Thursday, October 8, 2009

Carpets of Flowers - Kaas Plateau

Pogostemon decanensis, Thunbergia fragrans, Neanotis lancifolia, Utricularia reticulatum, Senecio bombayensis, Pimpenella tomentosa.

If that sounds like Greek and Latin to you, then you are bang on. When Adesh would scream “Come here, I found a carpet of Pogostemon Decanensis”, we would look at him as if he was speaking gobbledegook. He would then add “Come come, I found a very pretty flower”. That worked much better and we would surround him to see the flowers. The practice of using Latin for scientific names was started in early seventeenth century oddly enough by a Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus. Carl developed a binomial system where two Latin or Latinized words were used to describe a plant or a flower. I guess it was a great idea to use one language to name all living organisms throughout the world…but did it have to be LATIN?

French and Italian might have been OK, but LATIN was just not my cup of tea. I tried hard…I listened carefully, repeated after Adesh multiple times, tried to find out the root of the words…. I even tried mnemonics, but seriously, what kind of mnemonic can you possibly have for Neracanthes spherostachys or Paracaryopsis coelestina. Common sense did not help in any way. Pimpenella Tomemtosa did not have a pimple or look like a tomato, Thunbergia fragrans had no fragrance and Asparagus racemosus looked nothing like the asparagus you put on a grill (with loads of extra virgin olive oil….yum). As if this was not hard enough, they had similar sounding names for completely different looking flowers. Neanotis
is a small pink flower, Leanotis is orange and Cyanotis is this blue color flower below. And to make things worse, wild varieties of impatiens, cosmos and begonias were nothing like what I had in my garden. I actually argued with Adesh that a wild cosmos was a Zinnia only to be proved wrong!

Cyanotis tuberosa

So, any associations you see here to Latin names are thanks to the husband. The husband, who has no aptitude for languages, who is so pathetic that he will say “Bon Giorno” to a French guy and “Bonjour” to an Italian and completely miss their puzzled looks, took up the challenge. He learnt the names by heart, took notes, cross-referenced them with photograph numbers and marked off his checklist. Apparently there is a new word in the dictionary to represent a nerd +geek = neek!
Saru and I went with Adesh & Mandar’s Nature India Tours to Kaas Plateau for a short 3 day trip. After a long 5 hour drive, we arrived into the town of Satara and checked into the hotel. After a quick lunch, we left for the hills. We started looking at wildflowers on the ghats while saving Kaas plateau for the next day. On the tour, we had Dr.Rajendra Shinde, a highly respected Plant Taxonomist from St.Xavier's College as a resource person along with Adesh and Mandar.

The Western Ghats are just beautiful in the monsoons and here in Satara, there was the added attraction of wild flowers. Slopes were full of sonkis and smithias and bunches of balsam flowers. Adesh and Dr.Shinde would comb the place (literally) and tell us the names and characteristics of every flower we saw. In the beginning it was an overload of information. “Do I really need to know the Latin name of EVERY flower”, I thought to myself, but after three days, we were fascinated by some cool things we learnt. Like for example, this flower below, Ceropagia Oculata has tiny hairs that trap flies. When flies are attracted into the flower by the scent, they are trapped and prevented from escaping until the hairs wither by which time; pollen is attached to the fly’s body. Procreation seems to be the goal of every living organism!

Ceropagia Oculata

This insectivorous plant here (somebody identify the name please) secretes a mucous like substance that traps tiny flies.

A flower from the sweet pea family, Vigna Vixilleta, uses a hugging mechanism to leave pollen. When a bee sits on it, its weight causes the stamen to extend out, hug the bee and leave pollen on it for propagation. Watch Adesh demonstrate the process in the video below.

Vigna Vixellata from Vamsee Modugula on Vimeo.

The next morning, we set off at 6:30AM. “We are going straight to the Plateau with no stops” said Adesh, but quickly added “I have to stop for a minute to show some species to the other bus”. A minute can never be a minute with a bus full of photographers. We stepped out to capture the mountain scenery which was nothing short of spectacular. Mist was just lifting off the valley and the soft morning light made the mountain greens even more soothing.

At our first stop, we had a quick breakfast of poha and upma and sheera and checked out the wild flowers in the area. That's when we chanced upon my most favorite Latin name for a flower -Gloriosa Superba! The botanist who discovered this flower was so captivated by its beauty that he said to himself "What a gloriously superb flower" and promptly gave its name. OK, I made up that, but the point of the matter is that the flower is
Gloriosa Superba, not just for its looks, but for its uses as well. Sap from the leaf is used to cure pimples , rootstalks are used for snake and scorpion bites and roots are used to cure baldness (Rakesh Roshan, are you listening?) Dr. Shinde also explained that tribal women use the roots of this plant for abortions or to induce labor pains. Because of the widespread cutting of this plant for medicinal and religious uses, it has now become an endangered species.

As we drove closer to the plateau, we started seeing carpets of flowers. Mickey mouse flowers seem to be an apt nick name for these yellow color Smithias.

Once we reached the main plateau, everybody was floored! And by that I don't just mean that we were impressed with what we saw, we literally took to the floor. You see, the wildflowers here are not like the tall stalks of mustard fields where Bollywood actors run around and sing songs. These plants are maybe half a feet high, so to get good pictures, we had to literally lie down on the floor. At any point of time, there were at least 5-6 of us lying down taking photographs. It was wet, muddy and the rocks were hard, but nothing stopped our photographers. The view from that angle was fantastic. A sea of flowers extended out till the eye could see. Colors faded in and out creating a beautiful collage.
Nature puts on this spectacular show in Kaas Plateau every year after the monsoons. From August to October, this bare plateau transforms itself into a riot of colors. The ground is covered in carpets of yellow, pink, blue, purple, violet and white flowers. What was surprising was that these plants grew on less than an inch of soil. The plateau was full of hard rock with a thin layer of soil. It is unbelievable how these flowers bloomed on this thin soil with no fertilizers, no timed watering and with nobody sowing seeds! It is just not fair that I had to work so hard in my garden to grow a handful of flowers and here were acres and acres of free-for-all flower fields! Nature has a mind of its own!

At the end of the trip, Adesh said "You might wonder, why we need to learn about all these flowers, but appreciating every aspect of Nature including birds, plants and flowers has made my life wonderful".I for one, completely agree with that. A year ago, I knew nothing and here I am rattling off Latin names:)

Leave a comment. It motivates me to keep writing.


  1. Guys,
    Sorry for being off the blogging world for the last two months. Some of you sent me emails to see if I was doing OK. I am doing perfectly fine, just a little busy with traveling and work. I am hoping to post at least once in 2 weeks from now on.
    I had a great trip to the Valley of Flowers, Himalayas last month and can't wait to blog about it. A big part of the France trip is also pending and so are some local Mumbai Monsoon trips.
    Blogging is slowly becoming a part time job these days, except the payment is in the form of comments!

  2. Lol - you floored me with the first part by laughing, and WOW and OMG for the whole article.

    My uncle is a botanist - and when I tell him I just saw carpets of Indian paintbrush (or whatever it is that day) he inevitably asks me for the Latin name - I am clueless and send him pictures. He just sent me a letter with his aquarells of different maple trees, all explaining in Latin names - I frame them - lol. I print your article - if you don't mind - and send it to him (he is 85 years old and doesn't use computers but tons of thick encyclopedias that fill his study to the brim ;)

    Tks for that wonderful article!

  3. Hey Vamsee--this was great! Wish I could see some more pics; would've loved to paint something. Your write up was, as always, fun and funny. Are you serious about Saru doing all that geeky stuff? If I had known when we were there, I would've tried to save him, but I fear it's too late ;) Maybe Gloriosa superba might help!

  4. Hmm ... I think I am going to move to Mumbai so we can be hiking/trip buddies.

  5. Fida,
    Absolutely! Go ahead and send it. He might send it back to you with corrections:)
    Thanks a lot for your comments.

    I will try to post more pictures on Facebook. Saru is an out and out geek. During this trip, we also went to a place that had windmills. He kept time to figure out the speed of the windmill (oscillations per minute) and was going to calculate the amount of electricity generated! SO....there you go - geek to the core.

  6. Mysterious malady,
    You can join Nature India trips from Hyderabad too. We are going to Kaziranga NP with them in March. You want to join?

  7. Awesome Vamsi, you transported me to kaas and flowers , right from my office cubicle.
    I dont know what to comment on your writing or ur photography!
    OMG simply amazing.
    Thanks for posting and keep it coming.


  8. I LOVE the last picture. I wonder who took it.....

    Stop making a buffoon out of me in your blog:)

  9. Hi Vam,
    Your blogging gets better and better.Way to girl.


  10. Some of these look so unreal. Mickey mouse one is cute. :)
    Saru, last picture is very nice. (that's what you wanted to hear right? :)

  11. Akka , i dont know what to write...Simply amazing pics. and no doubt.. you write great....It almost feels like i am seeing all these places for real....Good goin...

  12. hi Vam

    thoroughly enjoyed the post.

    A friend of mine blogs on tamil literature - he found a sangam age( prior to 3 rd C CE) song which lists 99 flowers. He did a series on their names and then went on to compile their photos as well

    check out when u have time.


  13. Awesome. A deluge of flowers, and so many varieties..!

    What months of the year do these flowers bloom?

  14. WoW! Kaas plateau must be amazing with so many flowers. I didn't know that a place like this existed until someone compared one of the places i went to, with Kaas plateau. Not so many varieties of flowers but still full of flowers..
    Mission Kumara Parvatha

    In the beginning even i thought the information overload is overwhelming with people trying to name birds/flowers/trees.. but later on i actually liked the small fascinating details. Well i can't remember the names now. But it felt nice then when they were explaining. :D

  15. Anu,
    Thanks for your comments. My hope is to be able to travel back to those places years from now through this blog. That is the only motivation that keeps me going.

    Stop fishing for compliments! As for the long as you act like one...I will keep writing:0

  16. Awesome....wonderful writing and photos too :-) Kaas is such a wonderful place that it mesmerizes you for a long long time....I mean till next year :-)

  17. Love the pics! I love wildflowers and it is always so refreshing to see them. Especially so when it is so fresh and green and wet . Monsoons are the best I tell u :-)

    I never knew of this place till now and I am looking it up now... So I gotta thank u for introducing me to a new one !

    Ma says the insectivorous plant should be some kind of sundew plant - judging by the bristles.

    Oh, and looking fwd to the regular posts too !

  18. I liked the first flower the best. It looks very unreal and ofcourse the name is also a tongue twister.

  19. Lovely Pictures. I didn't know this place existed, that too just 5 hours from Mumbai!

  20. Kaas comes alive in your words and photographs, Vamsee!! I can completely understand what you mean about Latin names - I have been struggling with Latin (and Greek)-based terminology all through my college and working life, and now to face it in one's hobby too??? But whatever their names, the flowers are incredibly incredibly beautiful!! And your write-up, as Sejal said, is both fun and funny! Saru's presence enlivens your narrative even more!!

  21. Gloriosa Superba was in my botany text in 11th. And that picture was pathetic. Now I see how beautiful it is. BTW, why Rakesh Roshan, why not Rajnikanth?

  22. beautiful post, Vamsee! love the ground level pics - have heard of this place and kept wanting to go...

  23. Vamsee - It was a delight for the senses. Loved the pictures and the writeup. Brought back memories from my Alaska trip.

    Saru - I liked the last picture but does that mean, Vamsee captured the rest of the pictures?

  24. Hey Vam, Buon giorno ( in Italian) not bon giorno...sorry, couldn't resist that correction...gotta prepare u for summer 2010....

    As always, I travel with you thru your blog...u make every place come alive. Good on ya!

    Kaas is already on my list for next

    btw, thank saru and his 'inspirational' presence; am sure he plays a major role consciously or unconsciously......:-)

    Keep d good work going....the pix floored me too...the one of the pink/redflowers going on n on till as far as d eye can see is my favorite ( 2nd last pic).

  25. sharma (siri's hubbie)October 10, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    Hi Vam,
    Nice blog.. Saru can memorize stuff? you making his life difficult there or what? actually I did what saru did to a waiter in Grenoble, France recently and did not understand why he would not greet me back with the same enthusiasm :)

    have fun and see you soon in person :)

  26. Oh what a beauty and what a riot of colors!

  27. OMG, this is a breathtaking post Vamsee. The sheer variety of flowers is incredible. The photographs are amazing.

    I have been wanting to go to Kaas to photograph this spectacle, maybe I will try and steal a trip this diwali. I hope the spectacle will be on till end of Oct.

  28. Siri,
    Thanks. Keep visiting. I am going to try and post regularly.

    You know Saru a little too well and he know you because as soon as he left that comment, he said "Tara is going to say something about this"

    Thanks for commenting.

    Thanks for those links. i will check them out.

    These flowers bloom from August to October depending on the monsoon season of the year.


  29. Wandering Soul/Neelima,
    Thanks for visiting again. I checked out your post, but the photos were missing. Will have to spend more time on your blog. You have a beautiful space there.

    Your first comment on my blog. Yay! You don't have to market Kass for next year. Saru and I will be there.

    Monsoons are the best. Your mom is a botanist?
    And yes...I will try to post more regularly from now on.

    Yes, isn't that flower beautiful! I can't believe you remember Gladiosa Superba from school!!

    All this is thanks to our bird watching group @ Nature India Tours

  30. An excellent trip, so well retold. I must admit my head went spinning reading the Latin names. :) It was fun. Terrific pictures and the video so well taken.

  31. I am one those who run away when it comes to botany or zoology. But after reading this write-up & those beautiful photos - I'm sure go on this 3 day tour :)

  32. Uma,
    Oh would have known about Latin names during med school. It is just not my thing. Saru is slowly beginning to think that I make him go on trips just to get writing material for my blog:)

    Kaas is beautiful. Let's go together next year. Think off all the interesting word plays we can have with Saru and Vamsee and Charu and Vamsi.

    Saru made me call you the other day so that he could yell at you for not commenting. You lucked out by being ahead of him:)
    I took very few pictures this time, but repented it later because we both like to show different things. From now on we are carrying one camera each! Obviously he gets the good one.

  33. V, don't get me started on this one - shilpy keeps calling me Vamsi and each time she calls out, my Vamsi turns with a surprised look on his face - great fun :)

  34. This is so stunning and beautiful! Nature at it's best! This place goes right into my list of the places to be toured! AMAZING!

    - Pixellicious Photos

  35. wowowowowowowowowoowowowowowow!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

  36. Vamsee the pics are simple amazing....lovely pics

  37. So beautiful , your blog is like an explosion of colour.

  38. Hi Vamsee, here I am after another absence, much longer than I wished. But it seems yours is even longer than mine... ;)
    Wonderful post! Great shots!!
    Happy Deepavali!!

    Blogtrotter is still travelling in Turkey. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

  39. Hello from Norway!

    I found yours from Fida's NetworkBlog on Facebook and I'm glad - what a great concept: Traveling and share for everyone to enjoy and learn (now even greek :lol: )

    Actually I love traveling too and are going to Athens next week.

    Talking about travelling and reporting. Would you like to come and visit Oslo for some days in August next year? I am arrangeing Oslo Blog Gathering 2010 to meet up with bloggers from all over the world.

  40. Vamsee,
    The pictures have such riot of colors. But then I think we should give compliment to Saru ! :P

    I am also from Mumbai and to tell you the truth, I have seen more of other places than Mumbai. :-)

    Lovely pictues once again.


  41. W.O.W the pics are too amazing. I loooove flowers and looks like you had a great trip. Thank god! you started blogging again. I was missing your posts. I would visit your blog and then get disappointed. It was nice to see you blog again. Waiting to hear about the Himalayas trip from you.

  42. Vamsee,
    I hope you had a good Diwali, please accept my belated greetings as I've been travelling again. This time have set out to enjoy the Fall Colors...and from whatever little I've seen so far, it's beautiful!
    I love wildflowers, and thank you for this superb post with the Latin names and lovely pictures.
    - celine

  43. Allow me to comment on a small matter...
    Please note the Latin name of the 'species' (second name) should be in small letters (not capitals). For eg, Ceropagia oculata, Vigna vexillata etc.
    Indicaspecies was a botanist in a past life..hehe.
    I do appreciate your enthusiasm and effort to provide the information on this post.:)

  44. Beautifull photos, some of these landscapes look portuguese.

  45. Lovely post! The flowers are beautiful and the greenery is simply breathtaking! I am going to quiz Saru on all the names to see if he still remembers it :)

  46. Wow Beautiful pictures and excellent description with the latin names.Simply superb!

  47. Lovely description, Vamsee.Btw the plant you've asked about is a plumbago zeylanica or the white plumbago, also called chitrak in hindi. Well you're right on FB, it is actually a rambling shrub and a much valued medicinal. And there's a very pretty mauve ornamental variety available which you might have grown in your garden.Shweta got confused probably 'cause you thought it's an insectivorous plant.It does look in macro like the miniscule insectivorous Drosera because it has a calyx(green flower holding bit) which has soft sticky spines that vaguely resemble the tentacles of the drosera. Drosera tentacles are tipped with sparkling dots of sticky fluid to attract and trap insects.They are also called sundews for that reason and make for amazing macro pics..that's for the next trip!
    Had been reading your posts again after the latest on Dandeli, and it's thoroughly enjoyable writing, Vamsee.Keep it up!

  48. This Adesh guy sure is impressive...makes your posts all the more interesting to read. LOL@ Saru's aptitude for languages. Reminds me of the time a friend of mine responded with a "gracias" in France. LOL.