and is used to make agricultural implements.
Now we see ber fruit the size of small apples- the result of hibridization.
A very tasty sweet and sour pickle is made from the fruit.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Nutritious Mandu ki Imli

Mandu in the Malva region of Madhya Pradesh has many unusual plants. One of them is the Mandu-ki- Imli tree which is better known as Baobab tree. The Baobab tree must have been brought to this region from Africa in antiquity, as it is not a native of India. People of the region have made good use of the highly nutritious fruit of the tree, which is locally known as Mandu ki Imli tree. The dried fruit contains seeds covered in fibrous material, which are sour to taste. They are said to contain more vitamin C than oranges.
Most of the baobab trees are huge- and some are said to be 500 years old. During the dry season, the trees store water in their trunks. The leaves of the tree are also used as a green vegetable.
This picture of the baobab tree is from Wikipedia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bracket fungus

I found this bracket fungus growing from the base of a Jacaranda tree. The unusual thing was , it has a plantlet growing from it. The little plantlet seemed to be the seedling of a native plant . It was quite well entrenched in the bracket.
Bracket fungi grow on trees or deadwood in the form of brackets or shelves. Some varieties eventually kill the tree. The well known Beefsteak fungus is also a Bracket fungus.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Crepe Ginger

The Crepe Ginger Costus speciosus is not a ginger at all, but a relative of the ginger family. It is a native of the forests of the Western Ghats. I found these specimens flowering in the rain-soaked forest adjoining IIT Bombay.
The crepe like part is not petals, but is the stamen of the rather insignificant flowers hidden. The plant has a curious habit of spiralling, which you can see in the picture above. When the white 'crepes' have fallen, the plant still has attractive red cones.
Like all native Indian plants, Costus speciosus is also used extensively in Ayurveda, to treat a number of diseases.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kanak Champa

The Kanak Champa Pterospermum acerifolium is a big tree with fragrant flowers. The tree is also known as the 'Dinner Plate tree' , because of its big round leaves, which are woven into dinner plates in some parts of India. The flowers fall after a day. They look like peeled bananas.
The timber of this tree is used to make planks. The bark is used in traditional medicine. The tree grows to an immense size, resembling the teak tree. It is found in the deciduous forests of the Western Ghats and Central India.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blue Tiger

The butterfly Blue Tiger Tirumala limniace has started appearing in gardens now.Here, it is resting on the plant of Black Nightshade Solanum negrum which grows wild in unexpected corners of my garden. I like the tiny black fruit of the plant, which is said to be a good antioxidant. The leaves and fruit of this plant are widely used in Ayurveda, the Indian medicine system. The fruit has culinary uses too. It is called Ganike in Kannada.
The plant is used in Chinese medicine to prevent cervical cancer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Melastoma malabathricum

The 'Malabar Rhododendron Melastoma malabathricum grows in the wild in India. It has attractive large pink flowers which last only a day. The name Melastoma came from the Latin meaning 'black mouth', because children who eat its fruit have their mouths stained black.
It is called Nekkarike in Kannada, and the leaves are used to cure dysentry and piles.
The plant is a host for the Sailor butterfly.
A very important quality of the plant is that it sequesters aluminium which contaminates the soil near aluminium mines.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shell Ginger

Shell Ginger Alpinia zerumbet is a native of India and South-East Asia. I found these plants growing wild in the woods of Hong Kong. They were flowering profusely, and bumblebees were hovering round the plants. The flowers are pretty and shell like, and coloured a delicate shade of yellow and white.
Shell ginger is used extensively in Indian medicine for the treatment of Bronchitis and Arthritis.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pink Ginger

I saw this pink ginger at the edge of a ravine in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, India, when our bus was waiting for the traffic to clear.
Pink ginger Alpinia purpurata is a native of India and Malaysia. The plant can grow up to a height of 2 metres in the jungle.
The pink bract is very attractive. The tiny white flowers nestle in the bracts.
Like all native plants of India, this plant too is used in Ayurvedic medicine .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Carpet of Gold

The flowering season of the Copperpod tree has staarted and everywhere one sees a carpet of yellow flowers on the roads. The Copperpod tree Peltophorum pterocarpum is a prolific bloomer. The golden yellow flowers fall to the ground below throughout the day.
A native of India, the Copperpod is called Thangadi Mara in Kannada and Radha Chura in Bengali. It gives good shade during the hot days of summer, hence it is a common roadside tree.
The wood of the tree is used to make farm implements. All through the year, the tree is shedding something or the other. In summer, it sheds its abundant flowers. In autumn, the copper coloured seeds fall to the ground, half eaten by parrots. And in winter, it is the turn of the tiny leaves to litter the ground. Many of my neighbours hate this tree because of this habit of the tree, which compels them to sweep their yards daily. But I love the two trees right outside my gate, because they provide me plenty of stuff through the year for my compost heap!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hot chilli!

This is called Gandhari chilli, after a strong willed woman from the Mahabharata. The name is apt, because once you have tasted it, the hot taste will linger in your mouth for a long time. The plant looks very attractive with bright green leaves and small orange chillies.
Sinceit is so hot, I use one small chilli in my sambhar, and remember to take it out before starting to eat my dinner.
These chillies are a fraction of the size of the Cayenne peppers we generally use, but much spicier than the longer cousin. They are also called Kashmiri chillies. The plant looks good among flowers in a border , in a garden which is not visited by children.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Boesenbergia Ginger

The Boesenbergia ginger is a native of the forests of the Western Ghats in India. I saw these flowers during a walk in the forest and was captivated by their beauty. It is also known as the Finger root ginger, as its rhizomes resemble fingers. It is used in Chinese and Thai cuisine. IOn India, the herb is used for relieving gastric troubles and for tonsilitis. The rhizomes are used in pickles.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Betel leaf

The Betel leaf vine Piper bitle is flourishing in my garden now.Although I don't eat betel leaf, I am growing it because it has such pretty heart shaped and glossy leaves, and makes an excellent ground cover. The other plants you see in the picture are turmeric plants, which are ready for harvesting. The betel leaves and turmeric are considered auspicious by the Hindus. Any fruit offered in the temple is accompanied by betel leaves.
Betel leaves have thousands of year old history. Ancient Sanskrit texts mention them. During an engagement ceremony, the parents of the bride and the groom exchange betel leaves and areca nuts. A mouth freshener called paan is made using betel leaves, areca nuts and some lime, which is very popular in India and other South east Asian countries. Betel leaves grown in in Banaras, Mysore and Kerala are very famous.
I use the betel leaves in a tea whenever I have a cough. Eating a small slice of fresh turmeric will also cure the cough.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Chenille Plant

The Chenille Plant Acalypha hispida is also called Cat's Tail or Red Hot Cat- tail because of the long red catkins. There are male and female plants.
This plant has naturalised itself in the tropics. The plant blooms throughout the year in these parts.
It is easy to grow by cuttings taken in spring, or during the Monsoons.