Posted by: cochinblogger | September 29, 2018

The Pagoda Flower

Purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) on pagoda flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum; Krishna kireedam). Shot in the front yard of my house.

"Come," she said, "I'll show you a plant that's a butterfly magnet." The path led us away from the well-tended garden in front of the house to the unkempt mass of greenery outside. She came to a halt in front of a tall plant I was seeing for the first time. It was around 8 feet high, crowned by pyramidal clusters of small bright orange flowers. "We call this Krishna kireedam," she said.

This was a resort in Vagamon. The owners, an elderly couple, had been amused by my diligent stalking of butterflies to photograph them, and hence this introduction to the "butterfly magnet."

Thus it was that two cuttings of the plant were taken back to Cochin. The plant is not demanding; it doesn't ask for anything other than what is available in the soil and the air. The first flowering occurred in a few months and was followed by many others. The plant propagates itself vegetatively by suckers, so it wasn't long before the original plants were surrounded by their progeny, brightening up a drab corner of the front yard with splashes of color.

The striking, unusual geometrical arrangement of the flowers is what gives the plant its name. The pagoda flower is all straight lines and sharp angles, an unabashedly male, rectilinear design that is unusual for flowers. The bright orange color catches the eye, and the large dark-green leaves are the perfect foil for the flowers.

The bird perched on the flower is a male purple-rumped sunbird, a tiny hummingbird-sized bird found only in the Indian subcontinent. The purple patch on the rump is visible only at certain angles when the light is right. The female is dowdy in comparison. Years ago, a couple used to frequent the yard and had even built a nest on a branch overlooking the passage to the road. They then disappeared, so I was happy to spot this bird in my yard again.

And what of the butterflies? The pagoda flower is the favorite plant of the Swallowtails, but the city is not a welcoming environment for butterflies. Still, I have seen them around on occasion. Intrepid explorers, after all, are not the monopoly of any one species. I believe they will come.

Yes, come they will, the butterflies. The glad tidings will spread by word of wing — and the fluttering gopis will yet find their way to my Krishna kireedam.

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  1. Lovely shot of the Krishna Kireedam and the sunbird!

    • Thanks!

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