Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chadura Kalli

CHADURA KALLI (Euphorbia antiquorum) is a small tree, cactus like in appearance and has a rugged elegance about it. The stout triangular stems are green and jointed. The stipular spines are persistent, giving the plant an arrogant aloofness.
These plants hold sway in degraded Southern Tropical Deciduous Forests, falling under Champion and Seth's forest type, Euphorbia Scrub. Edaphic factors combined with excessive felling of tree growth and over grazing have reduced the deciduous forests to this scrub form, where Chadura Kalli naturally occurs.
Chadura Kalli is generally cultivated as a hedge plant and usually finds a place in the rockery part of a garden. It can also be kept as an indoor ornamental plant. It grows well when there is a layer of brick and charcoal pieces, on top of which sandy loam soil is spread. It needs no maintenance. Excess watering is to be avoided. Blue metal or pebbles can be spread around the feet of the stems to give it a natural look.
Genus Euphorbia is named after the physician to King Juba of Mauritania. It is a genus of 2,000 species of cosmopolitan distribution, differing enormously in habits and forms. All euphorbias give out poisonous, milky latex. The milk of Euphorbia antiquorum is taken as a purgative.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


SHEER BEAUTY and variety make the rose a special flower. Among all flowering plants, be it as a single spray or in a bouquet, it reigns supreme.
Rose garden
A rose garden was a prime feature of large grounds and among the popular varieties of yore are the sweet-scented `paneer' rose. It is mainly grown in the fertile Thanjavur delta. Its cousin is the cluster-petalled pale red rose. The nail pink Edward rose is also popular in South India and is able to withstand the heat.
Old shrub roses, musk roses, modern shrub roses, the peculiar viridiflora or green rose, floribundas, hybrid tea roses and climbing roses all do well in cooler climes, aided by frequent applications of rose mix and organic fertiliser.
Perennial enemy
Scale is a perennial enemy of the rose and regular spraying is essential for the plant's survival. Using a toothbrush dipped in water and scraping the stems gently can deal with initial attacks of scale.
Popular variety
White climbing roses do well in the city, given a semi-shady corner. Of all the roses that are grown, the most popular now are the tightly furled bud roses grown under controlled climatic conditions, largely because of the lucrative export market they enjoy. Common shades are pink, deep pink, red and white. The leafy, long-stalked flowers are tightly packed in bunches and sold in their prime. They last well in water for two to three days.
Commercial uses The rose has commercial uses too. It is used in the making of perfumes and in various food products such as gulkhand, rose water and rose essence. It is also decoratively used in salads.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aromatic weed : Lantana

YOU CAN smell out a Lantana camara (Common name: lantana) from quite a distance, literally. The fragrance of the flowers of this evergreen shrub from the tropics spreads far and wide, and attracts hordes of butterflies. Belonging to the Verbenaceae family, it is a shrub native to Central and South America. The shrub, which once grew on the fringes of forests, has now invaded interior areas, thanks to its ability to inhibit the growth of other plants. It is also widespread in the plains, growing almost everywhere without much effort.
The shrub, which grows to a height of two to five metres, has been cultivated for more than 300 years now and has hundreds of hybrids. The flowers sport brilliant colours. From yellow to pink to orange and flaming red, the plant is a multi-hued carpet.
Some tribes eat the fruits. The fleshy drupe is 3-6 mm in diameter and contains 1-2 seeds.
The fruits mature rapidly and change colour from dark green to black.
Its stems and leaves are covered with hairs and are rough in texture. This plant has a distinct smell. And a tendency to escape cultivation. Lantana has managed to survive for so long in the forest thanks to herbivores' dislike of them.
But, of late, cattle have learnt to thrive on their alkaloid-rich leaves, due to the dwindling grasslands in the forest. Since it tolerates shade, it has become the dominant undergrowth in open forests.
In homes, it is often used as an ornamental shrub, planted as hedges.
Lantana is regarded as a cosmopolitan weed. It also forms extensive, dense thickets in forestry plantations, orchards and wasteland.
In Indian sandalwood forests, the shrub competes with the tree crop as well as favours the spread of the sandal spike disease.
To raise it at home, plant a seed in a pot mixture of red soil, sand and manure. The hardy plant grows in all climes. The seeds are not available in shops, but you could ask someone visiting the hills to get you some.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sun Loving Plants

PORTULACA GRANDIFLORA, originally from Argentina and Brazil, are sun-loving herbaceous perennials. Flowers of the original plants are orange or purple but the hybrid varieties grown in gardens have yellow, white, pink, crimson, purple, scarlet and apricot coloured flowers. The double flowered varieties with carmine red, white, pink or light pink flowers are popular.
The succulent herbs with low spreading branches have cylindrical, pinkish leaves. Flowers bloom only when the sun is shining. The double flowers are 5 cm long with several layers of petals resembling a rose and hence the name Rose Moss Plant.
Stem cuttings readily develop roots. Seeds are produced. These are tiny and look like old iron filings. Seeds should be mixed with fine sand before being sown in seed pans and should not be buried too deep as it will prevent germination. The plant should be watered carefully.
Flowers of Portulaca grandiflora bloom by 9 a.m. and droop by afternoon. Because of its dependence on the sun for flowering, the plant is sometimes known as the Sun Plant. The plants grow well in a well-drained sandy soil. The Ross Moss plants have to be watered well, but being succulent, these plants decay during water stagnation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Boat Lily

AN ASSORTMENT of vivid plants can enliven the interiors. A delicate looking indoor plant that grows well even in warm Chennai or Hyderabad with an unexplained generic name Boat Lily, Rhoeo spathacea (Rhoea discolour), is a member of the family Commelinaceae. A native of Mexico, it was named Rhoeo by R.P.Hance a British botanist.
The specific name spathacea refers to the large bracts that enclose the flowers and discolouring explains the double colour nature of the leaves, dark green on the upper surface and purplish underneath.
The leaves are erect and lance shaped up to 25 cms long and 5 cms broad produced in conical rosettes, with flowers in boat shaped bracts found below the leaves. Owing to the shape of the bracts, the plant, although not a lily, is also known as the Boat Lily. The small white flowers are not showy but they present a curious appearance like a child peeping from its cradle and hence the common name `Moses-in-the-cradle'.
The leaves are fleshy and can easily be broken. The plant, thus being delicate, should be kept in a place where it will not be disturbed. . A semi shady, moist place will be ideal for the plant. In summer, the plant should be given more shade and water but water logging around the roots should be avoided.
Mature plants produce plenty of offshoots and they come in handy to propagate the plant. A loose compost mixture in which an extra amount of leaf mould is added will be ideal for the plant.
Rhoeo spathacea (Vittata) with yellow lengthwise stripes on the upper side of leaves with a red tinge is a variegated variety of the plant.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Peacock flower

PLANTING FLOWERING shrubs especially those that are always in flower is an easy way to make a garden colourful throughout the year.
One such useful shrub is Caesalpinea pulcherrima, which produces smaller Delonix regia or Gul Mohr-like orange-red flowers.
It is an ornamental shrub of medium height (3 to 3.5m) with occasional prickles. The leaf stalks are twice branched and the leaflets 1.5 cm long and of a pleasing green colour.
The plant bears flowers in large pagoda-like conical bunches on top of erect branches. The flowers have five clawed petals one of which is smaller and shaped differently. All the petals one of which is smaller and shaped differently. All the petals have crinkled edges. The stamens are scarlet and about five cm long. The petals turn dark and become scarlet with age. The plant gets the name `Peacock flower' from the closely arranged stamens that bear a fanciful resemblance to the crest of a peafowl.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima is believed to be a native of tropical America. The plant is also commonly known as `Barbados Pride'. Besides the orange-red type there is also a purely yellow flowered variety.
Though perennially blooming, the plant produces larger and more colourful flowers after the rains. The plant does well in a sunny situation.
The plant can be propagated through cuttings but it is mainly grown from seeds. Plenty of thin and long pods are produced each with ten or more seeds. The seeds germinate easily.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima is not very particular about the soil and thrives in any garden soil without much care.
Though an exotic one, the plant finds a place among our medicinal plants and infusion of the flowers is prescribed for asthma, bronchitis and malarial fevers.
Occasional watering and light trimming keeps the plant in good condition and shape. The shrub is suitable for hedging and as a colourful addition to the shrubbery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


THE BOAT-SHAPED flowers or the Heliconia are brick red with ends of lemon red and streaks of green. They hang glowing, as if lit by inner lamps, in strings of twin rows, alternately arranged on ruddy zig zag stalks, against a backdrop of dark green foliage.
Growing up to a height of ten to fifteen feet, the Heliconia plant looks like an overgrown canna. The oblong banana- like leaves, have characteristic long stalks. The plant is shallow-rooted and is grown from rhizomes, from which culms and festoons of flowers shoot out in a matter of months. The rhizome goes on multiplying and enlarging into a wide clump, holding 20-30 flowering shoots in two to three years. This tropical plant is native to the West Indies, Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala.
Said to have come from Peru to India, it is cultivated in gardens all over the sub-continent, and thrives on the plains of Sri Lanka and South India. Stray plants from the planters' gardens can be seen growing wild on the sunny sand banks in the Ouchterlony Valley of Gudalur in the Nilgiris.
Ample sunshine, well-drained soil and copious watering are all that the plant requires.
The plant is named after Mount Helicon in Greece. It is also known as wild plantain, Singapore banana, Chinese cracker and firebird.
The pendant flowers that seem to be on fire stay fresh for 20-25 days. New blooms continue to appear in succession, providing a round-the-year feeling of festivity.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Golden Globe : Echinocactus

THE ECHINOCACTUS grusonii is one of the most attractive of cacti; it grows huge and round with golden tubercles.
It is hardy, long-living, and can reach a diameter of one metre on maturity.
A small plant of one foot in diameter could be all of 10 years old. The needle sharp spines are a deep yellow and there is a golden woolly growth on top of the cacti. Small yellow flowers grow on mature specimens.
The plant's beautiful rotund form makes it
ideal for use in landscaping.
As with all cacti, the golden barrel too does well in full sun and a free draining soil.
Moderate watering on alternate days is advisable in summer, and perhaps only twice a week in winter.
A large pot is best, as the cactus can be allowed to grow undisturbed in it. Multiplication is by way of offsets from very mature plants.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bunny Ear Cactus

THE OPTUNTIAS or Bunny Ear cactus is one of the largest and most widely distributed groups of cacti, from Mexico. They vary a lot in shape and size. Optuntia microdasys is a very popular plant. This is a profusely branching species with many flattened oval segments each measuring up to 10-12 cm long, 4-6 cm wide and 1/2 cm thick. The segments are pale or mid-green and spineless, but the areoles, which are spaced close together over the surface of every segment, are golden yellow.
Optuntias do not have leaves in the usual sense, but small, soft textured cylindrical `leaves' sometimes appear on new growth. These soon shrivel and fall off.
In summer the plant produces pale yellow bowl-shaped flowers measuring about 4-5 cm across, often tinged with red or pink hue on the outer side, but these cannot be counted on. Optuntias do not flower indoors (in homes) but may grow very big in the wild and produce magnificent blooms. Optuntia needs as much direct sunlight as they can get throughout the year. Place them in sunny spots outdoors during the growing period. Use good porous garden soil mixed with coarse sand and peat. Re-pot annually. The prickliness of this plant makes this operation difficult. Wrap thick fold of newspaper around the plant to protect your hands.
Propagation is very simple. Remove a stem segment by cutting it with a knife. Allow the detached segment to dry for three days and then insert in the potting mixture. Optuntia is cultivated as a hedge plant and also to decorate gardens, particularly rockeries with large stones. As a houseplant, Optuntia can be kept small if planted in smaller pots.