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

Flower Memory

Such occurrence doesn’t happen often. At least I haven’t seen it in my decade of watching the natural world. I also believe that a decade is a mere blink.  In the second week of  February, I had made several cuttings of Gliricidia, the green manure tree, and put them in nursery bags. So that they would get ready for plantation before the monsoon appears.
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In the first week of March, I came across flowers which have appeared from the cuttings. The episode was timed with the flowering of Gliricidia. A clear indication that the cutting (branch) instilled the memory of flowering. And when the mother plant bloomed the cutting too flowered.
I haven’t seen this happen in any plants I have worked with. Isn’t it a miracle of nature? I think so. If you’ve come across such miracles I would like to hear from you.

Bloom of The Ball Tree

What an amazing sight it was? You need to see to believe in its beauty: the flowers cascading down the tree trunk like scores earthen lamps tied to a string. I had almost missed it hadn’t been for my gardener friend who introduced me to it sometime in the third week of February. The Cannon Ball true was in full bloom. I gasped in wonder at the mesmerizing splendour standing several stories high in front of me. At its foot was lying a couple of flowers which had lived its day.

IMG_20180227_111503The Nagalinga or Shiva Linga tree has been grown widely in Shiva temples across India. In Hindi, it is also called Shiv Kamal or Kailaspati. Interestingly the petals of the Naga Linga flower resemble the hood a snake.

It’s very unlikely that you will come across a Cannon Ball tree: for they are as rare as the Baobab Tree. Though the tree produces fruits the size of Cannon Ball the seeds rarely germinate.  The fruits are large, round and heavy as their namesakes. When falling on the earth, they often do so with loud and explosive noise. Naturally, so they are not planted next to footpaths. You know why?  Because a falling fruit could easily cause a fatal injury!

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Native to the southern Caribbean and northern parts of South America it has been known in India for at least 3,000 years; found growing at temples.

The fruit appears to be developing straight from the trunk of the tree like in the case of jackfruit. The fruit has a truly awful stench to it, unlike the flowers which are very brightly coloured with strong, sweet-scented blooms.

Scentimental!

Sometimes you have to wait for a plant to flower for years. So much so that you even tend to forget that it exists in your garden. I had planted the Ananta some five years, maybe six. Now, I don’t even remember rightly, when. Having heard and read about it I had visited scores of nurseries until I found it in my neighbourhood. The nursery owner handing me the plant had said: “The flowers are milky white and very fragrant. It’s as large as a rose.”

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For over 10 days I was unable to visit my orchard, first due to new assignments which came my way and second due to the excessive rains. The downpour was so heavy that roads were flooded: the car unable to move ahead. Crestfallen I had returned home to wait for another three days so that the rain god could be more reasonable.

But seeing the milk-white flowers on a tree this weekend as Mangal picked them up I rushed towards it only to be enveloped by its fragrance. The Ananta flowers, I am told is a favourite of Lord Ganesha, have a distinct heavenly fragrance which can be sensed even from far as the breeze caresses it and spreads its heady scent.

Belonging to the Gardenia family, the Ananta is known as Gardenia jasminoides. The flower is named after Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-1791), a Scottish-born American naturalist.

Also known as Ghanda raj (king of fragrance) it was a common fragrant plant a few years back but now has become a rarity and is difficult find one. Incidentally, it was Sigmund Freud’s favourite flower.

Kadamba Memories

Now, it seems that it was ages back. Many, many summers ago. When I was a school-going kid, then in the sixth standard and we were asked to learn ‘by-heart’ Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Yeh Kadamb ka Ped. If we failed to recite the next day, either we had to stand on our desks or told to go ‘class se bahar.’ We generally agreed to do the former because we didn’t want our parents to know.
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Like many others I had never seen a Kadamba tree but the poem about the wishes of a child to climb a tree on the river bank and play on a tiny wooden flute to surprise his mother remained with me all these years and on seeing a Kadamba tree today in full bloom, those memories of my school days came rushing. Of our Hindi teacher—the bespectacled, her long hair tied in a bun—Supriya madam dressed as always in a salwar kameej; Solil with whom I shared the desk and the view from the window—our huge playground which had played host to Palestine chief, Yasser Arafat.
The rains may play truant but Kadamba flowers are unlikely to desert you. In full bloom, the apricot-coloured spiny balls hanging from the branches of the Kadamba (Kaim, Mitragyna Parvifolia), standing on the roadsides, wait for the passersby to adore their beauty. They begin as yellow-green flowers spreading its scents, similar to jasmine, during nights and grow into oblong fruits containing seeds, as many as 8,000! The deep and thick fragrance of Kadamba flower at rainy night fills the surroundings with a mystique atmosphere. Only those who have experienced its aroma can feel it. On maturing, the fruit splits apart, releasing the seeds, which are then dispersed by wind or rain.
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The globular fruits, from which the white clubbed stigmas project is compared to the cheek of a maiden mantling with pleasure at the approach of her lover, and are supposed to have the power to irresistibly attracting lovers to one another. Expressed beautifully in the couplet of the Saptasatika: “Sweetheart, how I’m bewitched by the Kadamba blossoms, all the other flowers together have not such a power. Verily Kama wields now-a-days a bow armed with the honey balls of the Kadamba.”
Mathematician-astronomer Aryabhatt had propounded the view that earth was round just as the bulb of a Kadamb flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides, so also is the globe of the Earth surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.
In Sanskrit it is called Kadamba or Kalamba, and has also many synonyms, such as Sisupala (protector of children); Hali-priya (dear to agriculturists) etc.
Kadamb flower marks an annual miracle in Bangladesh: borsha, the monsoon season, stretching through the months of Ashar and Shrabon. In Bangladesh it is said “Don’t offer Kadam/Kadambo flower to your lover lest it creates mistrust between you’’. If you visit Dhaka during the rains you’re likely to come young boys selling Kadamba flowers on the streets.
Thane has scores of Kadamba tree and these are the ones I come across during my morning walks in July. You too may have seen them in your neighbourhood. If not, keep looking.
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Here is the poem for those have not heard of it:
Yeh kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere
Mai bhi us per baith kanhiya banta dhere dhere

Le deti tum mujhe basuri do paiso wali
Kisi tarah nichi ho jati yah kadamb ki dali

Tumhe nahi kuch kahata mai chupke-chpuke aata
Vahi baith phir bade maje se mai basuri bajata

Amma amma kah bansi ke swar me tumhe bulata
Bahut bolane per bhi ma jab nahi utar kar aata

Ma, tab ma ka hriday(dil) tumhara bahut vikal ho jata
Tum aachal faila kar amma vahi ped ke niche

Ishwar se kuch vinnti karti baithi aakhe meeche
Tumhe dhyan mai lagi dekh mai dheere dheere aata

Aur tumhare faile aachal ke neeche chup jaata
Tum ghabara kar aakh kholti, per ma khush ho jaati

Jab apne munna raja ko godi mai hi pati
Issi tarah kuch khela karte hum tum dheere- dheere
Yah kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere.

The image of the boys on a Kadamba tree is courtesy http://weloveourbangladesh.blogspot.in/

Kadamba—the May tree

May is the month when the kadamba tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) yields fruit—those yellow-orange ball-shaped fruit, the size of golf balls. It’s that month when the sun is really, really harsh. It also happens to be the month when most deaths due to the heat wave occur. It’s not the month when you would like to venture out in the open (contrary to the claims by sun-screen TV commercials).

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If you do, do venture out early in the morning or late in the evening and tilt your neck towards the sky while standing below a tall kadamba tree. I’m sure you’ll see a marvel. The crown is a canopy of branches, like an outstretched palm with leaves sprouting all around, as if an umbrella held over you. If you lie and stretch yourself (not possible because kadamba trees are used as avenue trees in cities) you’re likely to be awe-struck by what I call the nature’s wonder. The marble-white of the sky peeping through the speckles of green, reminding you of an embroidered sari you inherited from your grandmother.

A favourite of Lord Krishna, kadamba tree and its flowers is consider a universal favourite among the Gods. In fact, the Mother Goddess Durga is said to reside in a kadamba forest—for she is lovingly called Kadamba Vana Vāsinī.

The fresh leaves are edible and a favourite fodder among cattle. The ornamental tree, used for soil reclamation sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy.

The fragrant orange flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds. Furthermore, this tree can grow best in alluvial sites like river-banks and in the transitional zone between swampy, permanently flooded and periodically flooded areas.

Come rains, the branches lashed by wind the kadamba fruit–by now ripe and coloured bronzed brown– drop on the earth, one by one. In the mornings you’ll see scores of them lying around. Of them, some will grow to be a tree continue the life cycle.

Adivasis of Chattisgarh believe that planting kadamba trees closer to lakes, rivers and ponds, brings happiness and prosperity.

Rabindranath Tagore mentioned the kadamba in one of his poem: Badal diner prothom kodom phul.

You offered me your first yield,
The fragrant Kadamba of monsoon
For my part, I bring you
My rainy tunes.

I have shielded them
With cool shadows, dim skies,
Treasuring
My first lyrical fruition

I know today offers you abounding harvest
But tomorrow will leave you bare

And so each monsoon,
My songs will come to life,
My boat will be heaped with your honour
My melodies, echo your glory
Riding on tides
Of your lost remembrance.

English Translation courtesy Anjan Ganguli (GEETABITAN)

Listen to the poem. https://youtu.be/JAnevYvrs68/ https://youtu.be/cNNgPwLDyds

Flush with Palash

My best Basant song is Ketaki gulaab joohi champakban phoole sung by Bhimsen Joshi and Manna Dey. Penned by Shankar Kesarilal who later came to be known as Shailendra, its composers were Jaikishan Dayabhai Panchal and Shankar Singh Raghuvanshi, the duo world knows as Shankar-Jaikishen.
We are in midst of Basant. In fact, the Basant is already three weeks old. Basant Panchami marks the beginning of spring and falls on the fifth day of Maagh each year. The month of colours, Phagun, is still a few days hence. In Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Kasur and across all of the Punjab, this festival is energetically celebrated as ‘Jashn-e-Baharaan’ (Celebration of Spring).
cropped-flame-of-forest.jpgThe song, Ketaki Gulaab…, was playing on the mobile as I chanced upon patches of ‘flames’ on the horizon on my way to my farm. As I proceeded I came across the roadside littered with ‘flames’. By flame I mean Flame of the Forest or Palash flowers. Its botanical name is Butea monosperma.
The name ‘palash’ comes from Plassey in West Bengal which the world knows. The Battle of Plassey was a decisive victory of the British East India Company over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 23 June 1757. The battle established the Company rule in Bengal which expanded over much of India for the next hundred years. The battle took place at Plassey (anglicized version of Palashi).
palash on roadsideI have written about Palash earlier but this time around experienced something different: I enjoyed the nectar which sits between the receptacle and peduncle (stalk of the flower). I squeezed it and several drops of liquid, like honey water, entered my mouth. So this is what brings the bees, the ants and the birds in hordes to the orange-red flower of Palash! You need to drink the nectar early in the morning for as the sun rises the nectar dries up, again to be restored in the morning.
I didn’t know that Nature has designed Palash flower to be very energy efficient until I came across a longest piece ever written on the flower. Shubhasish Mitra @muktadhar.org on Flower of Shantiniketan: Palash elaborates: The different orientation of individual buds suggest that each flower of Palash will be aligned differently to the Sun, so that some faces of the whole bunch will always face the Sun. As the petals of an individual Palash flower open at least in 3 directions, combined with each flower making a different angle with the branch, Palash looks bright from all angles of Sun- whether it is dawn or dusk. This is the first rule of geometric symmetry Palash follows- orientation towards the Sun from all conceivable angles. It is in fact a quality most of the flowers adapt, but none so magnificently like Palash.
Calling it an ‘intelligent tree’, he writes further: Imagine solar panels of smaller dimensions (maybe at size of a palm) arranged in a 3D geometrical space like the petals of Palash and then arranged perhaps like the branches- the design may be complex, the idea quite wild perhaps, but it has every theoretical chance to be more energy efficient than flat solar panels!
Though Palash is attributed to have medicinal properties, I came across a first person account in Ashok’s blog, someitemshave.blogpost.in, here he mentions that taking tea made of dried Palash flower has helped him to get relief from his stiff back, acquired due to long hours sitting in front of the computer.
This Sunday I plan to collect as many flowers I can and dry them to be used later.

Colour Purple

Flowers tell us that the world is really beautiful and enchanting. Makes us have faith on nature. Reminds me what Walter Hagen said: You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.
Bauhinia_blakeana_(Key_West)It’s always a delight watching a flower in full bloom. More so if the flower wears your favourite colour. Purple being one of them. It has been more than a week since the Purple Bauhinia trees in Mumbai and Thane are flush with their showy flowers and ornamental foliage. I chanced the season’s first bloom in the park where I jog. Most were on trees and few scattered on the ground. Had they been jasmine or other sweets smelling flowers they would have picked up to be placed in front of the altar but not these.
Each time I passed I sent a kiss towards them which my daughter who accompanied found annoying. My action was to thank them for the beauty.
And I soon found that she had sprinting much ahead and turned to say: “It’s really embarrassing, don’t do it. “
The lone Purple Bauhinia I have planted on the edge of my farm is still too young but I’m hoping it will soon bloom: for it blooms twice a year.
I take solace on what Henri Matisse said: There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
Before the Purple Bauhinias wither and fade away this season do have a dekho at them.

Yellow, pretty fellow

I had given up on it, reduced as it was to a stump. After almost two years it surprised me as I chanced upon five of them brightening up my farm. My candle bush plant was blooming—the flowers erect on the branch. As if yellow candles have been lighted; illuminating the neighbouring plants. Drifting over those bright, neon yellow flowers were black bumble bees. A great contrast—black against yellow. By the time I could capture it on my mobile the bumble bee had flown away.
Beside bumble bees the candle bush attracts pollinators like larvae of suphur butterflies.
candle bushYou’re likely to find candle bush growing wild. I was introduced to them, having seen on the narrow garden patch between railway tracks. Intrigued by the bright yellow flowers I had planted one in my farm. I have yet to come across anyone growing it in a garden or a park.
A native of Mexico, Candle Bush belongs to the Gulmohur family. In Hindi it is called “Dadmurdan”, mainly because its leaf has anti-fungal properties. Also called ringworm bush its leaf is used for treating ringworm and other fungal infections of the skin. The leaves are ground in a mortar to obtain a kind of “green cotton wool”. This is mixed with the same amount of vegetable oil and rubbed on the affected area two or three times a day. A fresh preparation is made every day. It works due to its active ingredients chrysophanic acid.