Sonchampa That Flowers 365 Days Of The Year

Visit the flower market at Pune’s Gul Tekdi or Mumbai’s Dadar and you’re likely to come across heaps and heaps of Rose, Mogra, Marigold, Shevanti, and also plastic boxes filled with Sonchafa (Sonchampa)—incidentally, available all throughout the year. At traffic junctions, street urchins hawking garlands of Sonchafa is a common sight all the year-round.  Since long I’ve been intrigued as to where do this golden-coloured and extremely fragrant flower comes from. More so because my lone Sonchafa (Magnolia champaka) tree which I planted a decade back in my farm flowers only during the monsoon months and that too putting forth one or two, a week.

I began with Google but it was of not much help but Facebook was.  And I ended up in a village called, Vetal-bambarde—off the Mumbai-Goa Highway—in Kudal Taluka in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district and came face to face with Uday Gopinath Velankar. The Sonchafa he grows, and which he has been doing it for three decades now is known as ‘Velankar Chafa’.

Close-up of Velankar Chafa

If there is one flower which has ushered prosperity among its growers, it’s Velankar Chafa. Be it the farmers in the villages of Vasai and Virar, Palghar, Pune and Nashik all have secured their livelihood due to this variety of Sonchafa, originating from Velankar Krishi Farm. Besides Maharashtra, the fame of this variety has taken roots in the gardens of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala too. In fact, the flower has emerged as the favourite flower of Lord Ganesha, thanks to the growers in Vasai-Virar who supply it to Mumbai and its suburbs.

If you grow Sonchafa from the seeds you’re likely to end up with a shrub which flowers only during the shravan and that’s what makes Velankar Chafa popular among growers and in great demand.

A medium-size climbing shrub 8-10 ft, Sonchafa produces flowers that are greenish in colour and fade to yellow with age, and are extremely fragrant. Once picked they are long-lasting and retain their scent for days if kept in water. When young, this climber grows just like a regular shrub but at 5-6 ft starts to vine.

Rows of saplings

Velankar’s Sonchafa flowers 365 days a year. In months between March and October, each shrub offers 150 to 200 flowers each. During the winter months, flowering witnessed a slight drop. Sonchafa is easy to grow and allowed to spread horizontally so that the flowers can be reached and picked easily.

The popularity of the unique Sonchafa has created a market of fakes, as is usual with anything which catches people’s imagination. “I sell directly to growers and you’re unlikely to find Velankar Chafa in any nursery,” volunteers Velankar (59). “Though many claim it to be so.”

 Spread on a 20-acre plot the nursery has rows and rows of Sonchafa saplings of varied height and age growing in black nursery bags, sitting on the red soil, typical of Konkan. Visit it during shravan you’re likely to see flowers hidden among the rain-soaked leaves. Pick a flower, hold it in the palm of your hand and experience its heady scent.

“I have around 3,000 mother plants from which every year I make around 10,000 grafts,” says Velankar who following his father’s demise in 1980 discontinued his studies to take care of the family nursery which had mango, cashew, coconut, jackfruit, love apple, guava etc. But he began concentrating on Sonchafa following a chance meeting with an acquaintance who was looking for the same.

Uday Gopinath Velankar

Sonchafa has seven varieties, of which saffron, pale yellow, bright yellow, pure white and dense yellow are grown. Interestingly, neither of them gives flowers the entire year. Velankar worked on the dense yellow variety and having grafted with the mother plant developed a variety which presently is known as the Velankar Chafa. The grafted variety starts yielding flowers from the second year which continues for another 35 to 40 years while the seedling plant gives flowers after 12 long years and interestingly has a much longer life. A year-old plant is priced at Rs 150 and Velankar assures “we will deliver it  free if it is within 500 km radius of our nursery.”

According to Velankar Sonchafa is a very adaptive plant and can be grown in any type of soil and needs minimum care. However, it doesn’t do well in waterlogged areas. Most growers in Vasai-Virar and Palghar grow it using drip and use dry cow dung to fertilise it. One can plant  Sonchafa any time of the year.

“I began reaching out to prospective  growers taking my saplings along  to places like Palghar, Vasai, Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur, Sangli, Tasgaon, Parbhani, Aurangabad and others,” says Velankar choosing the villages which were close to the cities so that growers have a ready market. His efforts have yielded fruits in building a brand identity for Velankar Sonchafa.

Velankar Chafa is unique because it flowers 365 days a year and is unique in the world of floriculture. Can you think of a flower or a fruit which gives yield throughout the year?

Newly harvested Sonchafa

Velankar is an innovator like Solapur’s Navnath Kaspate who has developed a custard apple variety, like Nashik’s Sudhakar Kshirsagar who has developed high-yielding seedless grape variety and like Kota’s Srikrisan Suman who has developed a mango variety which fruits four times a year. It’s time the authorities of Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth authenticates Velankar’s claims and assist him to acquire an Intellectual Property Right under the Plant Protection Varieties Registration Act which awards farmer-innovators with IPRs.

That will be a true reward for Velankar: for innovating a flower variety and not just hailing him for developing a market and creating a brand.

Reach Velankar on +91 94223 73720

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5 thoughts on “Sonchampa That Flowers 365 Days Of The Year

  1. Moreshwar Deshpande

    नागपूरला चार कलमा पाठवु शकाल?
    ईथल्या हवामानात काय काळजी घ्यावी लागेल?
    अनेक शुभेच्छा!
    कळावे.

  2. Pingback: Sonchampa That Flowers 365 Days Of The Year – Omi's Journal

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