close

Flowering Plants

OrobanchaceaeWestern Ghats

Christisonia tubulosa – The Magenta Ghost Flower

Christisonia tubulosa

Christisonia tubulosa

The Magenta Ghost Flower is a parasitic plant that is endemic to Southern Western Ghats, which means it is not found in any other part of the World. It grows as a root parasite and completely lacks leaves and chlorophyll. So, it solely depends upon other plants for nutritions and steals it from other plants.

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Angiosperms
Sub-Division:Eudicots
Class:Asterids
Order:Lamiales
Family:Orobanchaceae
Genus:Christisonia
Species:C. tubulosa

Habitat

Christisonia tubulosa is endemic to Anamalai Hills in the Southern Western Ghats. It is found in the Shola Forests of altitutes ranging from 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level.

Identification

It can be difficult or nearly impossible to find this plant if it is not in flowers. It grows as a parasite mainly on grasses in Evergreen forests and Shola forests. It mostly flowers during the monsoon season and one can spot these plants in the forest floor by a mere glimpse. It can be identified by the particularly bright colored flowers emerging from the forest floor.

The flower is tubular, white in color with bright magenta border. The interior of the flower will be bright yellow and the white stigma is prominently visible inside the flower.

Fleshy leafless parasitic herbs, 15-26 cm high. Stem scaly, simple or branched from the rootstock. Scales 2-3 mm long, ovate-lanceolate. Inflorescence terminal, lax racemes; pedicels 1-2.5 cm long. Calyx tubular; tube 0.8-1.2 cm long; lobes obtuse. Corolla funnel-shaped, purplish white; tube 2.5-4 cm long, 2-lipped, 5-lobbed; lobes orbicular, subequal, lower lip yellowish at throat. Stamens 4, didynamous, connivent in pairs; anthers 2-celled, 1 cell perfect, other sterile, spurred. Ovary 1-celled, ovules many; style slender; stigma peltate. Capsule 0.8-1.2 cm long, ovoid. Seeds many, minute, calyx tube persistent in fruits. – Eflora of India Website

First sight

The Magenta Ghost Flower was first found and described in 1835 by Robert Wight, a renowned British taxonomist who worked in South India. He was a Scottish surgeon in the East India Company, whose professional career was spent entirely in southern India, where his greatest achievements were in botany. As a taxonomist, he described 110 new genera and 1267 new species of flowering plants!

Later, George Gardner, who became the superintendent of the Peradeniya Garden in Sri Lanka, named the genus “Christisonia” after Sir Robert Christison, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh. He was also a school friend of Robert Wight.

More images 🙂

Continue Reading
Asteraceae

Sphagneticola trilobata – Creeping-Oxeyes

The creeping-oxeyes or Sphagneticola trilobata is native to Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. But these plants are distributed all over the world. They are widely grown in gardens as an ornamental plants and in the sidewalks as a ground cover. These are also called as Bay Biscayne creeping-oxeyeSingapore daisy, trailing daisy, and wedelia. It belongs to the sun-flower family.

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Angiosperms
Sub-Division:Eudicots
Class:Asterids
Order:Asterales
Family:Asteraceae
Genus:Sphagneticola
Species:S. trilobata

The synonyms for this plant are Complaya trilobata (L.) Strother, Silphium trilobatum L., Thelechitonia trilobata(L.) H.Rob. & Cuatrec., Wedelia carnosa Rich., Wedelia paludosa DC., Wedelia trilobata (L.) Hitchc. – Wikipedia.

Identification

It can be identified as a dense ground covering creeper. Wherever it grows, it covers up the ground thereby inhibiting other small herbs to take up place as they won’t receive sunlight.

Leaves

The leaves are compound and are trilobed (with three lobes) and are fleshy. The leaves would possess hairs on both anterior and posterior surfaces. The leaves are arranged in opposite decussate arrangement, serrate or irregularly toothed, and dark green above and lighter green below.

Flowers

The flowers are as axillary buds that originate from the axil of the leaves. The flowers are composite, small, yellow colored with multiple small flowerlets (about 8-13) in the center and are 6–15 mm in length. This is a common character of all the plants of Asteraceae! The corolla is 4-5 mm long.

 

Stem

The stem is rounded, up to 40 cm long. The stem is usually creeping on the ground but the flowering stems will seem to ascend from the ground for up to 10 – 20 cm. The stems are generally hairy with roots growing out of the nodes in the creeping stems.

Reproduction

Sphagneticola trilobata mainly reproduces by vegetatively. The plant bears multiple flowers but produces a fruit rarely. Even if seeds are produced, they would not be fertile to produce a new plant.

Invasive Species

This plant is listed in the IUCN’s List of the world’s 100 most invasive species. Since this plant has the capability of vegetative reproduction, it is so flexible to regenerate and grow in new environments. This plant spread all over the world as a plant for ground cover but soon became an invasive species. The plant shoots after trimming is disposed off in garden wastes and start growing in the places where the garbage is dumped. This creates a dense ground cover inhibiting the growth and development of the native plant species. So, several countries have marked it as invasive species.

It is a noxious weed in agricultural land, along roadsides urban waste places and other disturbed sites. It is also invasive along streams, canals, along the borders of mangrove swamps and in coastal vegetation. It is widespread as an invasive species on the Pacific Islands, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Especially, this plant is also banned from gardens in Florida, USA.

Continue Reading
Solanaceae

Nicotiana attenuata – A plant with amazing adaptations

Nicotiana attenuataNicotiana attenuata plant

The plant is also known as Wild tobacco or Coyote tobacco and is native to western North America and northern Mexico. These plants grow well in these regions. They are widely used for various medicinal purposes and for smoking by the Aborigines in North America.  Nicotiana attenuata has been recently studied by many plant biologists and chemists and the observations blew their mind which you’ll read here and get your mind blown!

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Angiosperms
Sub-division:Eudicots
Class:Asterids
Order:Solanales
Family:Solanaceae
Genus:Nicotiana
Species:N. attenuata

Morphology

The plant is a small annual herb that reaches a maximum height of 1 metre. It is sparsely haired and glandular. The leaves are arranged rosulate and are broader at the base and narrower towards the top. The leaves are petiolate. The flowers are long tubular about 2 to 3 centimeters in length and are greenish white. The leaves are borne in green and sharp sepals.

Usage

Nicotiana attenuata has been widely used by the native people for various medicinal purposes and smoking. They smoked this plant ceremoniously. The leaves of N. attenuata were picked, dried and greased.  After this, the leaves of bear berry plants are collected, dried and made into a powder. They smoked the leaves of N. attenuata mixed with the crushed dried bear berry leaves.

Now, here comes the interesting part!

The plant has a variety of defences against its enemies. First, it comes with its innate defence. The plant has high concentrations of nicotine which is poisonous to most of the animal and insect species. The nicotine is produced in the roots and accumulated in the leaves. This protects the plant from voracious herbivores and other insects. Nicotiana attenuata tobacco is found to contain as much as three times more nicotine concentration compared to normal tobacco plant.

hawk moth on nicotiana attenuataHawk Moths

The Hawk Moths are seriously important for the survival of this plant. This moth is an effective pollinator of the wild tobacco plant. The plant relies on this moth greatly for its pollination. The moths are generally nocturnal and so the plant blooms only during the nights in order to facilitate pollination by the moth. But, the cunning moth claims huge price from the plant for its services. As the moth visits each plant, it lays its eggs on it. The eggs then hatch into caterpillars and start devouring the plant. These little buggers are resistant to nicotine and start growing well on this plant.

Call for Help

The plant made a terrible decision by choosing these moths as its pollinator. But, its never too late to mend! The plant has a plan B to solve this issue. As the attack of the caterpillars increase, the plant releases volatile compounds in air. These volatile chemicals attract the bugs called Geocoris which feed on the caterpillars and eggs of the hawk moths. This chemical signal also induces other plants around it to release the same alarm signal. This is triggered by the oral secretions of the caterpillars.

Hawkmoth Caterpillars feeding on leaves.

Geocoris bugs feeding on eggs!

Geocoris bugs feeding on Caterpillars. YAY!

Sinister Lollipops!

Sometimes, friends may not be available for the plant at the right time or there may even be too much attack that the Geocoris bugs cannot handle. This time, the plant has a second plan. It gets ready to face the caterpillars itself! The caterpillars-feeding-trichomesplant secretes a juicy sweet liquid from its trichomes which are irresistible to the caterpillars and they readily consume the sweet liquid. The dumb caterpillars don’t know the sinister plans of the plant! They eat the nectar and they wiggle around in it and now the plan worked! The caterpillars all smell like nectar. This would now attracts more predators who have not noticed the plant’s previous call. The nectar has two purposes indeed. One is to make the caterpillars smell like delicious lemon pies to its enemies. The second is it contains a chemical enzyme that would slow down the caterpillars digestion, thereby reducing its metabolism. This in turn makes the caterpillar eat less and the plant would feel quite safe until the caterpillar becomes a prey to one of its predators!

nicotiana-attenuata-humming-birdA New Welcome Party!

The plant has worked so much to avert these caterpillars to save itself. A single Hawk Moth is able to lay an astounding 200 eggs and there would be a dozens of these moths visiting each plant. So much eggs would turn into a judgement day for the Wild Tobacco plant. When everything gets too bad that the plant cannot take more, it does not give up! It gives another big surprise by switching its pollinators. These plants are capable of switching their pollinators! The plant suddenly stops blooming at night and the flowers start blooming during the day. The flowers in the day attract Humming Birds which pollinate the flowers. The plant is capable of switching its flowering cycle from night to day in just 8 days.

Though the plant switches its pollinators to Humming Birds, it seems that Hawk Moths are a better choice for them. The plants again switch back to night flowering as they are rid of the caterpillars. But, all together this plant has some fascinating ways to live its life and teaches us to never give up as problems bug us like the caterpillars bug the plant.

Continue Reading
Sapotaceae

Mimusops elengi – The Bullet Wood Tree

Mimusops elengi

This is a tropical evergreen tree found mostly in south-eastern Asia and some parts of Northern Australia. It is known by different names, மகிழம் or வகுளம் in Tamil, Bullet Wood or Spanish Cherry in English. Mimusops elengi was quite popular in Tamil Nadu during the ancient times but are facing a decline nowadays.

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Angiosperms
Sub-Division:Eudicots
Class:Asterids
Order:Ericales
Family:Sapotaceae
Genus:Mimusops
Species:M. elengi

Identification

This is an evergreen tree that generally grows up to 16 meters in height rarely reaching 18 meters. The tree is called bullet wood because of its fruits that are bullet shaped. The leaves are dark-green, oval shaped with pointy ends. The buds originate as terminal buds in this tree.

The flowers are star shaped, white to sandal colored with strong fragrance. These flowers are known for their property of retaining their scent even after they dry! In India, the flowers are used to make garlands that decorate the women’s hair and also used to worship God.

The fruits are bullet shaped and are green while unripe. They get yellow as get ripe and become dark orange when fully ripe. The seeds are brown or dark brown.

Closeup of a flower

Unripe fruits

Tree with ripe flowers

Chemical constituents

The leaves, twigs, bark, seeds flowers and fruits contain several useful chemicals that are used in various ayurveda treatment methods. The Leaves contain sterols, reducing sugars and tannins, Roots: a steroidal saponin.  The Stem and Bark contain spinasterol and taraxerol, flowers, D-mannitol, beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterol- D-glycoside. The Seeds contain pentacyclic triterpene acids, mimusopic and mimusopsic acids.

Medicinal Uses

Mimusops elengi is useful in a variety of ways. Important medicinal uses are,

  • Tender twigs can be used to brush teeth.
  • The bark powder is used along with catechu and pomegranate bark powder in an ayurvedic tooth powder called “Vajradanti”.
  • The pulp of the fruit is used in curing chronic dysentery.
  • The leaves are used as antidote to snake-bite.
  • Tonic obtained from the bark is used as tonic, astringent, and to reduce fever.
  • Flowers are dried and used as a brain tonic.
  • The seeds are used as purgatives.
  • Dried powdered flowers are sniffed through nostrils could treat headache.
Continue Reading
Lamiaceae

Ocimum tenuiflorum – The Holy Basil

Ocimum tenuiflorum is an aromatic plant. It is known for its medicinal value and is widely used all-over India for various purposes. It is considered so sacred in India that people use to worship this plant.

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Angiosperms
Sub-Division:Eudicots
Class:Asterids
Order:Lamiales
Family:Lamiaceae
Genus:Ocimum
Species:O. tenuiflorum

Occurrence

The Tulsi or O. tenuiflorum is native to India and also grows well throughout the Indian Sub-Continent. It is also grown for various purposes in the South East Asian countries.

Chemical Composition

The main chemical constituents of Tusli are oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid, eugenol, carvacrol, linalool, β-caryophyllene, β-elemene, and germacrene D. Extracts of O. sanctum has some anti-bacterial properties against E. coli, S. aureus, P. aeruginosa.

Medicinal Value

Our ancestors knew about its value and so every home had this plant. They made tulsi as a worshipping thing as it would be planted in every house and temples atleast for worshipping. For this cause, It was considered a plant from then. Some of the benefits of tulsi are,

  • It is a best stress buster. Chewing Tulsi leaves or having tulsi tea can help control stress and anxiety.
  • There are a number of benefits in consuming tulsi leaves in empty stomach.
  • It is a best remedy for common cold, cough and asthma.
  • Tulsi leaf paste, neem paste, ginger powder and pepper powder can help reduce fever.
  • Consuming tulsi leave juice with honey can reduce obesity, kidney stones and also it detoxifies the blood.
  • Eating 4 to 5 Tulsi leaves in empty stomach every morning will cure all digestive tract problems.
  • Shade dried powdered tulsi leaves can be used to brush teeth which helps prevent Bleeding gums.
  • Putting in a few drops of tulsi juice in the eyes can help cure sore eyes and night blindness.

Nowadays, most of the houses never have tulsi plants. We must pass our ancestors’ knowledge to our future generations. This is relatively easy. This can be done by planting a tulsi in our homes.

Note

O. tenuiflorum and O. sanctum are morphophytes of the same species like the polymorphism of Jaguars and Panthers. Both plants exist in the same habitat but with slightly different appearance and functions. O. tenuiflorum is has purple colored leaves, stems, flowers while O. sanctuum is fully green!

This article provides knowledge about various Ocimum species – Click Here.

Continue Reading