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!
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!
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.
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.