Parody of Indian Mock Strawberry : Potentilla indica

Few days back while I was travelling from Landour to Dehradun and came across Indian Mock Strawberry spread along the lush green hill slopes. Earlier this area was covered with little yellow flowers all over but now the flowers have disappeared and little false strawberries have spanned across. Initially they appeared as if someone has spread little red buttons all over. I went closer to have a look into these brilliant red coloured fruits, thought I have found myself juicy strawberry. I picked one fruit only to taste its flavourless taste.

© Indian Mock Strawberry

In the wilderness each colour has specific message. The colour red usually alarms danger, but sometimes it lures birds and animals. Although, I tried tasting the fruit, please take precautions and forage only under guidance. Some described the plant as edible but tasteless into not suitable for human consumption. While some say that it is not suitable for human consumption into not edible. There are few instances when some say it as not edible rather poisonous. I tasted two little fruits and found that the flavourless fruit had a slippery texture and definitely it was non – poisonous. The fruit is edible but the colour of the fruit might lead someone to expect the same as palatable.

©Potentilla indica, Indian Mock Strawberry

Potentilla indica also known as mock strawberry or Indian-strawberry is a flowering plant in the family Rosaceae. It has foliage and fruit similar to that of a true strawberry. This plant has yellow flowers, unlike the white or slightly pink flowers of true strawberries. Indian strawberry is native to eastern and southern Asia, but has been introduced to many other areas as a medicinal and an ornamental plant. It later naturalized in many regions worldwide. It prefers moist and medium drained soil, sunny location with intermittent shade. It can be invasive often spreading freely by runners.

Potentilla means strong, powerful, and the plant and many of its relatives in a family considered to have good medical value. The entire plant is medicinal as an anticoagulant, antiseptic, depurative (purifier) and febrifuge (fever reducer). The herb can be used for stomatitis (an inflammation of the mucus lining), laryngitis, and acute tonsillitis. The fresh leaves can be crushed and applied externally as a medicinal poultice, a soft and moist mass.* It is used in the treatment of boils and absesses, burns, weeping eczema, ringworm, snake and insect bites and traumatic injuries. A decoction of the leaves is medicinal and used in the treatment of swellings. An infusion, or liquid extract, of the flowers is used to activate the blood circulation. The Indian Strawberry can also cure skin diseases. In folklore it is said that in India it is to be used as an offering to the gods. The Wild Indian Strawberry is used extensively in China as a medicinal herb, and is being studied for its ability to stop the HIV virus and some forms of cancer from spreading through the body.

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Indian Red Admiral butterfly: Landour, Mussoorie

Today, I came across this vibrant Indian Red Admiral basking in the forest floor, while I was on my way to meet few friends. It is also known as Vanessa indica. Just like the Admiral of a troop, the Indian Red Admiral halted with poise, agile and alert. This is the spring -summer season in the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie and the nature is bustling with the arrival of butterflies.

© Indian Red Admiral

The afternoon mild sunrays infiltrated through the canopy layer of Oak trees on the forest floor. The butterfly flew past forest floor to capture little sunlight left for the day. It inspected it’s surroundings and briskly sensed my presence with the help of its sensory antennas. The swift and agile butterfly was difficult to capture through lenses. Later, it posed with its beautiful wingspan.

© Indian Red Admiral

These fast flying butterflies are difficult to follow. They love stinging nettles and are found in the Himalayas and also different parts of the world.

Indian Red Admiral butterfly 🦋

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Forest trails and untold stories: Mansur shrub, Landour, Mussoorie

Every step I take towards exploring the wilderness in the nature and forest, fills me with enchantment to ken many unfolded stories. Each rock, each pebble, each flower, each plant and their association with different life forms must have a distinct story to tell. Stories which will never be heard of, some lost stories and some stories in the making. Sometimes I wonder, it would have been a different world altogether, if only, the trees, the wild and rocks could speak. Maybe, then they would not have been extinct.

©Mansur berry flowers, Landour, Mussoorie

With these thoughts, I usually get involved in observing the plant types and the hillside which are mostly in full bloom due to the spring – summer season. A few steps further, I was astonished to see a bush covered with little red flowers. I wondered, is it the same plant, that the hill station of Mussoorie got its name from? I went closer to this shrub to have a look into its botanical components and found that it is indeed Masuri Berry. Masuri Berry is a large hairless shrub, 3-4 m tall, with arching redish-brown branches.

©Mansur shrub (Coriaria nepalensis)

The Mansur shrub (Coriaria nepalensis), which once grew in abundance in the hills of Mussoorie and Landour and after which the town was named, is now fading from its landscape and from memories of its residents. During my visits to the forest trails along hillside, I came across very few Mansur berry shrub. The plant once abundant is now under threat. The hillside once flourished with pristine biodiversity, is now facing the wrath of anthropogenic stress. Weeds species are taking over the primary ecofloral diversity is also affecting microbiota of the hillside. The web of life is interconnected and change in one diaspora has affect on another. Once again the thought, if only the plants could speak, they would not have been extinct knocked my mind.

© A Forest trail

The less travelled forest trails are filled with moss and algae sometimes making the pathways bit slippery. The fallen Oak leaves and Pine needles litter makes it more slippery than ever. The season of forest fire is also near. If only, the leaf litter could tell forest fire to take some other course, because, the woodpecker has made his nest on the bole of tallest Pine tree, where its hatchlings are resting. Woodpeckers love making tree holes with their little but strong beaks in the high forest of Pine trees in the hillside.

©Woodpecker on Pine tree trunk, making tree hollow

Red Rhodendrons luring bees, insects, birds and langurs also enlightened humans. Red the colour of love and passion spreads it’s velvety blanket over the hillside during the season of fertility and new life. Without saying a word, these mighty Rhododendron trees must have witnessed multiple generations of creations passing by. The ferns on the forest floor fanning out to catch filtered sunrays through the thick canopy.

Few steps ahead, I found a pile of rocks and debris on the trail due the heavy rainfall last season. I thought of taking my steps back, but something kept me going. Found my way through loose rocks, I moved further to witness many more untold stories of nature.

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Miniature forest of liverworts and mosses: Landour, Mussoorie

The hillside of Landour is rich in diverse species of mosses and Liverworts. It is also home to a distinct liverwort species, Reboulia hemisphearica. It is also known as the Purple fringed liverwort or small mushroom headed liverwort one of the liverworts found in this part of the hillside. These liverworts appeared to me as of little green ribbons with purple fringes.

© Reboulia hemisphearica

The term liverwort originated from the fact that previously herbalists thought the liverworts had some resemblance to a liver – and some use as medicine for liver ailments. Hence the word liverwort for a “liver-like small plant“. There are different species of mosses and liverworts in Landour. These miniature forests of bryophytes are integral part of the ecosystem in the hillside.

© Reboulia hemisphearica

After the long spell of winters, the snow blanket slowly melts away and diamond sparkled water drops seep inside the soil. The mosses underneath get sunkissed and breathe the fresh spring breeze blowing through the trees and the gently touching the soil and rock facets. Alongwith the mosses, liverworts also bask under the warm sunrays.

© Ferns catching sunrays on forest floor

Like mosses, liverworts are land plants that do not have a vascular system. They produce spores instead of seeds just like the ferns. They mostly dwell in wet or moist places. Liverworts are not economically important to humans but they provide food for animals, facilitate the decay of logs, and aid in the disintegration of rocks by their ability to retain moisture.

© Moss and liverwort growing together

Liverworts are distributed worldwide, though most commonly in the tropics. Thallose liverworts, which are branching and ribbon like, grow commonly on moist soil or damp rocks, while leafy liverworts are found in similar habitats as well as on tree trunks in damp woods. In the Indian medicinal system Reboulia hemisphearica is also used to stop bleeding, healing wound as anti inflammatory agent.

©Dried Reboulia hemisphearica on rocky patches

Reboulia hemisphearica is facing some threats worldwide due to global warming and climate change. Also, loss of undisturbed habitats through land-use change, highly invasive weeds and deforestation are some other factors responsible for the ecological habitat and survival of these unnoticeable gift of nature.

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Himalayas: snow cover depletion during pandemic

It’s a known fact that the Himalayas are going through adversities of climate change but it’s yet another sight to witness it with naked eyes. Himalayas are not healthy as they were before. The extent of snow cover over the Himalayas have receded to a greater extent and it was eminent from my observation. Usually during this time of the year, the Himalayas were covered with thick blanket of snow to a much greater extent but somehow I could make out the bare rock facets which were previously covered with snow.

©Receded snow cover, drainage pattern Himalayas

I usually take flight from Delhi and prebook window seats so as to enjoy the breathtaking view of the mighty snow covered Himalayas. But due to Corona pandemic I was unable to travel since two years. Somehow, I made my mind to travel this time and meet my family after many long years. When the flight neared Bagdogra, one is naturally astounded by the picturesque view of the mighty Himalayas. I too enjoyed the view, however, I felt the snow cover has receded to a greater extent. The clustering townships and settlements have risen exponentially within two years, mostly alongside river drainage area. Despite the survey reports, one can observe loss in the green cover. I tried to take pictures from my mobile phone therefore the picture quality is poor.

©Bird’s eye view of Himalayas

In the month of December,despite of dense fog in New Delhi airport, our flight managed to take off and very soon I could see the bird’s eye view of Delhi. The flight slowly started gaining altitude and I could easily demarcate the thick layer of smoke or polluted air over the skies surrounding Delhi NCR. It’s nothing new for me, pollution and Delhi has intricate relation. Machine started gaining speed and altitude and my hopes fastened to have glimpse of the Himalayas again. The aircraft touched the lower stratosphere and I was excited to enjoy the view of the Himalayas, but the clouds somehow obstructed my view.

©Clouds in the lower stratosphere

I could see thick black layer of dust particulates in the lower areas specially over cities with higher urbanisation and industrialization. The thick band was more prominent over heavy industrialised regions. Otherwise lower stratosphere was clearer where there was less pollution. During the pandemic although there were reports that nature is thriving back but the reality is bitter, which has future impacts on health, environment, economic as well as political situation worldwide. Sometimes I wonder, whether mankind should start building settlements somewhere else in universe.

© Beautiful display of clouds

Nature believes in isostacy, today it facing the wrath of mankind, better hope that mankind doesn’t the wrath of nature.

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Ecological indicators of season change (2): Ferns!!

With the onset of winters, the ferns have turned brown in the lesser Himalayas. The winter Himalayan breeze blowing through the mixed forests of Oak- Pine and Rhododendron signals the arrival of winters to the ferns, which grow alongside the moss laden tree barks and  hillslopes of this quiet hillside of Landour, Mussoorie. With the first touch of the cold Himalayan breeze, the ferns begin to turn brown and slowly wither until the arrival of next spring-monsoon.

© Ferns turning brown, mixed Oak forest, Landour, Mussoorie

The browning of Fern is a natural phenomenon and an ecological indicator of season change. It’s very interesting to see how these ferns dry. Each frond is comprised of multiple pinna arranged along the rachis. The pinna starts turning brown from the edges and continues down to the stype ultimately resulting into the death of the frond. Ferns require moist soil composed of lots of organic matter to retain moisture and prefer shade order filtered light.

Ferns are  member of a group of vascular plants that reproduce via spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. Fossil records reveal that the appearance of the Ferns can be traced back to over 100 million years, even before dinosaurs walked the Earth. In fact, ferns grew before flowering plants existed. There are thousands of species of Fern from which few are inches tall to others which resemble trees.

© Ferns growing on moss laden tree barks

Some of the common fern species found Landour, Mussoorie are members of Pterdiaceae which includes Pteris vittata L., epiphyte Drynaria mollis Bedd. is found associated with Polypodium amonea (Wall. ex Mett.).

There are various species of ferns some of which are edible and some are even considered poisonous. Few of the fern species have medicinal properties. While there are other ferns which are known phytoremediators for example, Nephrolepis cordifolia and Hypolepis muelleri (identified as phytostabilisers of Cu, Pb, Zn and Ni); similarly Pteris umbrosa and Pteris cretica accumulate arsenic in leaves. So, pteridophytes have a number of species that accumulate contaminants.

The ancient fern has a history rich in symbolism and often symbolizes eternal youth. The people belonging to the indigenous Maori of New Zealand believe that the fern represents new life and new beginnings. The Japanese believe that the fern symbolizes family and the hope for future generations. According to Victorians, the fern symbolizes. humility and sincerity.

As the winters are getting more and more chillier, I tried to take few botanical prints of fern ie Fern print before the ferns wither away until next season. Little children of Grades 4 and 5 helped me to create this beautiful artwork of Fern prints.

©Botanical fern print

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Inception of Winterline: Mussoorie, Uttarakhand!!

We are already halfway through the month of September and one can observe the formation of winterline in the skies enveloping Landour and Mussoorie. The formation of the Winterline indicates that winter is slowly paving it’s way into the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie.

©Streak of Winterline, Mussoorie

Winterline is a rare phenomena where a pseudo horizon is formed at dusk. A strikingly straight transition or buffer zone is created in the atmosphere due to intermixing of hot and cold air causing temperature inversion.

©Sun setting across the Winterline streak, Mussoorie

During sunset the sunrays refract through the moisture, dust particles and other particulates in the atmosphere and create a mesmerizing meteorological phenomena known as Winterline. It is visible from Mussoorie in India between October and February. Besides Mussoorie, India this winterline also occurs in the Swiss Alps, Europe. However, during recent years, high air pollution levels have affected the prominence of Winterline.

©When the sun set, Mussoorie

Be it dawn or the dusk, skies in and around Mussoorie create picturesque panorama in every nook and corner of the hillside. The mountainous topography, natural landscape, altitude, meteorological phenomena altogether contribute towards the incredibly amazing canvas of the beautiful Mussoorie skies.

©Reflection of evening sunrays on the Himalayas, Mussoorie

The scintillating canvas of sky was displaying multitude hues of yellow, orange, red, mauve blue and grey. This meteorological phenomena sparked up the artistic orchestration of vivid shades and colours in the playground of sky. The shimmering sunrays spread golden hues in the Himalayas.

©Winterline at Mussoorie, few years back
©Winterline at Mussoorie, few years back

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Melodramatic Clouds: Mussoorie, Uttarakhand

With every changing seasons, the clouds in high skies of Mussoorie and Landour have always mesmerized me.

©Clouds enveloping hills, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand

It’s a miracle, how, the shapeless clouds of different shapes and sizes, floating in the air take form of various figures and realise abstract ideas and thoughts. Since ages these clouds have inspired many artists, poets and musicians.

© Hillroads, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand

After a stretch of monsoons, sun came up today and I hit the road to steal little sunshine. The clouds were dancing in rhythm with the breeze, playing hide and seek with the sun. I captured the moment, and to my surprise, I found the clouds resembled the symbol of ‘Om’ in the sky.

© Clouds taking shape of Om

Om is a sacred spiritual symbol in Indian religions, mainly in Hinduism, wherein it signifies the essenc Ultimate Reality.  It is also part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts and temples.

© Landscape of Dehradun from Mussoorie

The silhouettes of clouds lifting over valleys and mountain embed an everlasting tranquility in the mind and soul.

© Picturesque sunset, Mussoorie

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Ecological indicators of season change (1): Cobra Lily fruiting

The month of September has begun and the Cobra-lilies have started fruiting in the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie. The fruiting of the Cobra-lilies indicate culmination of rainy season and onset of the fall. This phenomenon is nature’s own way to signal changing season. The bright red coloured fruits can draw attention of anyone passing by. The whipcord cobra lily, Arisaema tortuosum, originates in the Himalayas. They have a distinctive purple or green whip-like projection that extends upright from the hood up to a foot in length.

© Cobra-lily fruits Cobra Lily: Plant mimicry

The red colour of fruiting body resembles either danger or an alarm signal. The fruit bearing stalk can be upto 2 feet tall, and female plants can produce bright reddish-orange berries in late summer and early fall, extending the phenomena.

© Cobra-lily fruits

The month of August is over in the hillside and new month of September has already begun. Hillside of Landour, Mussoorie, experienced heavy monsoons this year alongwith landslides and heavy surface run-offs. I hope with the fruiting of Cobra-lilies, the hillside will now be able to enjoy brighter sun in the coming weeks.

© Cobra-lily plant bearing fruit growing along hillslopes, Landour, Mussoorie

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Firefly appearance in Landour, Mussoorie!!

It’s first week of August and fireflies visited me again in the dark hours around midnight today. Although, I was getting reports of firefly sightings in and around Mussoorie, I didn’t witness them until one firefly entered my bedroom through the nearby Oak forest and flickered around. Last year on 4th of August, 2020, I saw fireflies for the first time in Landour, Mussoorie. This year similar incedence happened and I witnessed them two days early.

Fireflies and Climate change in Landour, Mussoorie

We are all familiar with Fireflies or commonly known as lightning bugs. To me these creatures resemble ‘Nature’s lantern’ which can light up even the darkest corners. But these mystical and charismatic insects are actually beetles and nocturnal members of the family Lampyridae. Most fireflies are winged and are distinct from other luminescent insects of the same family, commonly known as glowworms. Many species of this twinkling beetles are threatened and are listed in IUCN Red list.

Firefly behaviour reveals that each blinking pattern is an optical signal to find potential mates. Significantly, fireflies are indicators of a healthy environment. They are extremely sensitive to changing environmental conditions and thrive only in healthy habitats— where the water is free from toxic chemicals; where the land diverse enough to support different life stages of fireflies; and, where there is minimal light pollution. Fireflies—mainly feeding on pollen and nectar—also play a vital role in pollination and the propagation of many plants.

Nature’s Lanterns Are Dimming!!!!

In India, fireflies are known as Jugnoo in Hindi, Jonaki Poka in Bengali and Jonaki Porua in Assamese. These nocturnal insects are winged, which distinguishes them from other luminescent insects of the same family. It’s a mystic experience to observe fireflies spreading light in the darkest of the woods. Few lines by my one of my favourite poets ‘ Robert Frost’ crossed my thoughts as I was delighted to witness this beautiful moment.

Fireflies in the Garden

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.


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