The Pelican Has Landed

Raghu often lectures in various places. One of his favourite places to do so is the Silver Oaks School, a unique school in many ways. When he went for a talk there a few years ago, they gave him a potted plant. It looked pretty nondescript. We just left the pot on the verandah and watered it occasionally. But then, a few months later, it burst into flower! The flower whose pic you see below! Pretty exotic! It never grew very much but gave about 2-3 flowers a year, and were we proud of it! All our visitors made quite a fuss over it. We asked the gifters the name of the plant, but they didn’t know.

 

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20180415_091803And then we moved to Bangalore, and decided to plant it in the ground. And were we in for a surprise! It was a climber, and boy, did it climb. It climbed to the first floor and went all over the terrace rails and roof. And flowers? About a hundred a year! Huge purple ones, with yellow centres. And very cute kind of seed pods—they burst into a parachute shape when they were dry. Our house became known for this creeper which was all over the roof.

Everyone was fascinated with the flowers, though a lot of people were a bit uncomfortable—as we sometimes are, especially with some types of orchids.

Then a friend decided to do a bit of research, and told us it was a Pelican flower (Aristolochia grandiflora). With that lead, we did our own research, and figured this was Aristolochia littoralis, a sort of cousin of the Pelican flower.

Apparently, these flowers are called Calico flowers (because they look like cloth?). Or Elegant Dutchman’s Pipe, because the flowers look like Sherlock Holmes’ pipe (now why would that be? Holmes was not Dutch to the best of my knowledge. But he may have been elegant, I concede.)

A lot of people had commented that our flower looked kind of carnivorous. But actually, it is not. Apparently, it is pollinated by flies and it does trap the fly inside to ensure pollination, but lets it out in a day or two, when the job is done. So machinating yes, but carnivorous no (sensitive readers, please excuse my anthropomorphism).

Nor do the flowers smell of dead carrion, as the books say they do. At least, ours don’t!

This plant, which is a native of South America, is an invasive species in Australia. But hopefully, not here. A lot of friends asked for the seeds but they couldn’t propagate it, so while my plant grows and grows, at least it is not spreading.

—Meena

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