It feels odd to slip into a piece on unknown wildflowers of the Sahyadris with a the very common and widespread weed, lantana. They were introduced into India during the British period, escaped, and have now become great butterfly magnets. This species, the Lantana camara, is identifiable by the colours which give it its common name, Spanish flag lantana. As children we would pick the ripe black berries on these bushes and eat them by fistfuls.
But immediately after that I jump to species that I do not know. The Sahyadris are under constant surveillance by botanists and wildlife experts, so I’m sure that these species can be easily named by many. Unfortunately, I’m not a member of that smart set. Ingalhalikar’s three volume Flowers of Sahyadri is extensive, but unfortunately not useful as a field guide. So, all you trekkers, and amateur naturalists out there, I need your help with identification and suggestions for field guides.
Our gardeners have decided to put in beds of lantana and tuberoses in a sunny patch at the back of the building. Late in the morning this is a magnet for butterflies. For a few days now I’ve been waiting for the scaly-winged fliers after 10 in the morning.
In an earlier post I’d described how hard it is to take a photo of a tailed Jay (Graphium agamemnon). This attractive flier, with bright green spots on a dark background is so active that you can barely ever get it sitting on a flower. When it settles for a few seconds, its wings move too fast to capture in detail. Now I decided to change my strategy and catch it in flight just before it descends on flowers. I focused on a bunch of flowers and waited for it to descend. The braking maneuver as it lands makes it slow its wing beats. In this bright sunlight I could get a few clear shots, as you can see here. I’m happy to have this new technique under my belt. I’ll have to work on it.
Another common visitor in this patch is the very common skipper called a small branded swift (Pelopidas mathias). It prefers tuberoses to lantana; must be something to do with the anatomy of its proboscis. The caterpillar of this species is one of the major pests which feed on rice (a few of these otherwise unrelated species are rolled into a group called rice leaf bundlers, for their habit of rolling leaves into a bundle before feeding). I wonder which of the garden plants they feed on.
The common baron (Euthalia aconthea) is another butterfly I saw here often. It is pretty nondescript when you see it in the shade, the colour of dust with marked out in grey soot. Here, in the bright sun, it glows with colour, the brown and olive markings coming alive with brightness. I suppose its caterpillars and pupae must infest the mango tree around the corner of the building.
The soil of Munnar seems particularly fertile: fruits and vegetables grow very well, as does tea. Weeds which take root in pretty inhospitable soil all over the country do extremely well here. One extremely visible example is morning glory. I see it struggling to keep alive in empty concreted lots in Mumbai. Here it takes over everything. We drove through a forest where morning glory was beginning to suffocate a whole stand of trees (featured photo).
Elsewhere it is even trying to suffocate Lantana. That’s as tiring as seeing Iron Man and Captain America slogging it out.