Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rain Lily

Pink Rain Lilies
Rain Lily Rosea


The wonderful weather we have been having with frequent rains caused a rather surprising riot of color in my balcony one morning. Almost out of nowhere and with no warning there were a multitude of rainlily buds! Unfortunately, they decided to flower in fantastic profusion and all together on a weekday. This meant ofcourse that we would be late to work. :(

I first saw the rainlily in houses in Indiranagar where they were used as hedging or in pots on the boundary wall. They are also common in office campuses. Any plant that grows in corporate campuses is easy to grow. So if you are looking for additions to your garden, first look in your office.

I got mine (Pink and Yellow) from Madeena Nursery on Sarjapur road - a wonderful sprawling nursery with lot of variety and very helpful staff. Its been about a year and this was the first time they have bloomed in unison. The white blooms very often, the pink rarely but regularly, the yellow being the last.

The blooming pot :)
Colourful spring morning - I envy my neighbour's view


The flowers will turn to face the sun. In my case that means they turn towards my neighbour's balcony. :(

How it got the name

The botanical name - Zephyranthes is a genus of species in the Amaryllis family (subfamily Amaryllidoideae). Family: Amaryllidaceae (amarlyllis family)

Zephyrus, or just Zephyr (Greek: Z├ęphuros, "the west wind"), in Latin Favonius, is the Greek god of the west wind. The gentlest of the winds, Zephyrus is known as the fructifying wind, the messenger of spring.

The blooming of the flowers are said to herald the onset of spring. In our case in India, however, they herald the monsoon season and the end of hot summers. Hence the common name - rain lily. They bloom during the rains.

Meet the family

Closeup Pink Rainlily
The Rain Lily Rose - closeup


Zephyranthes rosea - Rain Lily Rose

Rose Rain Lily are small flowers that are pink in color with a green base. The flowers are much smaller that of Rain Lily Pink (which is a light pink) and the white and yellow. The throat is distinctly green. Leaf blades are dull green. They are wider and shorter than the pointy spring onion like leaves of the yellow and the white.

Flowers are erect to slightly bent, bright pink in color, funnel-shaped, Flower tube is green, increasing in diameter. Flowering season is March-July.

Pink Confusion

The Z.carinata is called the Pink Rain Lily and is light pink (strawberry milkshake colour) they have larger flowers and have 6 petals. The Rose rain lily has a darker pink (kissan strawberry jam color) Z. rosea blooms are smaller and have greater than 6 petals, sometimes 8.


Yellow Rain Liles
Zephyranthes citrina - The Yellow Rain Lily


Zephyranthes citrina - Yellow Rain Lily

The bright one-inch lemon yellow flowers of this rain lily face upwards and flare open. (Unlike the rosea which never opens out fully).
The leaves are slender and light green and stand erect most of the time, when dry and in need of watering they will droop. The propagation is supposedly by bulbs. (though I have propagated them by seed )

A personal observation: the yellow lily was in bloom for only 2 days, after which it closed completely and started seed production. The pink lasted longer by a day. The white out lasts them all and is in bloom for days on end.

Seed production starts immediately after the flowers are dry, 3 pointed bulbs emerge where the flower was, starting small and eventually getting quite large, as big as a pepper seed. Then it dries and opens. Each pod has 3 stacks of black flat teardrop shaped seeds. Collect and plant, make more lilies:)


Rain Lillies
Zephyranthes candida - The white rain lily


Zephyranthes candida - Rain Lily white

It is native of the warmer parts of America, also called Fairy Lily. The solitary flowers consisting of 6 pointed petals have sturdier stalks than the yellow.
These are common and very popular, they can be acquired from most nurseries, their leaves are darker green and fatter than the other 2 varieties.

Hippeastrum hybrid - Amaryllis Lily



Amarylis

Amarylis

These are Mom's lilies


This is my mom's plant and her image of it. I borrowed it from her flickr stream. Hers are blooming too, so if you're looking to acquire these plants, the time is now.

Hippeastrum is a genus of about 70-75 species and 600+ hybrids and cultivars of bulbous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. They are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas from Argentina north to Mexico and the Caribbean. These plants are popularly but erroneously known as Amaryllis, which is an African genus, in the same family.

They are pretty large compared to the small rainlily and bloom in a set of 4 flowers.

Colors include red, rose, pink, white, orange, yellow and pale green with variations on these including different colored stripes and edges on the petals.

When to Buy

When buying these plants, its best to time your purchase to the blooming period because most nurseries just keep all the varieties close together and cannot assure you of the color of the bloom. The Rosea can be made out easily, but you'll have trouble differentiating between yellow and white.


Yellow Rain Liles
More of the yellow - Cant get enough of them



Growing:

Plant it, give it some water and then forget about it. When the leaves begin to droop a little, water it a bit. While Zephyranthes can stand dry periods, if you want the graceful green leaves to remain, you may need to add some water occasionally. If you let them dry for a week and water them later, the flowering cycle can be triggered.

I found this works best with the white variety, which is very common. The pink and yellow are pretty rare in bangalore and I only found them in this particular nursery.

Zephyranthes do best with a little shade, they can be planted around the base of trees or shrubs in a garden and will serve to hide fallen dried leaves and keep the ground moist by discouraging evaporation.

The flowers of some species are said to have a sweet, pleasant fragrance. I sniffed diligently around all of mine (the things I do for this blog!) - no smell :(

They do well in containers outdoors and in balconies and windows, but not as houseplants. Don't keep them indoors. They can withstand full sun, but you'll have better results if they have a small amount of shade. The pots need not be big or deep. I have 2 varieties in a single long window sill pot, and they co-habit very


Sources:
Shobha Kamath
Wikipedia
Flowers of India
Rain Lily | Garden Guides

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chameleon

A routine trip to Nandi Hills in April bore unexpected results in the form our first ever Chameleon sighting!

Chameleon
In the shade, on a small bush by the roadside


Due to the overcast weather which looked like rain, we decided to leave late and took a detour to the Hoysala Bhoganandishwara Temple ( a post on this soon, I promise) before going up to Nandi Hills for lunch in their Mayura Restaurant.

Enroute to the temple, we were at a decent speed on empty roads when Keshav suddenly yelled "Stop Stop"! I thought it was a snake he had spotted, I had barely stopped that he was out like a rocket and running back down the road, camera in hand.

A few minutes later, I had parked, recovered my senses, got my camera from the boot, and walked back round the bend to find him prostrate in the presence of the cutest little critter ever! Our first Chameleon!

Not to be confused with a common Garden Lizard, or a Rock Agama, a chameleon is a totally different reptile all together.

Lizard
Curious Garden Lizard - archive image


Chamaeleo Zeylanicus is commonly known as the Indian Chameleon. There is only one species of chameleon in India. They are common in Africa and Madagascar, spread over Europe and parts of Asia. They have been introduced to North America.

Chameleon Common Facts:

1. They move slowly, almost in slow motion, and in a very hesitant, unsteady way.
2. They have a long tongue having a sticky end, which serves to catch prey that they would otherwise never be able to reach with their lack of speed.
3. They can move their eyes independently of each other. Having one looking ahead while the other looks behind. This gives a full 360 degree of view.
4. They hear vibrations in the air, which help them find food and stay safe from their enemies. They are almost deaf - they have no external ear.
5. They have 5 digits on each foot. But they are grouped as 3 and 2. Two opposing digits gives a better grip. The digit grouping is reversed in the rear feet.
6. They are cold blooded and need the sun to regulate body temperature.
7. They have small teeth. They eat mainly insects and larger species eat small birds and reptiles.
8. They lay eggs in a hole in the ground. Some species (ovoviviparous species) give birth to live young.
9. They are non-venomous. But if you are bitten by one, there is chance of infection.
10. They have a prehensile tail, they are the only lizards which have such a tail.

Chameleon DarkGreen
While in the sun in the open, it looked like this


Colorful Ideas

They change color according to their background for camouflage - Wrong! (Personally I was surprised too )

They change color according to emotions - Excitement and fright produce pale shades with brown patches and yellow spots. Anger causes darkening.

They also use color change to regulate their body temperature. Dark colors absorb heat better, so the side of the chameleon facing the sun becomes darker, while the other side remains its usual color.

It is also believed that they can communicate with other chameleons using color. During the mating season (in India around October) they turn their skin bright green while during fights they turn Dark brown. The Indian Chameleon is normally grey-green, but in total darkness this fades to a cream color with irregular yellow spots.

They can however change color for camouflage as well, but only in a limited way.
They aren't the only ones, several other species of lizard have that ability too.

Chameleons and other indian reptiles do not shoot blood out of their eyes - this property is that of the Horned Lizard (North American) which shoots blood into the eyes of foxes and coyotes ( which the predators find foul tasting ).

Faceoff
Size comparison, with an Ant


Getting Close

While we wanted to avoid doing an Austin Stevens on our little friend, we did have to get a little close due to the choice of lens ( I had a 50mm f1.8) we each had on our cameras. Our little guy was so small and cute, the urge to touch was very great, but we valiantly resisted.

How to photograph a chameleon
How to photograph a chameleon - passersby were very amused


I'm happy to report that our little critter was mostly unconcerned by our presence based on the research Ive been doing. When upset, chameleons change color rapidly and if one gets too close, it makes a "Haaaaa" hissing noise similar to a snake.
We did not get either of the reactions, so I think we did well.

So what should you do when you encounter a chameleon? You'd want to keep it safe out of harms way, help it cross the road and see it safely into a nearby bush. Handle it gently and treat it kindly.

Keshav Copyright
Keshav's shot with new Macro lens


Its a Boy!

Distinguishing male from female is not easy. The indian male (chameleon) has a spur on the rear feet to identify it as one. Based on this info, I have concluded that our little guy is a Guy! Experts feel free to point out any mistakes.

Sources and Links:
iFornature
Wikipedia
Auroville
Kalyan City
Where In City

Lady Bird Beetle

Long time since a post from me, isn't it? I'm back though and staring with ever increasing fear as the tidal wave of unprocessed images rises up on me. People, I'm dealing with a backlog stretching as far back as Dec 2010.

LadyBird Beetle
Image from last week - sigma macro 150mm lens - tripod


But first, to more recent images; this one is a first for this blog - a Critter post. Presenting the world's favorite beetle - The LadyBird. We had a few visitors last week which I found among the sofa cushions in the morning. The resulting impromptu photo-shoot made Keshav and I late for work.

A little research to Id my new friends ( they are living in one of my plants now ) led to a wealth of such astonishing information, that I just had to write a post and share it with all who are willing to listen.

Some weird trivia that you never knew about LadyBirds:

Warning: If you are not 18 and above, read no further :)

1. They are perhaps the only species on earth whose male individuals are capable of ejaculating on average 2–3 times per copulation.
2. They can copulate for 9 hours straight, experiencing several orgasms, each lasting up to 30 minutes!
3. ladybirds also sadly suffer from an STD epidemic caused by a parasite

So, now that I've got your attention, we can move on to more mundane info.

The Name - is it ladybird or ladybug?


As it turns out, its actually the Lady Beetle or Ladybird beetle. Because ladybirds are not "true bugs" or Hemiptera. ( To learn more about Hemiptera click here )

They are Coccinellidae. The name originates from Britain ( for the Seven Spot Lady Bird ) called Our Lady's Bird, because of depictions of Mary the mother of Christ wearing a Red Cloak. The Seven spots representing her "seven joys and sorrows".

Asleep on a leaf
Archive photo from 2008 - ladybird in dormant state - head retracted


Aphid Hunter

Most Ladybirds are beneficial insects ( i.e beneficial to humans, gardeners and farmers ), they are natural predators of the dreaded aphids. My new friends have been made allies in my long running war with my balcony's aphid population.

My ladybirds seem to be : Coccinella transversalis Fabricius
or the Transverse Ladybird.

They are active July - November in South India. I suspect their early arrival coincides with the daily rains we have been having lately. For some details you can visit aphidweb.

Diet

A normal ladybird diet consists of "pest" insects and their eggs, mildew and pollen.
They have also been known (rarely) to resort to cannibalism.
Like humans, ladybirds are active during the day and go to sleep at night.

Self Defense

1. The bright colour ( red, orange and yellow ) is a sure giveaway; indicating to most predators that ladybirds are not good to eat.
2. They can play dead - I've seen this just once a few days ago when I encountered a ladybird which I collected as our maid was sweeping. It seemed dead at the time, I moved it to a pot in the balcony and checking back an hour later, it was up and about!
3. Smell and taste - they secrete a foul tasting/smelling fluid - Im happy to say Ive not encountered it yet.
4. They have mandibles - i.e they can bite.

Ive found them quite willing to be friends, moving them from the sofa to a pot outside required a dried periwinkle leaf as transport and very little persuasion.

The lady and the flower
Archive photo from 2008 in our old garden


Basic Anatomy

We aren't going into details here, but the most important word here is elytra. That's the hard colored and spotted shell of the ladybird. It conceals the wings beneath which are fully see-through.

The Pronotum - this is the cover that protects the head of the ladybird, it is capable of retracting its head under this cover like a turtle.
Like all insects they have six legs, but their legs have organs which can smell!

LadyBird Beetle
Image from last week - sigma macro 150mm lens - tripod


Lifecycle

They are quick little critters when it comes to growing up. From egg laying, it takes them just 5 days to hatch into larvae. In the larval stage they are as ugly as ugly can get, but be patient. Larva eat aphids too, so they may be ugly but they still do the job. 2-3 weeks and many aphid dinners later, they are ready to pupate into their cute adult forms.

Being a good Host

Ok, so they are cute, friendly and useful; not to mention photogenic. How can you get more of them?

They are attracted to Marigolds ( this is easy to get hold of in India, and grows like a weed ), Cosmos, Mustard and Dill. Plant them and wait for the rainy season.

FYI: I have a small collection of baby marigolds currently flowering. I'm planning to plant cosmos soon, once I get hold of an empty pot.

In-case you were wondering, LadyBirds can live for 2-3 years.


Aside:

Yes! we have acquired new lenses! Keshav's macro lens is taking some getting used to. Handheld is impossible and its pretty heavy too. A little 50mm for me will be showcased in the next critter post shortly!

Sources and further reading:

Aphid Web
SexLife of LadyBirds
The Independent News
Everything Ladybug
Wikipedia
Blog Widget by LinkWithin