Aristolochia bracteolata (batak vel)

This creeper goes by the common name of Batak vel and its botanical name is Aristolochia bracteolata. This beautiful bean shaped purple flower has dark striations and actually looks like a duck (batak). The plant flowers from July to December. The batak vel is said to be popular for these ornamental looking flowers. I am told that a rare variant has red flowers but I could not see that plant.
Seeds and roots of
Aristolochia bracteolata are said to have medicinal properties. Click here and here for some more information. This link also has some information.


Miraculous Rain

The specter of a drought loomed largely over us all through summer of 1999. Southwest monsoon had reached Bombay ahead of time but now seemed hesitant to cross Dahanu. In Bhuj, in the sweltering heat one heard of travails of people who had to wait endlessly for water tankers or ladies who had to trudge miles to fill just a few pots of water. The countryside had become bare. The notorious Keekar of Kutch too was reduced to thorny stems. The ground was parched and cracked. On the highway we frequently encountered herds of restless cattle, all moving towards the towns in search of water and fodder.

The famous Hamirsar Lake in Bhuj had been reduced to a large muddy puddle. In winter Pelicans and many other varieties of large and small birds were a common site there. Now the lakebed was home to hundreds of cattle waiting out the long hot days. There were no signs of birds other than a few crows sitting desultorily on the cows. I had heard of a particularly bad year when the lake had dried out completely and a circus was able to camp there. I prayed fervently for things to be better that year even if it meant not enjoying the circus!

And then suddenly the Heavens opened! Dark heavy clouds poured the nectar of life onto us. Every creature, leaf and twig drunk up the water with glee. Children danced in the rain and no one denied them the pleasure of enjoying those first showers. I am sure some of the adults envied them wishing that they too could join them. I know I did!

Over night the landscape around me changed. The bare brown cracked earth of the day before was now an endless carpet of green. It was almost as if the seeds in the soil were only waiting for the rain to burst to life. We could hear the birds chirping and sparrows were soon busy building nests. The air was filled with the smell of wet earth and was full of Hope and Promise again.

It was only after two days that the weather cleared up enough for us to venture out for our evening walk. The area was suddenly full of different types of birds. Some splashed in the plentiful puddles of water while others were feasting on the large number of insects who too were out to savour the cool rainwater. I watched the antics of the birds in wonder. Each one seemed to have an area marked out for itself, pecking away at every little bug who dared to come out. All of a sudden they would break into a cacophony as if alerting each other of some intruder. One of them stood on the tarred road with wings wide spread, as if, inviting me to come fly with him. My husband said they were Egrets but their name meant little to me, as I watched them enjoying the aftermath of the rain.

Along the road I counted at least six different types of grasses growing. Some of the tiny plants had even flowered in these two days, their little purple blossoms making a flamboyant show on the green carpet. It was almost as if each plant however tiny, was exercising its right to bloom. All the plants, trees and bushes had donned a new wardrobe bearing no resemblance to the thorny stems of yesterday. The desert had become green in an incredibly short time.

The insects continued to amaze and irritate me at the same time! Over the 3 days of rain, we had several varieties of winged invaders in our home, buzzing around the lights. Their life was to last only until the next morning as some strange force of nature drew them to their end towards the lights.

Out on the roads the earthworms, snails and caterpillars were out in full strength. I saw a bewildering variety of 6 and 8-legged creatures all running to hide under a blade of grass as soon as they heard a footfall. The Hamirsar Lake was full again. The water reflected diamonds as it picked up the weak sunlight and its surface rippled in the breeze. The cattle on the lakebed had long gone back to their villages led by the farmers who hastened home to sow their fields.

As I watched the raindrops fall, I was struck by the life giving powers of the rain. The flora and fauna seemed as if infused with a new life and I vowed to recharge my mind with each cloudburst. The sound of the falling raindrops, the birds and crickets singing and the wind whispering in the leaves has the power to instantly bring peace and tranquility.

The monsoon is upon us again and the urban jungle responds differently to the downpour. Yet the first showers bring a welcome respite from the summer fury. I do not fret for the loss of a days work but sit back and let the rain work its magic.

At last, a Plant Hotel!

Each time I have to move out of Pune for more than a day, my biggest fear is for my plants. My small bonsai collection, few perennials and the usual foliage pots are my extended family. I had read of a ‘hotel’ for pets when owners travel or are on a holiday and desperately felt the need for a similar plant hotel.

Quite by chance I came across an article about Plant Doctors in the Good Housekeeping magazine March 2009 issue. Green Carpet – The Garden Centre offers a home for plants when we are away. They have centres at Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Surat, Goa, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Coorg, Cochin and Pune (Hooray!)… According to the article, the centre also offers help for a sick plant. Click here to visit the Green Carpet website. Location addresses are available on the ‘Network’ bar on the home page.
I have yet to use their services but for those with travel plans this summer holidays this may be worth checking out. Those of you who have experience of this or other such centres, do share your views.
As for me, I can now plan a holiday this year that I was partially avoiding due to my plants. 
Happy Holidays!


What is May without the flamboyant Gulmohor? Many cities in India are lined with Gulmohor trees also known as Mayflower in some parts (Delonix regia). Come April each year, the trees turn into huge orange or red umbrellas without a single speck of green. Every leaf is shed as the entire Gulmohor tree is covered in flowers. Surprisingly they do not have a strong aroma. Red is a colour that is supposed to denote fire/heat. Yet these red Gulmohor canopies have a definite cooling effect, a sure refuge from the blazing and unforgiving sun.
The blooms range from shades of orange to deep red and last till about end May. As the first speck of green takes over the trees, Gulmohor flowers give way to the pods that are at times up to 12″ long.

Many homes plant Gulmohor for its ornamental effects besides shade of course. Yet over the years, its roots invade into the foundations of the building posing danger too its occupants. Rules do not permit tree cutting and often huge, old branches fall off with the first rain, weighted down as they are with rain water that adds to their own weight. This is dangerous to people and also vehicles etc that may be parked under it.

While I would be the first to oppose tree cutting, a golden middle has to be found here. The first Pune rains of 2008 left parts of the city without power for over 24 hours – in part due to fallen trees.

Mayflower/ Gulmohor, brightens and darkens simultaneously. Strange but true.

Jasminum sambac (Mogra)

Summer= Alphonso mangoes and

Summer = Mogra

Going by the botanical name of Jasminum sambac, these flowers bloom in the evenings and last for a day.

They have a heady fragrance and are strung into ‘gajras’ or garlands. Besides use as religious offering, ladies adorn their hair with ‘gajras’. The flowers can be simply threaded with a needle and thread or elaborately knotted together. Stop at any signal and one is veritably assaulted by young boys selling these.

In South India, the gajra is interspersed with green Tulasi leaves and orange Aboli flowers. That combination has a grace of its own but is not freely available in Pune.

The plant grows as a bush and flowers mainly in the summer. It loves sunshine and make sure to fertilise with ‘K’ (Potassium) rich fertilisers for abundant flowering. It can be easily propogated with cuttings during the monsoon.

I have read that Jasminum sambac is the national flower of Philippines.

Plant a tree in your home and liven up your summer. It grows well in pots too, just make sure it gets some sunlight daily.

Small is Beautiful

The Friends of Bonsai-Pune recently exhibited their treasures in Pune. Lovingly nurtured at home by a group of 40 enthusiasts there were over 100 trees displayed here. Some had won international accolades, in recognition of the hard work and creativity put into the trees.

If one looked carefully it was possible to see different styles of Bonsai besides Saikei and murals. The thoughtful layout gave sufficient space for the true beauty of each design to shine through.

The hosts readily answered queries of those interested. The group mainly comprises of home makers – ladies who find time for this hobby despite all commitments that demands patience and creativity. Senior and experienced members as well as newbie bonsai cultivators showcased their trees.

The range of trees on display ranged from fruiting trees (Mango, chikoo, orange and lemon) to flowers like Kamini, Jacquinia, Bougainvilla, Hawthorne and Kunti. Grapes that grow on vines had been cultivated into a beautiful bonsai. Akelifa that is often grown as a hedge in Pune was grown into an attractive style. Several Wrightia exhibits had pretty tiny star shaped flowers. This plant is not easily available at nurseries. Also displayed were Mame bonsai and some with root exposed designs (last photo in the series above). Some trees were over 40 years old, which emphasised the amount of love and care going into nurturing them over the years.
A striking feature of the exhibition was that the group was not interested in money making. Nothing was for sale, a fact which surprised most visitors used as they are to exhibition cum sales that are dime a dozen in Pune.
Those who missed this year, do make it a point to watch out for their next display.
Stress has become an unavoidable part of our lives. This hobby allows us to be close to plants, develops patience and is a wonder de-stressor. As we lose so many trees to so called ‘development Bonsai offers a means to preserve a link to our past our memories of a city fast losing its green cover or to childhood memories of tree climbing, swings etc. Plant a tree today, nurture it.
Discover a new friend.

Golden Showers

The Cassia fistula (Indian laburnum) is in full bloom in Pune and I’m sure in many other parts of India too. The tree is totally covered only with huge pendulous golden blooms. Some parts of this tree are said to have medicinal value but the seeds are reportedly poisonous.
Pune is lucky that some trees have still survived what we fondly called ‘development’! We can enjoy different colours and blooms that Nature has to offer all round the year.
As you zip around, do take time to appreciate its beauty. It does not take time but gives immeasurable happiness.

Its Spring

Don’t click away seeing a new pink and blue colour combination. With makeovers being ‘hot’ decided to try one out here too!
Spring is in the air. For us in Pune, heat has already set in but my plants are enjoying the weather with a surge of new shoots. Jacaranda is in its full purple glory. In Assam, I remember the ‘Seemal’ to be in full bloom now. Huge red flowers of the size of a man’s palm, crimson red and full of nectar. The monkeys in Tezpur drank from them as if partaking from a cup!
And a month later, the pods burst and the ground was covered with wispy cotton clouds- almost looks like a blanket of snow from afar. This has to be seen to be believed.
The ‘Flame of the Forest’ too blooms around this time. None of these have a overpowering perfume like Millingtonia hortensis and one has to look up to appreciate the red or purple canopy.
Poinsettias have begun to fade now. Time soon to repot them.

And yes, have learnt this trick to let you read my earlier relevant posts. So follow the beckoning hand for more information!