Monday, August 31, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New life in the garden - II

A chrysalis (pl. chrysalides) is the pupa (pl. pupae) of a butterly and is generally more showy than that of a moth (cocoon).

Here is a spectacular golden one that i found. The plant on which it hangs had to be transplanted twice. The chrysalis continues to hang on despite all the rough handling.
Its showy golden color identifies this chrysalis as that of the common indian crow.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New life in the garden - I

the acrobatic garden lizard
i've noticed two things about the big garden lizard (not this one in the picture) in my garden: a. it is always in the same part of the garden and b. it's throat is red - quite scary. Hence i wasnt surprised to read that male garden lizards can be highly territorial during the breeding season and that they make their throats change to a scary red color and engage in 'push-ups' to intimidate other males! I observed quite a bit of this behaviour last month -- leading me to wonder if this little acrobat is the offspring of the huge male i kept seeing earlier.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Friday Flowers - Balsam

Have you picked the brown seeds of the garden balsam, put them in water and had them burst open? If you haven't you've missed out on the 'touch-me-not' plant a.k.a the pretty impatiens balsamina.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nizhal tree walk - Kalakshetra

A couple of weeks back, I was invited to a dance performance at Kalakshetra. Just as captivating as the performance and the costumes was the kalakshetra campus itself .. the beautiful auditorium designed by Rukmini Devi herself and the grounds filled with a fascinating array of trees. I wrote elsewhere:
the campus was just stunning with its many trees. i would love to walk and loose myself among the leaves, trunks, mud, insects and birds...
Imagine my delight when i read the following week that Nizhal, an organization promoting urban tree culture, was planning a weekend tree walk in Kalakshetra.

It was a wonderful walk, where i learnt of many more species of trees and plants.. the garden lettuce, albizia lebbeck, subabool, portia tree, malai poovarasu, jamun, ivory wood, rubber leaf tree, indian cork tree, singapore cherry tree, bullet wood tree,jamun, tree of life, peacock flower trees, peepal, palmyra palms, copperpod, gulmohar and the indian tulip, among others.

We saw the growing roots of the banyan.. something i do not see too often in the banyans around the city where the roots have been damaged and they never reach the ground.

I learnt that the ubiquitous ashoka is really the false ashoka, the copperpod is not native but has been naturalized and i saw yet another lignum vitae a.k.a the tree of life.

I also saw the 7 spotted cockroach - small, black round with white spots on its body. If someone had not pointed it out and told me what it was, i would have probably mistaken it for a beetle.

The highlight of the walk was learning about 2 species that i have seen growing wild all over the city:

the Calotropis gigantea or the Crown Flower (milkweed family)
A few days after the walk, i had forgotten the name of this omnipresent plant, but Isaac Kehimkar's 'Wild flowers of India' at a neighbourhood bookstore came in handy. The book also told me that this is the host for the plain tiger butterfly and the painted grasshopper. I will keep my eyes open!

Picture taken Oct 09 at the Adyar Poonga

and the prosopis juliflora of the mesquite family -- the tree walk coordinator told me that this one was introduced in the '80s by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, to green the deserts. It now grows wild and takes over all the space that it can find. An article in the newspaper, The Hindu, has more to say about the invasive nature of this species.

Picture taken Oct 09 at the Adyar Poonga

Now that i know their names, i am noticing them even more. They are everywhere!

Nizhal has conducted several tree walks in the last few months - there was one in Ashoknagar and one in Kilpauk in June/July, followed by one at the Nageshwarao park and another in the Karunanidhi park, both in the luz/alwarpet area; and as part of the madras week celebrations there were walks in the historic May Day park and My Lady Park (originally modeled after London's Hyde park). Madras week also saw a nature walk in the Pallikarnai marshes led by the Madras Naturalists Society.
To join in the fun, write to

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Garden lettuce - Pisonia alba

During this month's tree walk i learnt that the light green colored plant/tree i see around the city is the Garden Lettuce. I have seen morning walkers pluck leaves and take it away with them and for some reason assumed it was a digestive aid; but thanks to the walk i learnt that it is in fact used for rheumatism. The one in the picture here is a young plant. It is a fast grower and can grow to be pretty big.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Greener side of madras

As part of the Madras Week Celebrations, a set of 15-20 photographs on the trees of chennai by Rod Hudson are on display at the Parvati Art Gallery (Eldams Road). Some feature trees and others flowers or leaves.
I read someplace that trees can have a calming effect on us, lowering blood pressure and stress levels; looking at Rod Hudson's photographs, some about 3 feet in height, featuring a fully grown avenue tree, i realised that even tree pictures can have that effect! 20 mins in the gallery and i was ready to drive back home through the maddening traffic with a song on my lips.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Flowers - Little red stars

each "star" is just about the size of your fingernail.

November 2009 update: This has been IDed as the star flower/star cluster - pentas lanceolata.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another purple leaved creeper

The underside of the leaves are colored, the upperside green with faint white markings. This one needs to be moved from the pot to the ground.. the stems put out roots at regular intervals.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Look at what mushroomed overnight

My fascination with mushrooms grows despite knowing that they are fungi...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Memecylon umbellatum

These are the most beautiful flowers i have seen in a long time.. I am told that this is the memecylon umbellatum tree, common in TDEF (tropical dry evergreen forest) regions. Apparently in the Andaman islands. Do leave a comment if you have seen this tree someplace -- i would love to know! This one was at the Theosophical Society.

The entire tree appeared to be covered in a mauve/purple/blue haze, not unlike the blue/purple haze of the tree of life when it was in bloom. The ground below was seemingly covered with mauve/purple chalk powder - closer inspection showed that this was due to the fallen petals - such a treat for the eyes!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cotton pods

Someone who knew of my love for trees and all things arboreal brought this in this morning...

Dumbledore's beard? Or that of Gandalf?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

False Ashoka Tree -- Mast Tree

At this month's tree walk i learnt that the tree that i've always known to be the Ashoka isn't the ashoka after all! It really is the mast tree or the false ashoka, known to the botanically enlightened as the polyalthia longifolia. It is a really tall tree that can grow up to 30ft in height. It is pollinated by bats and is the host tree for the tailed jay butterfly. I must pay more attention to the ashoka trees .. oops false ashokas in my neighborhood to see if i can catch a glimse of either.

The leaves come in many different shades of green and have really pretty wavy edges.

Positive IDs from the line-up

The "weeds" in the tree park i visited a short while back are the Slender Dwarf Morning Glory and the Yellow Berried Nightshade.

The purple beauty i blogged about several months ago (that has grown quite a bit since) is the Purple Wandering Jew.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jacquemontia pentanthos - skyblue clustervine

A long time back, i came across this creeper with its pretty blue flowers and wondered if it had anything to do with the slender dwarf morning glory - evolvulus alsinoides. My recent encounter with the dwarf morning glory at the adayar tree park lead me to explore this family of flowers and i think this creeper is the Jacquemontia pentanthos or the more pronouncable Skyblue Clustervine/ Pentantha. If you look closely, the leafs of this creeper are wider than the flowers and taper at the ends. Those of the dwarf morning glory are tinier, smaller in width than the flower and rather eggplant like in shape. Both belong to the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae, whcih explains their resemblance.
The skyblue cluservine is native to tropical america.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tree park in the making- Kotturpuram PWD park

6:30am a few days back, my mother and I set out to the tree park being developed by the Adyar river by Nizhal, a local organization that i am a part of, that promotes tree culture in urban areas. It was my turn to monitor the 100+ saplings that had been planted by volunteers in the months before. The park is a joint initiative between the Public Works Department of the city and Nizhal. Work on the 5acre area started last year - after the land was made ready, Nizhal planted carefully chosen saplings in July 08. The area was then fenced and a second round of planting done in Nov 08. All the saplings are of indigenous Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) species. To know more about TDEF species, visit the website of the Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants. Nizhal is currently engaged in caring for the saplings - manuring, weeding, watering and protecting and continued planting.

The ground was wet -- it had poured the night before. The watchman told us there had been tremors for a brief moment -- after effects of an earthquake in the andaman. But it looked like the saplings, much like myself, had been unware of the events of the night, and were none the worse for it!

We proceeded to survey the saplings, armed with our printed park layout diagrams. Most of the saplings were small - not above my knee in most cases. A few that had been planted over a year back had grown quite a bit though and were in bloom! Here is an article from "The Hindu" newspaper about the beginnings of this park.

Most of them were well protected by tree guards (also made by volunteers), from the hungry little deer that also inhabit the corners of the park. A few had some insect eaten leaves, one had something that resembled leaf galls and this one had the same white spots that the tree in front of my house does: Is it from an insect?

There were some weeds, some dry leaves, but on the whole the saplings looked real good - healthy and growing! Ah to see them all grown up someday! What a delight that will be!

The ground had some interesting little plants growing here and there. The little blue flowers are probably some cousin of a morning glory.

Update: A member of Nizhal has helped identify this (using Isaac Kehimkar's Common Indian Wild Flowers) as Evolvulus Alsinoides - called the slender dwarf morning glory/ little glory in english and locally the Vishnukranthi or Sankhapushpi. The internet tells me that this 'weed' that grows wild in open grasslands in India has a lot of significance in Ayurvedic medicine and is used to treat a host of mental ailments.

This prickly beauty below was identified as the Solanum virginianum (previously Solanum surattense) or the Yellow-berried/Thorny Nightshade -- another 'weed' that has a host of medicinal properties and is used in Ayurveda. Its root is used to make 'Dasamula' - an ayurvedic tonic made of ten roots that sustains life and counteracts disease.

Do i "rescue" these two weeds and take them home??!

The view of the trees and buildings on the other side of the river reminded me of Portland, Oregon, the city of a million bridges , with its view of mount hood and the the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry from across the williamette river. The Adyar river unfortunately has seen years of pollution from commercial and domestic sources, and needs a lot of cleaning. Rowers from the boat club were practising up and down the river despite the floating debris and the smells...

For more on the park, visit flowergirl's blogpost. Turns out the deer aren't the only ones representing the fauna there.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Terminalia Catappa - Tropical Almond

The tropical almond is quite different from the almond tree whose nuts we all love. The tropical almond is a deciduous tree grown for the shade it provides and for its beauty. The leaves turn a beautiful reddish brown color before falling. Here is a tree that I photographed in Kanchipuram.

The tree has a host of local names - the Indian Almond, Bengal Almond, Singapore Almond, Sea Almond, among others.

The leaves in this picture are sunwashed -- they were actually quite dark green in color.

I have never seen the flowers of this tree, but am told they are quite pretty.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Common Lime Party

Our okra plants are attracting swarms of the Common Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus). The base color of the butterfly appears almost white in the pictures; it actually is a beautiful pale lemon yellow.

Here is a flower of the okra (called the lady's finger in india):

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ficus religiosa - Sacred fig (Peepal)

Most folks living in the subcontinent need no introduction to the Peepal or the Bo Tree -- at some point in primary school we are made to go through this exercise - take a leaf of the peepal tree, soak it in water overnight, gape in wide eyed wonder the next morning to see all the green stuff wash away and the bare trellis of the leaf remain, dry the leaf in sunlight and then paint on it! It was one of my favorite activities and many a colored leaf adorned the walls of my room.

It is of the Ficus family - same as the banyan. All trees have some religious significance in India, but this one beat the others by getting the 'religiosa' into its name! The peepal tree is the one under which Buddha is supposed to have attained enlightenment. That probably explains the importance of this tree in the Buddhist and Hindu religions.

For some reason this tree has seldom been allowed to grow alone. A neem sapling is always planted right next to it and the trees grow together - trunks and branches inextricably interwined by the time they reach maturity. Look at the picture above - the lighter colored leaves are that of the neem and the darker ones, of the peepal.

The leaf of the peepal always makes me wonder if it was a regular at the manicurist in an earlier avtar! Seriously, look at it - the pointy showy leaf is so typical of the peepal.

The bark is smooth and lighter colored than the neem.

Jackfruit leaf

The jackfruit has featured in a few of my posts, and in this month's Festival of The Trees. Here is a leaf of the tree: