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Botany Outdoors

The Himalayan Oak: Quercus leucotrichophora

The Himalayan evergreen oak is an endangered tree in Northern India. The reasons for its decline are varied, the population explosion and probably global warming and deforestation all play a role in its decline. Another reason is the widespread aggressive pruning of the oaks for use as cattle feed and firewood by the local population. This results in the oaks not bearing any acorns hence there are no new trees coming up in these areas. In addition, whenever a landslide occurs (quite frequent in the monsoons) or an oak falls due to erosion washing away the soil from most of its roots, it is seen as a windfall and is quickly chopped up and consumed or sold as firewood . Nothing  however is planted to replace it.  This oak is a slow grower and takes decades to grow into a tall tree.

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Botany Outdoors

Woodland strawberry: Fragaria vesca

I saw my first woodland strawberry about 10 years back going  walkabout in Dalhousie  (Himachal Pradesh, India). I was more interested in animals than plants at that juncture. My friend pointed  out the plant on the trail and we picked and ate a few. A month back, I saw it in Dhanaulti on a trip along with a few friends. I picked and ate a few, but my friends were too scared to try it out just in case it was poisonous. Later on, I found more of them along the many trails in around Landour in Mussoorie near the Landour Community Hospital and also on the trails around Woodstock school.

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Botany Outdoors

Jack in the pulpit: Arisaema triphyllum

The Jack in the pulpit first caught my attention on a walk on the Chaar dukaan – Lal Tibba circuit in Landour Mussoorie. It seemed similar to a pitcher plant, but had no lid, and a snake like (unforked) tongue rising into the air. When I returned to Mussoorie a month later this plant had vanished. This plant remained a mystery until a friend gave me his copy of the Woodstock field guide which identified the plant for me.

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Botany Outdoors

The Himalayan Cedar: Cedrus deodara

While maybe not as famous as the Cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani ), the Himalayan cedar  holds its own in its territory. Just as tall and straight, with thin spreading branches and fragrant cones, this tree caught my attention both upwards of Kathwar village in Himachal pradesh and Landour in Mussoorie.  I did initially confuse it with the Chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) but after observing the tree closely realized that the needles were shorter and branches spread out differently in the Deodar.

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Botany Folk Medicine Outdoors

Calotropis gigantea / Calotropis procera

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Buds, Flowers and leaves of the Calotropis procera in Charmwood Village, Faridabad, Haryana

This plant is an old friend on account of its familiarity since childhood, thanks to its wide distribution all over India. I remember this plant as it is pretty easy to identify. It is covered in a whitish powder and when a part of the plant is broken off, it exudes  latex ( a milky-white sap) which is sticky and hard to wash off. As kids we used to break off the leaves and play with the sap or chase its wind borne seeds  after blowing on them. This seed dispersal method probably explains the large distribution of the plant in India. This is in addition to its ability to grow in waste land and in areas of poor soil.

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