Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Summer sherbet : Mumbai's flowering trees

Summer hues brew a heady rainbow cocktail.
Leading the parade, straddling Spring and Summer, is the Indian Laburnum (Cassia fistula), so perfectly called Golden Showers. Its long drooping strings of cheery, sunshiny blooms on almost foliageless branches transform it into something King Midas must've surely dreamt up.

Yet another yellow, the Copper Pod or Yellow Poinciana (Peltophorum pterocarpum), soon blankets the trees. Lining miles and miles of Mumbai roads, these golden spires draw the eye up, turning it literally into a City of Gold.

The Curry Leaf plant is in bloom now too. White clusters of blooms with their slightly pungent scent have the butterlies flocking to them.

One of the prettiest trees of this season and one of my personal favourites, has to be the Pink Cassia (Cassia Grandis)!
I love those strawberry-icecream pink flowers smothering the bare tree, followed by the tender green leaves shortly after.

Don't the buds look pretty? The downy pink calyx almost pulls my fingers to touch it.

And just because I like it so much, here's one last photo . Dont you just love those varying shades ?

I've always been fascinated by the delicate pink and white flowers that stud the Rain Tree (Samanea saman ) . These powderpuff-like flowers feel so soft against the cheek that it was always a toss-up whether I liked the flowers more or the wide umbrella-like canopy topped with feathery leaves.
This is one of Mumbai's most common avenue trees and many a motorist out on its blistering hot roads in summer has blessed the relief of its cool shade .

Also colouring Mumbai right now is this flameburst which I spotted on an island while on a boat ride. Could it be Flame of the Forest or maybe the Coral Tree? I'm not sure, I was too far away to make out just which tree it is, but doesnt it look spectacular?

See what I mean? It looks almost as if the whole island was on fire!

Meanwhile, painting the roads right now is the latest entrant, and the city is awash with purple!

Pride of India (Lagerstromia speciosa), also called Queen's Flower or Queen's Crepe Myrtle is another of my favourite trees. The blue-green buds are just as pretty but they really come into their own with the crinkly-petalled blooms painting it in such vivid colours.

So, what's next? I'm getting greedy and I just can't wait to feast my eyes on the spectacular Gul Mohur (Delonix regia) which should be bursting on the scene in a couple of weeks.

(The first photo of the Laburnum was sent to me from Maryknoll, but all the others were taken by me in Mumbai )

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The colours of Summer

Nothing ... absolutely nothing ... paints the vibrant colours of Summer in Mumbai even a fraction as much as ...
Read more here

(This is not a full-fledged post but rather, a link to another post, 'Mumbai : The colours of Summer' at my India-a-h! blog. I thought a lot of my readers here would enjoy the post too. So I decided to cross-post it here ... or rather, to lead you to it. Hope you like it. And take it with a large pinch of adventure and with the spirit of Summer ! )

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A sensitive topic

Hush! Now here's something rather sensitive. Can you guess what this slightly pinecone-like thing will eventually turn into?

Okay, here's a closer look ... watch out for those thorns, though. They're among the meanest things I've ever come across... lethal weapons, indeed!
I love those first peeps of colour ... hot pink flashing through all that green!

Mimosa pudica, touch-me-not, sensitive plant, humble plant ... so many aliases for one tiny little plant!

Novelty plant or noxious weed, depending on where you garden.
In my part of the world, it has to be among the most stubborn, difficult-to-clear weed. Found almost all over coastal India, I've seen these little plants blanket just about every kind of terrain.

The feathery leaves that coyly fold up when touched, give it such a delicate, absolutely harmless appearance ( and its basketful of names).
Until one sticks a hand close to it ... ouch! All those wicked thorns can make you feel like you've been stabbed by a zillion stilletoes and had acid poured into the wounds!
Pity the poor gardener, then, who has to weed these deceptive weeds out of every garden patch only to helplessly watch just as many appear within days.

It was only after I moved to Mumbai where the mimosa seems to have been concreted out of existence, that I realised that maybe the mimosa does have its finer points ( I had always been too busy cursing it out for all the cuts and scrapes it gives anyone who gets too close, to see them) .
Such as, its soft, light as a wisp, powder-puff-like blooms. Imagine whole fields dotted with these candy-floss pink buttons set in feathery green ... see what I mean?
And those delicate-as-lace, quick-to-react leaves which give it the added attraction of being a plant which actually does something.

Which is probably why my 12-year old daughter, who after her first school trip to an organic farm, came home proudly brandishing her first plant purchase.
A Mimosa pudica!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guess who came to dinner?

Imagine you're hurriedly walking into an unused room and as soon as you open the door, you see this.
'This' was a harmless Rat Snake but the fright it gave me must surely be reverberating through the DNA of at least the coming 3 generations of my family!

Rewind : A couple of months ago a crew of painters and their hangers-on had taken over my house. The destruction they brought in their wake still has me tearing my hair out. In one particular bathroom they ended up cracking tilework and leaving big splotches of white cement trying to patch up more broken tiles. In retrospect, their finishing touch must've been pulling out the drain cover and then casually placing it back without bothering to cement it down.
In any case, the end result was that it looked so bad that we closed up that room till we find the time to fix it up again.

The other day, I remembered that I had to check on some stuff there and hurriedly went in. Only to realise that something was not quite right. And there to my left, just 2 feet away was this very scared Rat Snake, obviously thinking the same thing! He had climbed up on the sink and was literally trying to climb the wall.
I freaked out! Now I'm used to seeing snakes in the garden and actually enjoy it (from a safe distance) but I have never ever had one of them actually inside my house. I think I was more startled because it was so totally unexpected.

It didn't really register in my mind that it was only a harmless Rat Snake but all I could think at that moment was there's a snake in my house and that's crossing all lines that we've drawn down the years.
In all my years of living here, they've never done that but preferred to stay in the garden, chasing frogs or rats or whatever else took their fancy. And I've been thankful to them for that. But it has always been "you stay in your space and I'll stick to my space" between us. So why had that changed now?

The answer to that was a big frog lying near the drain. It had obviously come up through the loose drain cover and the snake had followed it in. I wonder what he thought of this strange new territory ...
Anyway, our helper came in armed with a long stick and flicked it down on to the floor near the drain. The speed with which it zipped back down that drain was amazing!

Poor little snake! He had come in looking for a nice quiet meal and all he got was gatecrashing humans!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Of tigers, crows and handmaidens

Tigers are frolicking all over my garden these days. Tiger butterflies, that is.
The hotter days and blooming trees in Mumbai have something to do with that I think. Everywhere I look there are trees in bloom and an attendant cloud of butterflies and other nectar-loving insects dancing around them. They act almost besotted with the heady summer fragrance. Can't blame them!

This gorgeous Blue Tiger butterfly refused to leave the lantana bush alone. I usually have to chase and stalk them all over the garden to get a half-way decent photo, but here they were, cosying up to the lantana blooms mindless of who else was around.

Could this be the reason why?

The Common Crows are making their presence felt too. But then, they are rarely shy and don't mind intrusive bloggerazzi following them around.

This tiny little butterfly hides one of the most brilliant blues I've ever seen within its wings. At rest, no one would give them a second glance but like the other butterflies of the Lycaenid or Blues family, their flight is punctuated by brilliant flashes of the most vibrant blue from the upper part of their wing which is usually folded and hidden away.
Almost like butterfly Morse code!

Another Tiger, the Striped Tiger butterfly, loves the banana grove. I love its tiger-y colours and I can see where it got its name, can't you? What a contrast in their personalities though!
Isn't it amazing how much it resembles the Monarch butterfly?

I found this Striped Tiger hanging around the cashew tree which is in full bloom now. I've always considered the cashew flowers no great shakes in the looks department but the butterflies are mad about them. True butterfly magnets!

The cashew blooms also attracted this stunning Handmaiden Moth which has to be the most impossibly colourful creature I've ever seen.

Don't believe me? Take a look at her close up. And keep in mind that the camera couldn't capture the deep jewel reds and blues which look a bit faded here. This is one creature that makes you gasp in awe. And makes me thank my lucky stars that I have them around in my garden.

So were these butterflies the prototype for some of the most beautiful flowers? Or is it the other way around?