Journey towards Wildflowers


Inside the group of natural world observers, some people observe birds, others butterflies, some dragonflies, some look for fishes and in our case , we observe wildflowers. When we say wildflowers we mean the one’s in the wild or in other words not in a garden. We saw the difference between the two as the difference between a city and a forest. We just liked the idea that flowers need not be there just to please a human’s eye.

memecylum edule ,chennai ,wildflower

In and around the scrub forests that was originally Chennai, a shrub flowers profusely every season after the rains. Memecylum edule is a beautiful flower with  pleasant smell. If you spot this don’t forget to smell it.

As a couple we had a common thing going , inherently we were against plucking flowers. We felt flowers are more in place in the plants rather than on heads or on the feet of god. We saw the life that surrounds the flower , like the bees and butterflies and felt that we should never indulge plucking. Over the period of years we have even gotten into fights with others on this. This was way before we started noticing the different road side flowers, which really started our journey.

birdsfoot trefoil, mathi, wildflower

Open places with little grazing by domestic animals shows what really the land will look like. A carpet of flowers will soon engulf the area.

Even in a highly urbanized place like Chennai, the roadside is full of plant life. Not on mount road but the residential areas of Chennai. From where we stayed initially we could take walks to shops and along the way we started noticing flowers on the road side. Slowly we progressed from the big one’s to the small one’s. If an urbanized area like Chennai can provide so much variety then how many are they in the wild ?

Devil's Claws flower , wild flower, chennai

Devil’s Claws flower is commonly found around Chennai. This beautiful flower is now left to the garbage dumps and sewage canals.

Around about the same time we were actively photographing all kinds of butterflies. One time in ECR, along the road side we saw a huge patch of buttercup flowers. We stopped to take a picture and only then found the entire area buzzing with activity. Tawny coster butterfly was busy feeding on its flowers whereas the caterpillar was feeding on it’s leaves. Even though it was on a roadside on a hot Chennai day, we were super excited on seeing the flowers and the associated life.

White alder , Turnera subulata , Chennai , roadside

Originally from Brazil , this flower has now found its place on the road sides of Outer Chennai.

If we can pinpoint any one moment that pushed us in our quest for wildflowers then it should be it because it was the first time we started searching for name of the flower. We subsequently found that the flower is not from India and thus got introduced us to the concept of native and invasive species. Similarly one thing led to another and now we tend to identify most of the flowers we see to the family level and in several cases the species itself. We are not a botanist or zoologist but we learnt a lot. It was just curiosity and amazement that pushed us.

Murdannia striatipetala , Striped Dewflower , rare flower , chennai

Possibly our best find so far. Murdannia striatipetala / Striped Dewflower is a rare plant which we found near chengalpet. When we found it we did not know it was a rare species. We searched for the flower name and we could not find any. One day when casually reading a news paper archive there was an article that a rare flower was spotted after a gap of 100 years and there it was …Our flower. Another person had spotted the flower in Redhills , Chennai. We were so happy and so sad because such a rare flower was found in a place where people were marking for real estate.

When we were in US we planned all our trips based on wildflowers and only then came the birds and butterflies. We got a field guide containing 2000 flowers and we meticulously searched for all. We eventually reached around 2000 flowers ! Not everything was in the book but the most and some from outside the list. We even prepared a book on that.

Wildflowers of north america, book pages , vinod, Mathi

After spotting and photographing nearly 2000 wildflowers , we decided to prepare a book . We called it “Wildflowers of North America” and it now sits in a library in US.

When we were back in India we continued our quest and have been travelling based on that. From the Desert hyacinth to Brahma kamal all our trips are influenced based on this. The quest for the flora made us even more aware of the forests and their intricacies. We got to know plants without leaves that live as parasites on other plants. We got to know plants that eat insects. We got to know how different plants fight each other. All this and more lead to more amazement than anything we got from a smartphone.

Arrowleaf balsamroot, vinod, yellowstone

Walking through fields of Arrowleaf balsamroot.

Wildflowers now define our lives. We watch them everywhere we go , watching the familiar one’s and always searching for the new one. Life seems more colorful now ! After all we spend our time among beautiful flowers, colorful birds and fluttering butterflies.

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