Poison anemone

I have been paying more attention to wild flowers since my trips to Kaas in the last couple of years. It took some time to identify the very ordinary looking flower that I saw on the grassy verge of a mountain path on the way to the Great Himalayan National Park. It is probably the ratanjot (Anemone obtusiloba). This turned out to be special in two ways. Firstly, it is mildly poisonous, since it contains an oil (called protoanemonin; such an inventive name!) which causes severe stomach irritation when eaten, and also local irritation if it touches the skin. I am happy not to be a compulsive sniffer of flowers. The Young Niece is not so careful, but this was growing so close to the ground that she didn’t stoop to examine it. In the perpetual arms race between plants and grazers, this anemone seems to have the upper hand now.

Secondly, it turns out to be extremely variable, with yellow, white or blue flowers. When I read this out, The Family asked “What causes the different colours in the flowers? Is it the soil?” A little searching led me to web sites on gardening which seem to indicate that the colours run true for plants. It is genes and not external factors which affect the colour. That’s a little bit like skin colour in humans. But the flowers seem to be even more variable than in colour; apparently they can be twice as large, or even change in shape somewhat. Since the plant grows across a wide altitude belt, from 2000 to 4500 meters, this seems to be a strategy to attract a very diverse set of pollinators. I was surprised to look at the photo and see that I captured one of these pollinators in the frame. It is a bee which is just enough out of focus for me not to be able to identify it.

But perhaps the biggest surprise to me was that the root of this plant is used in Himalayan home remedies. In Nepal it is mashed up and the paste is eaten to relieve coughs and colds. In the region of Kedarnath a decoction of the root is used as a cure for diarrhoea. I found a paper which investigated its effect on several common soil bacteria, and found that it inhibits the growth of several. This potentially useful plant has developed a defense against grazers, and seems to be surviving climate change till now. Sometimes in your travels you can come across unsung heroes.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. A beautiful flower, it looks very similar to the yellow wood anemone (sometimes called ‘buttercup’ anemone) we see in the Scottish Highlands ๐Ÿ™‚


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