Cat’s ears or Dew Grass? Which name do you prefer for the flower you see here. Colonials did not adopt local names for the flowers they saw in India but created their own fancies. Abhali (आभाली) is the common Marathi name for Cyanotis tuberosa, whose beautiful but tiny flower you can see here. I’d first seen this flower in the Kaas plateau a few years ago. There it was entangled in the bushes of the Karvi, and I could not see its leaves and base.
This year, on a slow drive between Malshej Ghat and Naneghat in the Sahyadris, a mere 4 hours’ drive from home, The Family spotted a lone plant growing by the side of the road. The camera I use for taking macros records interesting other information about the location. We were at 857 meters above sea level when I took these photos, the temperature was 27.2 Celsius, the air pressure was 919 hectoPascals, and it was the 25th of August, a dry but overcast day past the peak of a very heavy monsoon season. Most importantly, I could see the base of the plant, where the long leaves sprout from the tuber and the fact that the “flowering shoots are sub-erect” as Mayur Nandikar and Rajaram Gurav note in their 2014 paper revising the genus Cyanotis in India.
Their paper cleared up a confusion in the literature that had puzzled me earlier. In their revision of the genus, they note that Cyanotis tuberosa (Abhali, Sahyadri Dew Grass, Greater Cat’s Ears) is found only in peninsular India. Flowers which are similar in appearance elsewhere in India actually belong to different species. Nevertheless, there remains a confusion in the timing of the flowering across the Western Ghats. I saw it flowering in late August this year, and had photographed the flowers in October 2016 in Kaas. Around Bengaluru it is reported to flower significantly earlier. I’m waiting for someone to draw maps with iso-lines of its flowering season from across the Indian peninsula.
I’m not going to repeat all the things I’d found about this plant six years ago; if you are interested, you can read my earlier post. In these few years I’ve learnt a few things about plants. I noticed that the flower has six stamens, that hairy bracts enclose the flower (you can see a pair about to open up to let a flower bloom at the left end of the photo above). I’ve also learnt to take photo of the whole plant, after having failed to identify some because I concentrated only on the flower. So I not only saw the large lance shaped basal leaves, but also the smaller and rounder leaves on the flowering shoot, and that it grows on porous rocky soil. After a few years of taking photos of wildflowers, especially in the Sahyadris during monsoon, I’ve finally started taking baby steps towards really looking at what I see. Maybe one of these days I’ll have the patience to wait and see which pollinators come by the Abhali.