Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A walk on the wild side

So I found myself a new orchid. Found growing in the wilderness that adjoins my vegetable patch while it's lying fallow, waiting for the next lot of seeds to burst into life. Isn't it beautiful?

And then there was this beauty. I really fell for its bell-like shape and clusters of flowers...
ummmm..... hold on a minute! Can we re-wind please?

Oooops! Sorry ... okay, I exagerated a bit (a lot?) . That first photo, like the second, is not of any exotic garden bloom. They're common wildflowers ! They spring up all over the place here in Mumbai and are religiously weeded out.
Pity!
If they were just a bit bigger and a lot tougher to grow, I think they would've found their way into every gardener's wish-list.
As it is, the poor Lindernia crustacea (first and third photos) has been relegated to a wannabe status. As pretty as any orchid ... if only someone would look at it long enough to realise it.
And the pretty pink Boerhavia diffusa has been burdened with the most unfortunate tags of 'pigweed' and 'horse purslane'. Have you ever heard of anything more unfair?

Some wildflowers are lucky. Like the lantana. Pretty, a riot of colours and big enough to flaunt it. And the birds and butterflies love it too. Which more or less guarantees it a ticket to any garden, don't you think?

Then there is this very pretty blue flower which looks so much like a Skyblue Clustervine.

But while the Skyblue clustervine reaches for the skies and billows over fences, this little look-alike carpets the ground with tiny blue dots. Perfect groundcover!
During the monsoons, this is one of the plants I rely on to hold on to the little bit of soil I have in my garden before it is all washed away. Who cares if it is wild or even a weed (*gasp!*) so long as it's helping me out and looking so pretty while doing it!

And meet Cinderella. I don't know how and why this little wildflower came to be called the Cinderella weed but Synedrella nodiflora has to be one of the most commonly seen wildflowers in Mumbai's concrete jungle.
Incidentally, cinderella seems to have hitch-hiked all the way here from tropical America. One of the original hippies? The pumpkin coach seems to have been dumped long ago anyway.

This flame-red Ixora is native to Mumbai. I've seen it growing wild all over the place on my way home.

And of course, they force their way up from small cracks between rocks. Which looks quite spectacular considering that everything else refuses to grow there. The contrast bewteen the grey-black stone and the fiery blooms have to be seen to be truly appreciated. I quite like their pointy-shaped buds too.

Which brings me back to wondering ... when does a weed stop being a weed and get appreciated as a garden flower? Is it when they are big enough to be in your face, instead of slightly shy with teeny-tiny blooms ?
Or is it when they become too tough to grow? Maybe in another Hardiness Zone?
I've seen photos of what gardeners from other countries call weeds. Believe me, there are more than a few that I would love to have growing in my garden.
Just as I'm sure that this Vernonia cineraria below must be intriguing for some gardeners out there. Just don't tell them it's a weed here.

39 comments:

  1. what a co-incidence..i just posted before an hour about orchids and plants in a mumbai store...and now iam seeing here mumbai plants....:)

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  2. I think coincidences abound in blog-land, Deepa. Maybe it's got something to do with like minds :)

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  3. What beautiful wildflowers. I so agree that these are worthy of cultivation. My favorite flower - ever - is the dandelion. I know most here think it a pest but it has so much to recommend it...like your beauties.
    BTW, I wonder if the Cinderella weed isn't named by corrupting the Latin name.

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  4. Oh my gosh, Sunita! All the Vernonias I've seen are purple. This soft pink variety is FABULOUS. ...Original hippies, LOL. I like your wit.

    I think plants become weeds when they lose their manners, bully their neighbors and refuse to stay in their alloted space. It doesn't matter if it's grass or flower or what. It has to follow the rules of good garden etiquitte or else it's a weed and it's gone. :)

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  5. Hi Sunita,
    I enjoyed reading what you said about when plants are considered to be weeds. Not all wild flowers are weeds, but not all weeds are wildflowers. I like what Grace said.

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  6. Stephanie, I think you're right, the name must have been derived from the latin version. Still it is nice to spin a little fairy tale in my mind about it ;)
    I've been fascinated by dandelions ever since I fell under the spell of books written by British children's writers years ago. Even the name sounds so intriguing.

    Grace, your theory had me in splits!I was actually picturing some of these weeds walking up to a dainty garden flower and bullying them. And you know what? it fits! :D

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  7. Hi Sunita, thanks for this thought provoking post. We have been wondering exactly the same thing lately. What we originally thought were weeds here, including vernonia! have turned out to be fabulous natives. As formerly known as weeds are allowed to grow and flower so they can be identified, finding if they are native, beloved by pollinators or useful in some other way seems to help them jump the gap from weed to wanted. :-)
    Frances

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  8. A weed becomes a treasured garden plant when someone hybridizes it, slaps a astronomical price tag on it and labels it as "rare"....and then ships it out of country. :)

    A friend of mine says that plants are weeds if they are in the wrong place...which I suppose is the same as a previous commentator said...

    A friend of mine went to a allergist who happened to be Indian (she's Canadian). He said "Well, all I can find that you are allergic to are dan-dill-ions. His accent made my friend who pronounces it the North American way as Dandy-lions burst into hysterics after she figured out what he was saying.

    Of course, I am famous for putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong SYL-able.

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  9. The last weed blooms are one of my favourites! To photograph, I mean. And they come in a range of colours! And those blue blooms do resemble the skyblue clustervine. A walk on the wild side is always interesting. Great set of (weed) blooms here.

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  10. Sue, you're absolutely right about the "all wildflowers are not weeds" . I wish some of them were as tough and persistent as weeds, though. I think that's another quality ... sheer stubborn persistence.

    Frances, you're right. Several of these plants are nectar-sources for butterflies or act as host plants for the caterpillars. Some of them even have medicinal qualities and plants like the lantana even have other uses. Did you know that locals burn lantana leaves to drive away mosquitoes? That definitely makes it a much desired plant in these parts, believe me!

    Lisa, that part about the astronomical price tag and shipping out of the country is so true!
    I guess most of us expect garden plants to be a little difficult and the sheer toughness of weeds throws us a bit. After all, if they're so independent then they dont need us, do they?
    Your anecdote about pronounciations had me smiling. I think that's what troubles most English-speaking people in India. Most are grammar-perfect but then they hear conflicting versions of pronounciation (British vs. American vs. our own hundreds of regional versions)and that really makes us stumble.

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  11. Kanak, they are pretty, arent they? And the butterflies seem to like them too. That makes them doubly interesting :)

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  12. Sunita, so there you go showing us photos of beautiful blossoms while we are coming out of an ice age here in the Pacific northwest. ;) only joking of course. Thank you for warming our day.

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  13. Di, believe me, I'll be dreaming of your icy Pacific north-west when Summer hits us with a vengeance ;)

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  14. HI Sunita, Sorry it's been a while :) A weed is only a weed to the person who doesn't like it. My husband and I have had arguments on more than one occasion about whether I was planting flowers or weeds. Guess who won?

    Jessica

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  15. Oh, they are all so pretty! I don't quite understand what qualifies as a wildflower. Are they weeds that have flowers? Sorry for my utter ignorance here!

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  16. So often there are jewels right in front of us that we fail to see... your lovely wildflowers are important for nectar and holding the ground. Their beauty too warrants their respect and entrance to every garden. A great lesson for us all Sunita! How lovely too ... to see them growing wild... hardly "weeds".

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  17. Hi Jessica! Its great seeing you here again. I like your theory of what makes a weed :D
    And I suppose deciding which plants are weeds depends on who is doing the weeding ;D

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  18. Kamini, I agree. They're pretty enough to be garden flowers aren't they?
    Flowers of plants that grow wild or uncultivated, untampered by human interfence or hybridisation, and usually (but not necessarily) native to a particular area are called wildflowers. Some wildflowers do end up as garden plants after a bit of meddling and tweaking by us humans.
    This is my way of looking at it : when a plant grows on the wrong side of the nursery / garden fence it's a wildflower. When it starts taking over the place it becomes a weed. But when it acts difficult and refuses to grow without a lot of hard work on our part, it becomes a garden plant ;D

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  19. My thoughts exactly, Carol! My only regret is that it took me so long to discover just how pretty these 'weeds' can be too. And I love the way butterflies flock to them. I'm being slightly selfish here, but I'd rather the caterpillars eat a weed rather than my prized garden blooms!

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  20. thanks for the additional info on orchids..that was gr8...

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  21. One man's weed is another man's herb.....ha ha..... A weed is defined as a plant growing in the wrong place. Most plants started out as a weeds until plant nurseries started selling them and suddenly they became more dignified. Hmmn Reminds me of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, who was a street urchin and became a lady when taught some manners and given new clothes and a new hairdo. Love your weedy wild side Sunita!

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  22. You're welcome, Deepa :)

    Love the comparison, Helen! :D Maybe my weeds need to find their Prof. Higgins!

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  23. Sunita, I like the fact that you even can name the wildflowers and/or weeds. A weed to one person may be a lovely flower/wildflower to another. Just as one man's meat is another man's poison. Weeds are real survivors. Even pests and bugs and the weather can't kill them.

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  24. Thanks, Autumn Belle, but naming them is not so tough with the talents of the internet search engines at our disposal.
    I do agree about the survival instincts of weeds. Now if there was some way we could teach our garden plants to acquire some of that ...

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  25. i totally agree with" talent of internet search engines"...it throws the world before you..

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  26. We tend to think of the term "hardiness" as plants that tolerate the cold( at least here in temperate and northern climes). But I remember how impressed I was in Singapore by the tough little plants thriving in the gritty soil at the side of the roads in blistering heat. So I think from now on I'm going to use the terms "cold hardy' and Heat hardy".

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  27. Absolutely, Deepa :)

    I totally agree, Barry. It does lead to a bit of confusion when someone like me, who lives outside the temperate zone, tries to make sense of gardening books. Which incidentally are mostly written by those living / gardening in temperate climates. I wish more books were available for tropical gardeners.

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  28. Sunita, Are you familiar with the books by Made Wijaya? He's a Bali-based Australian garden designer of tropical gardens. The one I have is titled "Tropical Garden Design" ISBN 981-3018-78-X

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  29. Barry, I havent read that book or even heard of Mr. Wijaya before. Thanks for telling me about him and his books. That's one for my wishlist. As you can imagine Mumbai with its space-crunch doesnt find much use for books on gardening. But I'm definitely going to place an order for this one. You've really got me intrigued.

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  30. Hi Sunita, Checking the Made Wijaya book. I see there are several references to India, mostly in Chennai, Kolkata and Goa. Also many references to Geoffrey Bawa

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  31. Barry, you're making me almost impatient to get my hands on this book.
    I've seen photos of Geoffrey Bawa's garden at Lunuganga. It's so amazingly beautiful in a tranquil, pull-at-your-heartstrings way. sigh! I think I much prefer his style of garden design to the rigid style seen in so many other gardens. Maybe some day I can go to Sri Lanka and visit his garden (yeah, another dream for the year )

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  32. Sunita,
    One more comment on climate etc. I'm leaving on Sunday for a week in St. Lucia. Leaving the cold and snow of Toronto for the balmy Caribbean. I hope to post some pictures when I return. Happy New Year!

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  33. Fantastic! Have a great holiday, Barry.

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  34. sunita, i think the little blue beauties are the evolvulus alsinoides - the slender dwarf morning glory - check this out -
    http://ringsofsilverpv.blogspot.com/search/label/slender%20dwarf%20morning%20glory%20%28evolvulus%20alsinoides%29

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  35. I completely share your love and appreciation of these little gems that Mother Nature provides, totally free of charge and needing no care, except to be removed if they get too ambitious :)
    Yes, they're very beautiful!

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  36. Arati, thank you so much for the tip. I would've never made the connection on my own. Its leaves are so unlike that of the morning glories I've seen. Thanks!

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  37. Kerri, that part about their 'ambitious' nature really brought a smile to me. But it's so true, isn't it? :)

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  38. Sunita,

    A gardening enthusiast and a nature lover myself, read your blog for the first time.Just loved it.

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  39. Thank you, Plantsmagic :) And now that you've found your way here, I hope you'll keep checking in often.

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