My friend, Keya recently introduced me as her ‘Mitti ka dost’ (meaning friend of the soil) to someone who knew about our common interest: keeping and maintaining a garden.
Keya is crazy about plants and vegetables. She can go to extreme length to acquire one. And have them planted in her garden attached to her bungalow in Thane’s Manpada. She enjoys sharing her adventures (or misadventures) which one may call as obsession. Years back, she recalls, entering a ditch which had lotus flowers in plenty. While her husband held her one arm with the other she tried plucking them. In the process, she slipped, fell and had to be pulled out. But she emerged with a couple of lotuses. Her clothes were entirely soiled. So much so that the autorickshaw wallah refused her a ride.
The other incident was more prosaic.
While commuting in the local she happened to see some leafy vegetables growing alongside the tracks. It was a discovery for her as the leafy vegetables reminded her of her hometown in Cooch Behar. That day he left the office an hour early, got down at the station and walked to the designated spot and picked up the leafy vegetables. Well, her husband wasn’t amused by her adventure.
Last September returning from her maternal home she sent a pic of her seated in the train surrounded by all sorts of plants. Among them was the less known aromatic plantain, called malbhog which she gifted me. The malbhog duo has grown tall but still not yielded its scented banana. Yes, a couple of suckers has sprouted around them.
Today she gifted me Karamcha (Karanda) fruits. Having brought a sapling from her home town she had planted it in 2002. It has taken 17 long years for the pretty looking fruits to yield. She told me that she had thought of chopping and uprooting it as it refused to fruit. 17 years can be a pretty long a period to wait for a tree to fruit. Even the Guinness Book would be surprised! Maybe the plant sensed that it would be killed. And that prompted it to fruit. Yes, plants do have feelings.
Though the name Karamcha sounds familiar I had never seen this before for it rarely makes it an appearance in the market.
It may be passed off as cherry in the market but the Karamcha is a delicious fruit in its own right. A medicinal plant, its fruits are a rich source of iron and contain a fair amount of Vitamin C and so effective in curing anaemia. It is a hardy and bushy plant that grows well without much care and because of its thorny nature it is often grown as a hedge and it serves as a fencing plant too. Scientifically known as Carissa carandas, there are no well-established varieties of Karamcha but some cultivated types are selected on the basis of fruit colour, such as green fruited, whitish fruit with pink blush and dark purple fruit. Some varieties like Pant Suvana, Pant Manohar, Narendra Selection etc. are considered promising for the future. Natal Palm, an African species bearing large dark red fruits, is also grown in some parts of India. A new variety “The Kamal” has been developed by the Central Institute of Arid Horticulture, which is better than other varieties in quality fruit production. The fruit is red in colour.
Generally, Karamchas are grown from seed and vegetative propagation techniques such as cutting, grafting and layering are not commonly practised. But air-layering is possible and should be done with 6-8mm thick branches between July and August with a hormone powder for root growth. This would give the highest success and take the least number of days to initiate primary roots.
A hardy plant, it requires little care once it has settled into the soil and attained proper growth. Its ripe fruits make a spectacular display amidst green foliage. The fruits are mainly used for making marmalade and jellies. Bengalis use it in their dals (lentils).