Botany at Forty

I love trees, plants, herbs, shrubs… in fact almost all green (and not green) things that grow in nature. When setting up our home at each posting the sight of similar vegetation growing in our garden or even our residential campus gave a comforting familiarity. I almost looked upon the trees as a friend. While the Neem was rampant in Bidar, this tree was not as easily found in Assam. I never did think I would miss Neem even amidst the widespread greenery of the East. Yet miss I did. Ditto for the bamboo when we moved out from Assam. Often I recognized the tree or the blooms but did not know their names… I did try to Google their identity but success was not assured… The feeling was akin to not knowing the name of a close friend…
A course in Field Botany seemed just what the doctor ordered. I would be able to learn not only know names but habitat, classification, growth patterns, characteristics of many many more green friends. Full of josh, I made copious notes, referred to my old photographs and supplied notes. The first discordant note appeared after a few lectures. It was March on the Tekdi and being a dry/moist deciduous forest (my newly acquired gyan!!) the trees that had become bare in winters were just springing forth with tender shoots. While previously I would have admired their different shades of green and so on, I now found myself trying to analyze shape of the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, the stipule (if any or if modified), petiole, venation etc etc.
I started carrying my Cell Phone just to take photos of leaves for my homework. I did not have time to admire the forest that was bursting back to life nor for the few flowers in full bloom that tried to attract my attention with the fragrance…. Walk became work and study. Suddenly it began to lose its charm particularly when confronted with an unidentifiable specimen… I seriously contemplated going back to an indoor work out…
On the botany front, we had progressed to inflorescence. This is not to be confused with flowers. Our module was so designed that we would be able to view (study) most angiosperms that grow in our part of the world. Naturally my bonsai too were blooming. My daughter and I were admiring my Kamini (Murraya panniculata) with when she suddenly dropped a bombshell. At least that was what it was to me…
“Aai what is this type of inflorescence called?”
“Hmmm… Looks like the inflorescence is of the determinate type…”
“Yes- that is cymose. Go on…”
She has a biotechnology background so I knew I would not be able to bluff my way through this one…
“Is it a dichasial cyme?”
“You tell me…”
I started at the bright red fruit looking for inspiration. How come that branch had escaped my pruning shears after the flowers had wilted? I felt about three feet tall and was immediately transported back to the early 1990s but with roles reversed. To be specific, I was the child answering a viva!! I wished the flower would talk back to me describing itself. I did talk to my plants did I not?? There was no help in sight…
The Cell phone rang and took my daughter’s attention away and I breathed a sigh of relief… That call saved my day.
I still have to work on a presentation and luckily I have the freedom to choose a topic. Mainly I have to describe in details whatever trees I choose. That means I would have to undergo more of what I have just described and plus some more. I have to describe the stem, leaves, inflorescence, fruits etc etc… Is it an herb or a shrub or tree?
The timetable shows that our ‘abbreviated course’ will have four lectures on the flower even though we will not be studying microscopic characteristics. Will I ever be able to enjoy the fragrance of a Tuberose or admire the colours and shape of an Orchid without analyzing its petals, sepals etc etc. Does it have to be beauty or science and can the two not go together?
Suddenly I hated myself for joining this field botany that did not allow me to enjoy my flowers or greenery around me. Did one really need to know the name and biodata of every tree around me? Would I like the Nerium lesser if I did not know that its leaf arrangement was decussate or that the ‘flower’ of my Anthurium was actually a spadix? Would I be less aware of my responsibility to maintain the fast disappearing green cover over my city? I don’t think so….
I have to rush now, my books are waiting…
Wish me luck!

6 Replies to “Botany at Forty”

  1. Good post.

    When I listen to Rag Darbari, it does not really matter what the technical intricacies are. As long as it gives me pleasure and peace, I am happy with it.

    So is the case with flowers and plants I suppose.

  2. its ofcourse nice to know the types/species/ names(in marathi,english and the botanical names whenever u look at the tree or plant and appreciate its beauty at the same time! have fun :)-Prretima

  3. Nice expression! Archana, I feel 'knowing' or 'understanding' a flower / plant in the technical sense gives one a very different perspective (it tells so many stories in morphology, biogeography, and mainly – evolutionary) and that adds to the aesthetics….Appreciating the colours of flowers and appreciating the reason behind that towards completing the plant life cycle – gives it a sense of purpose. Makes things meaningful… 🙂

  4. Hello Archana maam

    I am of the opinion that the field botany course has simply made me more alive to the fact that there are so many miracles happening when you want and they are always there for you to see. The joy of knowing that these wonders happen and with a little trouble, it could be yours to experience is just too tempting an idea to let go.
    regards, Kany

  5. Archana maam

    I am of the opinion that nature affords us joys that are simple yet leave a lasting impression. The course has just put me in touch with my own natural elements that were always wanting to emote. As i look around, its with a constant wonderous expression that to many, is not fathomable.The detail just puts things so much in perspective.


  6. Hi Archana, loved going through some of your posts, this one caught my attention due to the title 🙂 Its an old post and I'm sure you're perspective on this one may have matured or changed. I was a student of Botany (graduate and post graduate years 2 decades ago), but somehow landed in a job that has got nothing to do with Botany! Many of the technicalities and terms are forgotten, but to this day I enjoy plant life and happiest if I'm able to recognise a plant by its name, irrespective of language…

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