Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Can you identify these interestingly shaped leaves?

The first is that of the Night Jasmine. It has a rough feel to it. The second picture, that has the shape of a horse's hoof is the leaf of a Snowy White Dwarf Orchid (Bauhinia acuminata). Click here for more information on both these trees.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Little Ms Sunshine

A little deviation from the weekly portulaca, dear readers. This week's petite beauty is the Lantana Camara. Native to tropical America and Africa, lantana is a genus of about 150 flowering plants. Pretty isnt it? It comes in many colors. And the flowers change color as the bunch grows - the one i've shown here goes from being yellow to yellow orange to completely orange. After a while the flowers fall off and the cycle restarts. Each inflorescence is no bigger than about 3 inches in diameter so you can well imagine how tiny the flowers are.
The next time you see one of these, make a small tear in one of the leaves and smell it. It has a really weird smell, some seem to like it while others find it rather foul!
I read a really interesting article in the paper about the lantana. Apparently it is an invasive species that has covered much area in the forests of tamilnadu. Several nonprofit organizations have recently trained local communities on the art of making furniture using the lantana stem. This is really neat -- it gives the people a livelihood and clears the forests of the creeping lantana!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tamarind (Tamarindus Indica)

Have you had indian food and noticed (besides all the spices) a tangy, sour flavor?
That, in all probability, is that of the tamarind. The "imli" as is known in Hindi has been widely used in Indian cusine. Surprisingly though it is not native to India, but is from tropical Africa. All ye indian food eaters, can you imagine what sambhar or pani puri would have tasted like if this tree had not made its way here? gosh!

The arabic people seem also to think that tamarinds are from india, as it is called the tamar hind or indian date in the middle east. In north america it is not very well known; the people of the caribbean are acquainted with the tamarind only too well though - i found packets and packets of yummy sugar coated tamarind balls in all the supermarkets in the virgin islands.

Here are the pods, many on the tree and quite a few on the ground below as well:

Friday, June 26, 2009


Today being my mother's birthday, I decided to showcase the latest of her many adventures in the vegetable garden - the eggplant/aubergine or the brinjal as it is known in India. The purple ones are the common kind - small roundish oval vegetables in India and long bottle shaped ones in the United States. *I'm not sure which shape is available in other parts of the world - if you know do comment*

The brinjal is native to India and used widely in cooking. The name 'aubergine' is in British English and can trace its roots to the name in Sanskrit and subsequently Arabic. The name 'eggplant' came about because some of the cultivars in the new world were white in color.
Now here is an interesting fact about the eggplant - it contains nicotine! Yes, not as much as a cigarette does but it has it! Wish i had known this as a child - it would certainly have helped with my futile no-eggplant-for-dinner requests.

The purple eggplants have pretty little purple flowers and the white ones have, but of course, white flowers.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tree of Life

Here is the mystery tree from the horticultural gardens - i think it is the Lignum Vitae/ Guaiacum officinale or the Tree of Life but am not very sure.. if you know what it is (or if you know for a fact that it is not the Tree of Life) do leave a comment!

I love everything about this tree - its greenish brown trunk, shiny dark green petite leaves and purplish blue flowers. I love the way the flowers give it a blue haze when it is in full bloom and i love the big clumps that the branches and leaves form.

The wood from this tree, if it is the Lignum Vitae, is the densest form of wood and it is very resistant to rot. But who would have the heart to cut this beauty down for its wood?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Baobab (Adansonia)

If you have seen the Lord of the Rings, then you are familiar with this tree. Decidedly prehistoric in appearance, the Adansonia is the genus of which 8 species exist, all of which it can be distinguished by their peculiar swollen trunk. The picture below does not do full justice to the girth of its trunk. I have not seen many in Chennai - This one is, i think, the Adansonia digitata. It is native to Africa, and is rather widespread there. Of the other species, one is native to Australia and all others to Madagascar. Plenty of reason to visit Madagascar, isnt it?!

Here is a young Baobab:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Scarlet Flame Bean (Brownea coccinea)

If i ever get to live in South America, I'm going to feel right at home - they have all the same trees! Guess the tropical weather is what makes it so similar. Yet another tree that i came across in chennai is native to South America - The rose of venezuela a.k.a scarlet flame bean, or the West Indian Mountain Rose as it is called in this part of the world. This tree is related to the gulmohar and the copperpod - it is a caesalpinieae. Are you planning to visit the Horticultural gardens anytime? If you are, you will be able to see one of these trees next to where the manure is sold. Do stand under the canopy and take a look around - you will be able to see the flowers.

It isnt very big a tree but sure has fiery and big flowers! Actually it is the inflorescence that makes the flower bunch look so imposing - each flower is really quite narrow. The color is fantastic - and orangish red that makes even the gulmohar (delonix regia) look subdued.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scarlet Cordia (Cordia Sebestena)

is also called the orange gieger tree. This is not a very big tree and is not native to india - it was brought from the northern parts of south america.
Touch the leaf when you see it next -- it has a rough leathery feel to it.

Spider update

Remember the spider i blogged about a couple of days back? Sadly for it, it rained last night. Its web survived (or it reconstructed it real fast, but the stabilimenta did not. When i saw it this afternoon it was still there, clutching on to a butterfly - but as i watched the butterfly suddenly dropped down to the ground. Did it lose its grip? Or did it devour the body and decide it had no more use for the wings?

By the time i got my camera the ants had already claimed it.

Looks like it was a common indian crow isnt it?
I wasnt sure what these were - dried bougainvillae perhaps? They made such a pretty picture.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another neem tree that caught my fancy..

Neem tree (Azadirachta indicahi)

What did people do before toothpaste came into being? Go around with bad breath?
South asians had a simple solution - every morning they crushed a few neem leaves and used it to 'brush' their teeth (with neem twigs serving as the brush). No wonder then that the neem is so widespread in India. It has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a host of ailments and is thought to have astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and anti-imflammatory properties. What more do you need for healthy teeth and strong gums?!

The leaves of the neem are used as pesticides. The aroma of the leaves that spreads with the wind is said to have a therapeutic effect, which is another reason why this tree was widely planted all over the region. The neem tree is native to India.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I went to the neighbours' yesterday for pictures of the jackfruit, but could not resist the jasmines, the quintessential chennai flower. This is a different variety from the one i had posted earlier. They also had beautiful red plumerias and a magnificent coconut tree that i've included in earlier posts.

Jackfruits (Artocarpus heterophyllus)

Here is my neighbour's jackfruit tree! This tree is about 30 years old - my neighbour was given a jackfruit by a friend and after eating the fruit she sowed about ten of the seeds in her backyard. Soon there were 10 little saplings and one of them was allowed to grow into this sturdy tree. It did not bear fruit for the first few years though, until one day they poured a whole lot of manure (courtesy the milkman's cow i'm sure!) around its roots. And then there was no turning back! From 4-5 fruits that summer, the tree went on to yield 40-50 fruits every year.

Sadly the upper branches had to be cut when the house was renovated, but it still stands firm and continues to bear fruit every year. The tree had one fruit on it when i took this picture (we did our bit to help eat the rest!) and here it is.

Here is another tree from the backyard. This one too was trimmed many a time. Because of the nicks and cuts, the tree now bears fruits in clusters of two instead of single ones. This isnt too good - the fruits dont grow as well when they compete for space and sometimes ripen early because of the constamt contact with each other.

A spider in our midst

I've always found the geometry of a spider's web fascinating and was delighted to stumble upon this one today. For a moment i thought it was a really big spider, but quickly realised - it is a spider holding a dead cockroach/moth/butterfly! I was quite taken by the markings on its body and the four symmetrical solid markings on its web - looks like a trapeze artist doesn't it? Turns out these are called 'web decorations' or stabilimenta. I'm not quite sure what the function of the stabilimenta is; if you are an arachnologist please do comment!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Indian Summer

well atleast a south indian one, is not complete without mangoes (Mangifera indica) and jackfruits (Artocarpus heterophyllus). You see the mangoes all over the place - trees laden with greenish mangoes are a common sight all over the city as are street vendors with ripe yellow mangoes piled all over their carts. There are many different types, though the banganapalli and the malgova are probably the most common in this part of the country. The famed alphanso also makes its appearance, at a premium price of course. Mangoes are native to India, though now they are grown in other tropical places as well. India is hte largest producer of mangoes, though it does not account for too much of the trade in mangoes. Guess we like to eat them all!
And then there are the jackfruits. Native to south and south east asia, the jackfruits are not as ubiquitous as the mango, but definitely a lot bigger! I always marvelled at their size and wasnt surprised to discover a little while back that they are the largest fruit borne on trees. OUr neighbour has a jackfruit tree and are the fruits BIG! Stay tuned for pictures..

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Psuedo Palm Sunday - Travellers Tree

The tree i chose for today, thinking it to be a palm, turned out to be something else. Ravenala madagascariensis, commonly known as Traveller's Tree belongs not to the palm family (Arecaceae) but to the bird of paradise family (Strelitziaceae). The fact that it is also called the Traveller's palm offers some consolation - there must be others who have mistaken it for a palm for it to be named thus!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The fragrant Gardenia

I was taking a walk after dinner and chanced upon this lovely flower - the gardenia. The 'gardenia' is the name of the genus and wiki tells me there are about 250 species!! That is a lot!!
The one commonly found in this part of the world is the Gardenia jasminoides or the Cape Jasmine. Now dont confuse this with the crepe jasmine.
The flowers are just exquisite! The petals have a creamy leathery feel to them and the flower has such a wonderful smell! The gardenias along with the night jasmines are my favorites as far as the fragrance goes... I also love the 'pointy' behaviour of the petals.. if a flower could be labeled Mannerist like the paintings of some centuries past, then that would be an appropriate label for the Gardenia. I especially love the way a petal or two of the gardenia is always all swirled up.. Look at the petal pointing to the SE in the picture here.. It's such a beauty!
And here is a picture of the leaves taken during the day-

Monday, June 8, 2009

Have you met the Singonium?

If you live in Chennai, then chances are that you have. When i first noticed it i was fascinated by the shape and the light and dark green leaves, but now i pass by it without a second glance. It is a fast growing creeper that can quickly cover unsightly land or wall space!