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PLECTRANTHUS


As you drive up from Shenbaganur to Kodaikanal, or go from Naidupuram towards Vilpatti, you sometimes glimpse spikes of blue-purple

flowers, sometimes erect, sometimes bending down, which remind you of coleus flowers. You wonder if they are coleus, grown much taller than the pot plants we know of coleus, because they are growing wild. Well, you would’nt be far wrong. These plants belong to the same family as coleus- Labiatae or Lamiaceae as is the new name- and are called ‘plectranthus’. The name derives from the Greek ‘plectron’ meaning ‘spur’ and ‘anthos’ meaning flower, in reference to the base of the corolla tube of the flower, so they are also called ‘Spur-flowers’. This is a genus of about 250 species of evergreen perennial herbaceous plants, sub-shrubs and shrubs, which are natives of a wide area from tropical Africa to Japan, Malaysia, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and our own hills. Many are very aromatic, so growing a plant or two in your garden will bring you whiffs of a clean, spicy fragrance. Several species are grown as ornamental plants, as leaf plants, as root vegetables for their edible tubers or as medicines.

Our native plectranthus is called P.bourneae, named for Mr. Bourne, who, with his wife, Lady Bourne, so extensively botanised our hills. This is a well branched compact shrub with lilac flowers, found in the Upper Palnis, at 2000 metres altitude, like Pambar Shola and Poombarai slopes. Their flowering period is from January to April. This has become an endangered plant, and critically requires conservation.

The other plectranthus species we find on our hills are P. amboinicus, P. barbatus, P. caninus, P. deccanicus, P. malabaricus and P. mollis.

Surprisingly, P.amboinicus is found round the world under different names – Cuban oregano, Spanish thyme, Indian borage, Mexican thyme or Mexican mint and is a tender fleshy perennial plant , with an oregano like flavour and fragrance. Also called Coleus amboinicus or Coleus aromaticus it is a succulent herb with pink to purplish flowers , in peak during November to April and found in our foothills up to 1200 metres height in rocky ground and abundantly grown near households. Called ‘omavalli’ in Tamil, because the scent is like that of omam or ajwain (Hindi).

P.barbatus grows in the mid-Palnis from 900 to 2050 metres on bare slopes by rock edges and is very common. It is a gregarious and hirsute herb, with purplish to violet flowers which bloom through the year.

P. caninus is a faintly aromatic shrub, and you can see occasional clumps in the foothills jungles on rocky ground, and it flowers in February.

P.deccanicus, also fairly common by the wayside and on shola borders from 1200 to 2100 metres altitude has violet flowers which bloom from March to June. As the name suggests it is widely seen in peninsular India.

P.malabaricus is a gregarious succulent characteristically seen on shola floors in deep shade, in marshy ground often by stream banks and is locally abundant in heights of 1400 to 2400 metres. The purplish flowers bloom in August /September and again in November to February. This too, as the name suggests grows in the peninsular area.

P.mollis with bluish flowers grows by the roadside in regions of 900 to 1100 metres on our hills.

Among the hybrid plectranthes available in nurseries in the West, there are variegated varieties as also one called ‘The Vicks Plant Plectranthus’, which is highly fragrant and smells just like the ‘stuff your mother put on your chest when you had a bad cold’ as a catalogue says!!.


- By. Girija Viraraghavan

Passionflower

This Article is taken from The Friendly Post of Kodaikanal Edition - Oct -07


I am sure you would have seen the pink passionflower creeper which has, over the last few years, become very common in Kodai gardens. Common it may be, but its is still beautiful, this ‘Banana Passionflower’ as it is called, the botanical name being passiflora mollisima, with its clear pink single flowers hanging down fully open with equally clear yellow stamens. Though tedious to make ( you have to strain all the innumerable seeds) the banana shaped fruits make a delicious drink and squash.

This passionflower belongs to the passifloranceae botanical family, and this genus, while being mostly found in South America, has some representatives in Australasia too. And our hills boats of one species called ( naturally !!) passiflora leschenaltii, commonly called ‘Moon Passionflower’. The local name is ‘serapottu’. In the planins passionflower is called ‘kovayanku’. Our species has large, pretty, rounded leaces which are use medicinally by the hill folk. The flowers are creamy white, five petalled, with manve to purple centers. Peak flowering of this species is from December to March. Usually found on the outer trees of a shoal forest.

The name ‘passiflora’ is derived from the Latin ‘passis’ meaning suffering, and ‘flos’ meaning flower. The Spanish Roman Catholic priests arriving in the newly colonised South America, found in the plants which, as I said are principally natives of South America, features which they regarded as symbols of the Crucifixion- hence ‘ passiflorancea’.

There about 500 species in this genus, and some, like P.antiquinensis, P.coerulea , (both red flowered ) and P.quadrangularis, which is called ‘Granadilla Vine’ (red and purple) and P.vitifolia ( orange) are strikingly beautiful.

Surprisingly, many years ago, while traveling up by bus from Kodaikanal Road, I saw, just before where the Toll Post at Silver Cascade is now located, the red P. coerulea on a tree. I came back to check it out and collect the seeds. Searching through Fr. K. M. Matthew ‘s ‘The Flora of the palni hills’ I found that ahe called it a ‘ profusely branched twine’ found at Shenbaganur College at 1800 meters, though it is a native of South America, from Brazil to Argentina. Obviously someone would have brought seeds from elsewhere and grown it and it became, in time, a ‘ garden escape’. I was able to successfully grow seedlings. It has lovely red, large, flat flowers, hanging down.

All passifloras are slender. But strong vigorous growing tender tendril- bearing climbers with vine shaped leaves. They need a strong arch or pergola. If you allow them up a tree, you can certainly see and admire the flowers, but collecting the fruits will be dicey. The plants need to be pruned annually as they are quick growing climbers and will clamber all over the structure or tree and they will get out of hand if not kept in check regularly.

In our hills, apart from P. leschenaultia, we have P. mollisima ( pink flowered, the banana passionflower) and also P. edulis and P. calcarata.

P. edulis though a native of Brazil, has gone wild below Kodaikanal and has plenty of very edible fruits, round and green, good for jams and squashes. The flowers are white with purple filaments.

P. calcarata, called the Madagascar Passionflower has small white flower with green midribs. Also a garden escape it is found more in the Ooty hills.

Do find a place for at least one passiflora in your garden, you will not regret the planting, It is trouble free and all that you have to do is to mercilessly prune it every year and of course collect the fruits to make juice which, I admit, can be an exasperating procedure separating the fleshy parts of the fruit from unbelievable numbers of seeds !!! But well worth the effort your guests will assure you.


- By. Girija Viraraghavan