Rangoon creepers and railway flowers

Clusters of the red and pink flowers of the Rangoon creeper (Combretum indicum) seem to be growing from every hedge and fence in our neighbourhood. They provide a little colour, even drenched in the continuous rain of this week.

I love the multiple names it has. In Hindi Madhumalti (corrupted to Madhumati in the many web sites on flowers which copy from each other) coexists with the beautiful name Ishq pehchaan. The name can change to Madhumanjari in Bengali and is quite uniquely Radha Manohar in Telugu. The variety of names could be indicative of the geographical origin. Madhumalti does come from the forests of India, east up to the Philippines, and north into southern China. It has a variety of names across this region: in Vietnamese, Malay, Thai, and the languages of the Philippines. The names are mostly quite local and not widely shared across languages. That leaves me with the puzzle: why Rangoon creeper?

But there’s also another puzzle I found when locating names in other Indian languages. Very closely related climbers (C. malabaricum and C. shivannae, among others) grow wild in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, so it is odd that the Marathi name for C. indicum is Vilayati Chembeli (which translates to “foreign Jasmine”). Interestingly, in the neighbouring Malayalam it has a simple name, Udani, but this is shared with Malay and Sumatran. An alternate name in Malayalam, Akar dani, is also shared with Malay. Could it be that Madhumalti does not grow wild in the western ghats, and was a late import in these parts? I’m sure a real field botanist would be able to tell me.

Another flower grows cheek by jowl with Madhumalti in my neighbourhood. That’s the morning glory which is called the Railroad flower (Ipomoea cairica). That’s a very apt name for a highly invasive weed which can easily smother other plants if allowed to grow unchecked. The plant spreads so easily that its aboriginal homeland cannot be located too well. It is believed to have originated in some place in Northern Africa or the Mediterranean, but perhaps even in some islands in the eastern Atlantic.

Looking at the photos I took in yesterday’s rain, I thought that the Railroad flower is easy to distinguish from other morning glories which are common across India. But one has to be careful. The spectacular colours of the Ipomoea indica, native to the West Indies, but widely seen across India, make it easy to tell apart. The oddly-named Bengal clock vine (so called because it is never seen to wind anti-clockwise around support) is perhaps the easiest to mistake for the Railway flower, until you realize that it has a yellowish-cream heart. I’m pretty fascinated by what botanists call the “vulgar names” of plants.

A surveyed garden

An act of the parliament in 1951 gave over a list of monuments for preservation to the Archaeological Survey of India. It has been doing this job pretty well for over half a century. Some years back it took upon itself the job of planting gardens around monuments. While this is a wonderful idea, it is executed in typical bureaucratic fashion: top-down without a thought to the local ecology. Dhar is one of the places where it is successful. In one particular property, about which I’ll write later, I was enchanted by the Rangoon creeper (Combretum indicum) whose vines had been planted along the fence to make a wonderful hedge. I grew up in houses where this flowering vine had taken over some corner of a garden. The flowers bud white, then turn successively pink and a pleasantly deep red over the next days. The woody vine is a good choice for a boundary fence, since it grows fairly fast and can be easily draped over a wire fence.

A wide lawn was being tended by a bunch of gardeners. The July rain was sufficient to keep it lush and green, although I suspect that in other seasons this is a water guzzler. Under a spreading kadam tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) I found mushrooms sprouting from the lawn. Mushrooms do not feature in my childhood memories; did I not see any, or did they just not make an impression? But with a camera in hand, I love the varied textures that they present. You can see a yellow kadam flower which has dropped on to one of the mushrooms. Unfortunately, I learnt about mushrooms only from supermarkets, so I give them a wide berth in the wild. Is this one of the poisonous false parasols or the edible parasol, or neither?

Two paces on a large mushroom had been uprooted. I took a closer look at the gills. If I were an expert this would have told me which mushroom I was looking at. I’m not an expert. The only interesting fact which I know about mushrooms is that a significantly large part of the mushroom grows underground, or inside rotten material. The buds which are visible in the form of parasols or brackets are just the fruiting bodies. The underground mycelium branch into this body, through the stalk, and are packed into the gills that you see above. Through these gills they release spores into the surroundings. A friend tells me of a spot in his garden where he finds morels year after year. That is because the underground mycelium remain after the umbrellas are harvested, and send up the fruiting bodies again the next year, to be collected again and eaten.