Popular flowering plants of Kerala
Kerala with good rains and tropical climate is ideal for flowering plants to grow and profusely bloom. Orchids, Anthurium and Roses stand in front of the flowering plant category; but this article mainly deals with some less prominent ones but more enchanting plants those are grown all over Kerala. The names of the plants are given in the alphabetical order of their respective Malayalam names but popular English names (in bold letters), botanical names and the plant families (in italics) to which they belong are furnished for easy reference of those people who love flowers.
Aambal or Water-lily (Nymphaea nouchali; family Nymphaeaceae) is known by many names like water lily, star-lotus, Nymphaea stellata etc; it is an aquatic plant with stem submerged in the ground and long petiole holding flat round leaves above water level. Water-lily flowers are brightly colored from red to blue; many petalled and float over water surface. Hindu myths have a prominent place for lotus flower and Lord Vishnu is supposed to be physically associated to lotus flower and all temples use lotus for rituals.
Arali, Nerium plant, Dog-bane, South-sea rose, Adalpha etc (Nerium indicum; family Apocyanaceae) is a popular shrub of Kerala garden grown for their extremely beautiful flowers. They grow as herbs, shrubs, trees and even as climbers. Their leaves are simple and alternate and flowers in beautiful inflorescence. Production of profuse sap is a specialty of the members of this family. This sap though poisonous (causes nausea and brain-damage if injested) is of much medicinal value (used for the treatment of scabies).
Arumasam, Krishna kireedam or Pagoda plant (Clerodentron paniculatum; family Verbenaceae) is a shrub that grows mostly in the wild but capable of excelling any garden-grown plant for its beautiful terminal inflorescence that lasts about six months. Orange-red- bell shaped flowers open row by row in the terminal cluster. Leaves are simple and dark green. The name attributed to it; ‘Krishna kireedam means the crown of lord Krishna; as the inflorescence is so shaped; it is a pity that this plant is not given the adequate importance it deserves.
Ashokam, Galasoka, Anganapriya or Ashoka tree (Saraca ashoca; family Caesalpiniacea) is a holy tree for Indians; leaves flowers etc are extensively used in the preparations of Ayurvedic medicins. Ashoka plant bears beautiful scarlet colored flowers on all seasons and is widely grown in front of Indian houses. Ahoka gives dark shades in hot seasons for rest and recoup of the members of the family and hence called ‘Angana-priya’ (darling of the front-yard).
Chempakam or Joy-perfume tree found as shrubs as well as trees (Michelia chempaca belonging to plant family Magnoliaceae), flowers are cup shaped and fleshy; as a primitive feature petals and sepals undistinguished (these parts are called tepals); flowers highly fragrant hence used as room fresheners; perfumes are extracted from its flowers. Indian ladies prefer to wear these flowers in hair and gents carry one in their pocket for the enchanting and long lasting perfume of this special flower.
Chemparuthi or Rose-mallow or sorrel (Hibiscus rosasinensis; family Malvaceae) is a widely cultivated garden plant that bears long stalked single auxiliary (that arises from the axis of the leaves) flowers. A hibiscus flower is a typical one with sepals, calyx and petals and a long stalk formed of the fusion of male stamen bearing stalks that protects the long tube from the female part. Leaves are simple alternate dark green with toothed ridges. Plants are either herbs or shrubs and even as trees. At present in this group has gained much popularity due to a variety of colors and shapes being produced by way of biotechnology.
Kashithetti, Savam-nari or Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus; family Apocynaceae); formerly known as Vinca rosea); it is an herb that bears white or pink flowers on all seasons. Leaves are small, simple and green; fruits paired follicles (2 to 4 cm long). Periwinkle contains alkaloids of medicinal values and cultivated in large scale.
Kadaladi, Mexican creeper, Rosa De Montana, Queen’s wreath or Coral vine (Antigonon leptopus;belonging to the plant family Polygonaceae) is a tendril -climber that grows wild it is invasive and troublesome. Its profuse flowers that grow in beautiful inflorescences are capable to make it a garden plant blush. Its flexible stem is used to make baskets by the tribal people.
Kanakambaram, Abuli or fire-cracker plant (Crossandra infundibuliformis; family Acanthaceae or Ruellia family) is a very popular flowering plant as its brightly colored flowers (blue to golden yellow) are used by women to adorn their hair. This plant is a shrub with simple oval leaves and its ripe fruits bearing pods burst when come in to contact with water; hence a favorite game for rural children and gained it the name fire-cracker plant.
Kongini or bendhi or Pot-marigold plant (Calendula officianalis family Austeraceae; Tribe Calendulae) is a weak stemmed annual herb with compound dark green leaves; it is widely grown for its aromatic and beautiful flowers (inflorescence with outer layer of petals forming the colorful part); aromatic compounds and dyes extracted from flowers. Marigold flowers are worn by women on auspicious occasions like marriage and celebrations.
Kulamariyan, Madhumalti or Rangoon or Chinese creeper is an invasive, spiny creeper plant that grows wild and spread quick covering the whole area by producing roots and fresh spouts from creeping stem. (Quisqualis indica; family; Combretaceae). Its inflorescences are pendent, flowers five petalled, rich in honey with a tubular stalks; appear white when freshly blown and turns red by passing of the day. Leaves of this plant are used as anti-worm potion. This plant has some medicinal uses and its stem is used for making baskets by tribal people.
Mandaram or Dwarf white bauhinia (Bauhinia acuminata family Fabaceae; sub family Caesalpinioidae) is a garden grown plant that grow only up two meters in height (certain varieties grow as trees bearing blue flowers and often grown on street-sides). Generally dwarf bauhinias bear white shiny flowers on all seasons; flowers are with five petals; leaves camel-foot shaped (hence it is known as camel-foot plant also) and broad, fruits are pods (15 cm in length and 1.5 cm broad; bear 6 to 10 seeds.
Mukkutti or life-plant a short herb with pinnate leaves (eight to seventeen in number) that radiates from the stem (Biophytum sensitivum; family Oxalidaceae), flowers yellow; five petalled long stalked. Biophytum plant has many names like Aleluya in French, nilakurunji in Tamil, Lejjalu in Gujarathi etc. It collapses when stirred (hence the Hindi name Lajjalu meaning shy) it regains shape afterwards the commotion. Mukkutti is of high medicinal value and widely used in Ayurveda.
Mulla or Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum family Oleaceae) is one of the most popular flowers for its enchanting fragrance; flowers are white, five petalled, with tubular stalk; leaves generally simple and dark-green. About 200 species exist in this group. Jasminum sambac has many petals (called chendu-mulla meaning bouquet jasmine. Jasmine is a favorite flower of Indian ladies and is widely cultivated for flowers from which oleoresins are extracted.
Nalumani or Four O clock plant (Mirabilis jalapa; family Nyctagenacea) is a herb that grows on a bulb like underground stem (rhizome). It is widely grown for the beautiful bell-like flowers that appear on all seasons, the colorful part is the calyx (outer layer of petals) that is fused to form the tube. Seeds are black with wrinkled surface. This herb blooms exactly at 4 o clock gaining the name Nalumani meaning 4 O Clock in Malayalam.
Neelakurunhi has no common English name as the plant is quite endemic to the Western Ghats of Malabar (botanical name Strobilanthes kunthiana; family Acanthaceae).They flower during intervals of 12 to 16 years and hence are plientesials. Flowers are blue and born in thick bright blue inflorescences painting the entire area blue. The flowering season of Neelakurunhi is August to November; September being the peak season attracting flock of tourists to Munnar where it grows abundantly.
Nandiarvattom or Crepe jasmine or Carnation of India (Tabeamaemontana diverticata family Apocyanaceae) is a small shrub that produces white fragrant flowers throughout the year, leaves are simple, dark green, fruits are rarely produced; propagation done mainly through stem cuttings. These flowers are considered sacred and used for temple performances.
Pala or Black-board tree or Indian devil tree (Alstonia scholaris family Apocynaceae, tribe Plumeceae) a soft-stemmed tree with highly fragrant tiny flowers that open during night. Several leaves (seven, nine etc) arise from a single nod and several braches start from the same joint giving the tree a particular shape. Fruits are long pods that hang in clusters. Pala is believed to be the abode of fairies by Indian myths! The fragrance of its flower is sweet when light but causes giddiness when smelled; may be the reason for this innocent tree being called devil tree!
Pitchi, Jathimalli or Common jasmine or Poet’s jasmine (Jasminum officinale; family Oleaceae) a weak stemmed climber plant that bears extremely aromatic white flower clusters; this plant’s leaves, roots and flowers have medicinal value. Leaves are pinnately compound with seven leaflets with a larger one at the tip. Laces made of Pitchi flowers are a craze to any Indian lady and these flowers are sold at high prices.
Rajamalli, Dasa-mandaram or Dwarf poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima family Fabaceae) is a spiny shrub; it is a garden plant for its beautiful inflorescence with yellow and reddish flowers; leaves are compound with numerous leaflets. Pods contain five to seven seeds. As the name indicates this plant is a small shrub that does not grow more than 4 meters in height. .
Sankhu-pushpam, Gokarna, aparojita or Butterfly pea or blue- pea vine (Clitoria ternatea family Fabaceae; tribe Cicereae) is a climber plant that bears blue conch shaped inner part above blue or white lower petal. Leaves are green pinnately compound, has much medicinal values. The shape of conch-shell is behind the name of Shankupushpam; shanku means conch-shell in Malayalam (conch-shell is also considered sacred by Hindus).
Thamara, Kamalam, Padmam or Indian lotus (Nelumbo nucifera family Nelumbonaceae belonging to the order Proteales). It is an aquatic plant that grows in fresh water lakes and ponds with stem buried in the ground. Lotus leaves are round and floats on water connected to the stem with long stalks. Flowers are fragrant and have many red to white colored petals. Lotus is a sacred flower by Hindus and goddess Saraswati is believed to be seated on a lotus flower (Saraswati is the goddess of learning and wisdom).
Thetti, Thechi or West Indian jasmine or Jungle geranium (Ixora coccinia family Rubiaceae) is an evergreen shrub that grows to less than 8 feet. Flowers are in cymose recemes; generally brick-red to yellow in color. Thetti is also a sacred plant and used in temple rituals. It is a widely grown garden plant; leaves are simple and dark green; has extensive use in Ayurvedic medicines.
Thottavadi or Tickle me plant (Mimosa pudica family leguminosae); it has many names such as ‘touch me not, shameful plant, sleeping grass, prayer plant etc due to its property to temporarily wilt when touched (thigmotropism). It flowers profusely during the onset of summer and stays flowered until the end of autumn. Flowers are lilac with numerous stamens giving it a ball shaped beautiful shape. It is a spiny creeping plant and grows in waste lands and on road-sides. Mimosa plant has medicinal properties that can cure piles, urinary stone etc.
Thulasi or Holy basil plant is an herb with high medicinal value (Ocimum tunnuiflorumor Ocimum sanctum of the family Laminaceae) and hence considered holy by Indian culture. It is an herb (about three feet in height) with small aromatic simple leaves; flowers terminal racemes. It is grown in front of the houses on special platforms and watered and housewives circumambulate around this plant every morning with folded hands as this plant is supposed to be a holy one.
Thumba or Leucas plant (Leucas indica or Leucas aspera) is a wild tiny herb (less than 10 inches in height) that produces white shiny flowers. During onam celebrations; people of Kerala make floral designs in front-yard and thumba plant is an essential item in this process. This plant has insect repulsive properties and extensive medicinal use in Ayurvedic medicines.
Vakha, Gulmohur, Krishna-chura or Royal Poinciana is a weak-stemmed tree with compound leaves with numerous leaflets (Delonix regia family Fabaceae). Its flowers are extremely beautiful with one white and other four red petals. Fruits are large sword-like pods with many seeds. A Gulmohur plant at full-bloom is an unforgettable sight.
Velipparuthi or Spanish-flag is a wild invasive spiny shrub (Lantana camara; family Verbenaceae); its flowers are arranged in terminal cymes (that is born at the tip of the branch and in dumbbell shaped inflorescence). Flowers are tiny but very attractive; younger sporting lighter color.
This list is not complete as the flowering plants in this part of the land are endless; selection is made based on their wideness in distribution and medicinal value.
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