Nocturnal Flowering Plants of India – Volume 1

A big warm hello to everyone!

The festive season that was kicked off with the beginning of the Navratri festival culminates now; with the festival of lights – Deepawali, which over the years got shortened to Diwali. The word Deepawali is made up of two words – Deep, meaning oil lamps and Awali meaning arrangement in a row. The word literally means a row of lit oil lamps.

This is the day when Lord Rama, God to some but beloved Prince to the people of the city of Ayodhya, returned home from the 14 year long exile that He had to endure due to the ambition of his stepmother of seeing her own son Prince Bharat as the king of Ayodhya. He had his beloved wife Goddess Sita and devoted brother Prince Lakshman with Him in this 14 year long stay in the jungles, known as Vanvaas; for they loved Him so much that they refused to live without Him. A princess and a prince, who had never seen anything except the grandour of their palaces, volunteered to follow Him to one and a half decades in the jungles for no fault of their own, simply out of love. Their stay was eventful to say the least, but I’ll not go into details here. After fighting for survival and then for friendship, honour and love; Rama, Sita and Lakshman came back home at the end of those 14 arduous years. This was the day of the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik, and the people of Ayodhya decided to show their love to their darling Princes and Princess by lining every street, every house and every corner with bright oil lamps so that not one corner of Ayodhya and the streets leading to and from Ayodhya was left dark.

Since then, the day is celebrated with much fanfare in India and everywhere in the world where devotees of Rama live.

The thoughts of this dark moonless night led me to think of plant-life that depends not only on sunlight but also on moonlight. While everyone is aware of the role the sun plays for a plant, very few know that moonlight helps in accelerating the growth of plants. This somehow led me to think of nocturnal plants and from there to sharing the knowledge with you was but the work of a moment for me.

And hence, today’s post is about the nocturnal flowering plants of India. When I started researching, I found about 20 or so (I might have found more but I got tired of it 😛 ) and I decided to break the list in parts; so this post is volume one of the list. Let’s get down to it.

Please click on the images to enlarge them.

All images courtesy: http://www.flowersofindia.net

Brahma Kamal:

Brahma Kamal literally translated means “The Lotus of Brahma”. The purple flowers bloom inside paper-like pink and greenish-yellow bracts, which from outside look like closed buds of a Lotus. Its botanical name is Saussurea obvallata, and it grows high in the Himalayas around the heights of about 4500 metres, in places like the Valley of Flowers in Indian Himalayas. The bracts provide warmth to the flowers to bloom in such cold areas.

Brahma Kamal is a very revered flower for the Hindus and has many different stories pertaining to it. It is said that whoever sees a Brahma Kamal blooming is free from all suffering and desires. It is very difficult to see it bloom, however, since it blooms after twilight and wilts by daylight. It is also said to be the lotus in which Brahma, the creator, was born out of the navel of Lord Vishnu. Another story states that when Shiva had cut away the head of boy Ganesh and was replacing it with the head of an elephant; He needed to pour water on the joint with a Brahma Kamal as it has life-giving properties. Translated practically, it means that the flower is highly medicinal. It is also used to offer to the Lord at the Badrinath shrine in the mountains. The flowers are Hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs.

Brahma Kamal
Brahma Kamal

It is the state flower of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and the Indian Government has released a Brahma Kamal postage stamp as well.

Brahma Kamal postage stamp
Brahma Kamal postage stamp
Brahma Kamal growing in the Himalayas
Brahma Kamal growing in the Himalayas

Datura:

Datura, like Brahma Kamal, is a plant native to India. It is also known as Moonflower in some parts of the world, since it’s a nocturnal flowering plant and its flowers are white like the moon. In Hindi, it is called “Safed Dhatura” meaning White Datura. The English name “Datura” is taken from the Hindi name “Dhatura” or the Sanskrit “Dhattur” meaning “White thorn apple” since the fruits have spikes protruding from their skins. Its botanical name is Datura innoxia and it has also got its own place and importance for the Hindus, like every plant that is native to India.

Datura fruits are intoxicating in nature and, like a number of other intoxicating substances, are dear to the ascetic Lord Shiva who likes to sit in a deep trance-like state of meditation known as Samadhi. Datura is one of the materials imperative for even rudimentary worship of Lord Shiva. It is also known as Kanak in Sanskrit, a name shared by Gold, since Gold or wealth is believed to be as intoxicating and as poisonous to humans as Datura. It is also known as Unmatt meaning “Inebriated” in Sanskrit, in the ancient Indian Ayurvedic scriptures. It is used in minute quantities as a medicine in Ayurveda.

However, its intoxicating properties shouldn’t be taken lightly. High doses of Datura can cause a number of health problems and even death.

Datura white flower
Datura white flower

Datura grows all over the world in tropical and temperate regions, and if you wish to plant it, shouldn’t be difficult to find. Even if you find a ripe fruit, dry it and plant the seeds. However, ensure that if you have pets or babies, they stay away from the plant as even the leaves and flowers are poisonous upon ingestion.

Despite its intoxicating or poisonous nature, the beautiful white flowers blooming in moonlight are a sight to behold.

Kanak Champa:

Kanak Champa is also a tree of Indian origin reaching the heights of 50-70 feet. Its botanical name is Pterospermum acerifolium and it is often grown for ornamental purposes since apart from its very fragrant flowers, it has beautiful reddish wood.

It is also known by the names of Muchakunda or Karnikar Tree in Hindi. Its leaves resemble the shape of Maple leaves and hence one of its names is also the Maple-leaved Bayur tree, Bayur being its name in the Philippine region.

Kanak Champa
Kanak Champa

Kanak Champa is also known as “Dinner Plate Tree” since its large leaves are woven together using twigs to be used as dinner plates and bowls in some parts of Northern and Eastern India. Its bark is used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine while its timber is used to make planks and pallet boxes. It is found in the Western Ghats, the mountain range flanking the western part of the Indian peninsula; and deciduous forests of Central India.

Raat ki Rani:

Another native of India, Raat ki Rani is a Hindi name with the literal meaning “Queen of the night”. The English name of the flower is Night flowering Jasmine or Night flowering cestrum, since its botanical name is Cestrum nocturnum. The white flowers are very small and individually not very distinct in either looks or fragrance, but one plant can have thousands of them and then the fragrance is almost overpowering  and very romantic. It is a lovely sense ensnaring fragrance and it carries on to the night air through a good distance.

The flowers bloom at night and fall by morning. The same fallen flowers have very little fragrance in the morning. This kind of relationship of the plant with night has influenced its name in almost all Indian languages.

The fruits of this plant are small blueberry coloured berries, and look like tiny brinjals 🙂 Its flowers are also used to make Ittar or perfumed oil for sale in the Middle East.

Raat ki rani flowers
Raat ki rani flowers

It can be planted anywhere in India, or anywhere with a similar tropical climate. No Indian garden is complete without this low maintenance and high ROI night beautifying flower. I have to get one for my garden too 🙂

It can be grown from seeds or even from cuttings which can be rooted in soil or even water. The rooted cuttings should then be transplanted to a proper plant pot. It is a tree so it needs to be transplanted to a bigger pot the moment it seems to be big enough for its current pot. Keep pets away as it may be toxic to them.

Tobacco:

Stunned? So was I when I found out. Tobacco, the world’s most popular Nicotine provider and arguably the world’s deadliest plant product, has beautiful trumpet shaped sweet-smelling flowers, which range from white to pale pink to red to purple in colour.

Tobacco, a native of Tropical America, is believed to be introduced in India by the earliest Middle Eastern invaders. It has gradually become naturalised to India because of its tropical climate.

Its name in Hindi is Tambaku, which is taken without alteration from the arabic pronunciation of the English word Tobacco. The botanical name for Tobacco is Nicotiana tabacum.

Tobacco plant
Tobacco plant
Tobacco flowers at a closer glance
Tobacco flowers at a closer glance

It is a nocturnal flowering plant and its sweet scent is very pleasant to behold while passing by a field of Tobacco plants, since it doesn’t grow on its own and it usually cultivated for commercial use in cigars, cigarettes, Indian Bidis, for extracting pure Nicotine and also as loose Tobacco for direct consumption.

Morning Glory:

Morning Glory is a group of many closely related plants with trumpet shaped flowers which are usually in shades of blue or very light pink and sometimes white. They get the name “Morning Glory” because they usually bloom with the first rays of the sun and then wilt by twilight. Some varieties, however, behave in the opposite manner and bloom at twilight and wilt by dawn. They continue to be called by the common name because they belong to the same genus Ipomoea and family of plants. These plants are creepers and the vines wrap themseles around whatever they find 😛 They are, due to this property of theirs, ideal for fences. Their leaves are heart shaped and flowers trumpet shaped.

  1. Common Morning Glory
Common Morning Glory
Common Morning Glory
Common Morning Glory
Common Morning Glory

Common Morning Glory or Ipomoea purpurea is native to Mexico and Central America but has become naturalised in India. The stems are covered in light brown hairs, which is an identifying feature for this variety. The leaves are much larger than the flowers, which can range from purple-pink to pale blue to white.

It is a very aggressively growing plant, so much so that it can be considered a weed. Ensure definite boundaries for this plant if growing in the ground.

2. Yellow Throated Morning Glory

Yellow Throated Morning Glory
Yellow Throated Morning Glory
Yellow Throated Morning Glory
Yellow Throated Morning Glory
Yellow Throated Morning Glory Bush
Yellow Throated Morning Glory Bush

Yellow Throated Morning Glory is an ornamental climber. Its botanical name is Ipomoea parasitica. It is also native to the Americas but has become naturalised in India.

It has the same features as its relatives, heart shaped leaves, trumpet shaped flowers and trailing stems. The yellow tinge deep down in the centre of the flowers is what gets it its name and is also the identifying feature.

3. Blue Morning Glory

Blue Morning Glory
Blue Morning Glory
Blue Morning Glory
Blue Morning Glory

Blue Morning Glory is a plant that is native to India. It is known as Neelpushpi in Hindi, meaning “The plant with blue flowers”. It is also known as Kaladana in Hindi and Krishnabeeja in Sanskrit, both literally meaning blacks seeds, since its seeds are small and black. “White Edge morning glroy” is another English name since the central white coloured portion diffuses to a greater extent to the petals than other morning glory flowers.

The flowers are true blue and fade to a pinkish hue as they age. It’s an annual or a short-lived perennial, with stems twining and creeping like its other relatives. Its botanical is Ipomoea nil.

In case you’ve noticed, there are some common characteristics among most nocturnal flowering plants. Their flowers are either white or very light in colour, and most of them are very fragrant. That is because they cannot depend on the regular means of pollination – birds and butterflies and bees. They depend on bats and moths, and they don’t have the support of sunlight to attract their pollinators. Hence, they need flowers that shine bright at night in moonlight from a distance. Their fragrance attracts night-time pollinators to them in the same way as colours attract daytime pollinators.

More on this in later posts – volume 2 and probably volume 3 (or not). Until then, keep gardening and keep loving plants in all shapes, sizes and varieties! I wish you all a very happy festive season, enjoy the lights, the sounds and the tastes of Diwali and all the small festivals that follow it, to the fullest!

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3 thoughts on “Nocturnal Flowering Plants of India – Volume 1

  1. A fragrantly informative post!

    You may know that in southern parts of India, Diwali gets celebrated a day earlier, on Narak Chaudas day. Lord Krishna vanquished Narakasura on this day; hence the festivities.

    Wish you a great time ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

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