A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit~ Elton Trueblood
Last Saturday was marked by a memorable nature trail to the Nagla Block of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The Nagla block is at the north of the Park and is a relatively less explored portion of the Park. I was very excited about the trail and going by the various blogs online, I had hoped to see lots of Spiders and Geckos and Snakes and if I got lucky, even the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher.
Nature however had its own plans, as it often does and instead of the fauna, I ended up learning wondrous facts about the flora of the region. The Nagla Block has unique mix of semi-deciduous and mangrove scrub forest. The advent of the monsoons had the forest buzzing with new life, both floral and faunal. The Ephemerals had awoken from their year long slumber to make the most of the rains. The caterpillars could be seen hungrily chomping on their food plants. The Red Silk Cotton Bugs could be seen everywhere scurrying about their business and various mushrooms and fungi had made an appearance.
To most of us, Plants generally come across only as a side attraction on nature trails and they are usually remembered for their medicinal and economical uses. And this stands to reason, as the complexities about a plant and its bodily functions and processes can be understood only if one studied them over a period of time. A day in the forest is hardly enough to know anything more about them than their names.
Luckily for us, Hemanth Tripathi, who understands the mysterious and amazing green world was with us and shared some very interesting things about the flora.
It is quite remarkable to know that every plant has its own fascinating mechanism for attracting its pollinators and thus reproducing.
Here are exciting facts about some of the plant species that we saw at Nagla Block.
1. Common Name: Dragon Stalk Yam
Scientific Name: Amorphophallus commutatus
Family: Arum, Araceae
Local Name: Jungli Suran
Marathi Name: Shevla
This is an Ephemeral plant. Ephemeral plants are those that that have a short life cycle timed to exploit a short period when resources are freely available. The flower of this plant appears just before the monsoons and the leaf appears with the rains. The leaf lasts one growing season. The Flowers have an unpleasant odour which attracts flies for pollination.
You can see in the pictures below that, these species develop an inflorescence consisting of an elongate or ovate spathe (a sheathing bract) which usually envelops the spadix (a flower spike with a fleshy axis). The spathe can have different colors, but mostly brownish-purple or whitish-green. On the inside, they contain ridges or warts, functioning as insect traps.
The spadix has tiny flowers: female flowers at the bottom, then male flowers, actually a group of stamens, and then a blank sterile area. This last part, called ‘the appendix’, consists of sterile flowers, called staminodes, and can be especially large. In the below picture you can see the male and female flowers where the inflorescence has been cut off giving a view of the inner section.
Once the spathe opens, pollination must happen the same day. Through a number of ingenious insect traps, pollinating insects are kept inside the spathe to deposit pollen on the female flowers, which stay receptive for only one day, while the male flowers are still closed. These open the next day, but by then the female flowers are no longer receptive and so self-pollination is avoided. The male flowers shower the trapped insects with pollen. Once the insects escape, they can then pollinate another flower. The pollinated flowers then develop a roundish berry as a fruit.
2. Common Name: Broken Bones Tree, Indian Trumpet Flower, Tree of Damocles, Midnight Horror.
Scientific Name: Oroxylum indicum
Local Name: Bhut Vruksha
Marathi Name: Tetu
The Sword of Damocles tree is so called because of the large hanging sword like seed pods, which range from 40 to 120 cm long. It is a well-known medicinal tree, with all parts of the tree being used in some way.
The most interesting thing about this tree is that it is pollinated by bats. In order to facilitate pollination, the flowers are large and thick, considering the size of the bats. They are reddish- purple outside and pale, pinkish-yellow within. Also they bloom in the evening owing to the nocturnal nature of their pollinators and drop off shortly after midnight, while its stigma is highly sensitive, and quickly close upon being touched.
Oroxylum Indica is self incompatible, which means that the pollen of a plant is unable to develop a pollen tube at the stigma of the same plant, while pollen of another plant of the same species does fertilize the plant.
There is a lot more that we saw at Nagla that day but it will be continued in the next post. ..