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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Viridescent hillside: Landour, Mussoorie!!!

Waterfall on mountain slope,

Flowing with might and strength

On the rocks, into the valley,

Paving way through rugged terrain..


It’s been days that I went into the verdant mountains and valleys as the hillside of Landour, Mussoorie is experiencing heavy rainfalls alongwith severe landslides and thunderstorms, So, one fine morning I finally decided to feed my mind and soul and timed it well with the early morning drizzle. Although, clouds tried to create a misty haze in the surrounding Oak forest affecting visibility, I raced with time to finally reach the venue before it rained again.

©Rainfed Hillstream, Landour, Mussoorie

On the way I came across few streams which have sprung up due to heavy rains. Often these streams are near dry during winters and mid summer, but this year the creek was running strong from all the rain it had. It was a pleasant experience to hike along listening to the running water although one has to be careful enough with the approaching vehicles. I stepped ahead and found few more streams on the roadside. The rainwater flows through the roads and channels finally culminating into main channel and then drains through the hillslopes sometimes giving expression for pseudo waterfall. I won’t recommend it for drinking purpose. However, the local people around the area use the streamwater to wash clothes, clean vehicles etc. I often observed tourists sometimes stopby these streams and take shower. Also, few pictures of gods and goddesses also lie nonchalant in the catchment.

© Hillstream, Landour, Mussoorie

Almighty’s creation is perfectly balanced although Nature has its own equations, as in some parts of the world, forests are burning, somewhere sandstorms and in someplace it’s draught, but this hillside is receiving abundant rainfall. I hope if only water conservation measures were adopted in the area, so that the dearth of freshwater shortage could be resolved around the region.

©Hillstream, Landour, Mussoorie

With these thoughts, I took my way back home alongwith the burbling sound of waterfall. Still in the melancholy, I can hear the distant sound of the stream which is flowing just around the corner. I’m grateful for our viridescent environment when much of the country was dry and/or on fire this year.

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Conserve Freshwater.. Harvest Rainwater!!


Avian visitors of Oak tree (Quercus leucotrichophora): pollination ecology

The incredible task carried by wildlife in executing pollination is exemplary. Pollination in plants is a crucial aspect in reproductive cycle of flowering plants. Wind and water also play role in the pollination of many plants, but to witness wildlife getting engaged in pollinating is a fascinating experience in itself. How the appealing flowers, their fragrance, and nectar lure the wildlife towards themselves and make them agents of pollination is an artistic manoeuvre of the plant kingdom. Nature, forests and pollinators are mutually interdependent and plants species can go extinct if the pollinators get extinct. Pollinators are agents who are responsible for assisting over 80% of the world’s flowering plants to carry on their life cycles.

©Oak tree flowers

In this context, I would like to draw attention towards Oak tree (Quercus leucotrichophora) commonly known as ‘Banj Oak’. Very few studies have been carried out to understand the inflorescence and pollination ecology of Oak trees. Although Oak trees are wind pollinated but I have seen honey bees and certain insects and birds hovering around the flowers of Oak tree. This year Oak trees were in full bloom alongwith the onset of the spring season in the lesser Himalayan hillside. This event gave me insight into the new visitors and pollinators on the Oak tree. There is a big Oak tree outside my window and it always motivates and inspires me. Now, its captivating my interest with the avian visitors.

©Oak tree flowers

The flowers of Oak tree are mainly wind pollinated, although I have observed honey bees hovering on the Oak tree flowers. Also, I have observed sunbirds, blue whistling thrush, Verditer flycatcher, barbet, woodpeckers, tree creepers.

©Blue whistling Thrush

The Blue whistling thrush wishes pleasant good morning through its melodious song, the sunbirds hop from branches and leaf to lead sometimes get puzzled in themselves.

© Sunbird
©Great Barbet

The chorus of the cicadas are also distinctively audible these days. The Great Barbet often comes to sit on the top branches of the Oak trees and sings it’s loud, unmusical call to mark its presence.

© Himalayan woodpecker
© Collared Pygmy Owl

The jungle cacophony continues till dark when Mountain Scops Owl whistles to its tune. Beside birds, different varieties of butterflies and moths also do pay visit.

© Verditer flycatcher
© Spotted Grosbeak

Oak trees are members of Beech family are beautiful and marvellous trees. Besides being an ecologically important tree species, they provide food and shelter to hundreds of varieties of insects and animals. They provide fodder, help in water and soil conservation, sequester carbon. But somehow, this tree is facing challenges in its natural habitat due to human made reasons.The rapid urbanisation and expansion of the Mussoorie and adjacent areas is paving way for ecological as well as habitat degradation and the adjacent forests and environment are facing challenges. Proper studies should be done to have better understanding of pollination ecology and behaviour of Oak trees.

©Oak tree beside my window

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Scintillating clouds: Mussoorie skies 2

Sunset painted the sky with colours,

Beautiful canvas, brilliant hues..

Paint our lives, O Almighty!!

With colours and blessings and love multitude…

© Painted sky, Mussoorie-Dehradun

Sunlight scattered and diffracted and reflected too,

Creating vibrant canvas in the high skies;

And the clouds passed through..

© Colourful sky over the city
© Scintillating highway and sunset

It was one busy evening while we were returning back home and the nature blessed us with this beautiful view of sunset in the hills, and it uplifted our spirits. We thank him for creating magic in our lives.

© Sunset with moon, Mussorie – Dehradun

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Whipcord Cobra Lily: Plant mimicry

It’s normal for one to get startled when they encounter Cobra Lily for the first time in the wild. The trumpet shaped flowers along with whip-like tongue resembles as if a Cobra snake is lurking out and with its tongue. It’s monsoon in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand and Cobra lilies are in full bloom in the thickets, hillslopes and woodlots. There are various instances of mimicry in plants is where a plant organism evolves to resemble another organism physically or chemically, increasing the mimic’s Darwinian fitness. Maybe, Cobra Lily flower mimicked to provide protection against herbivory or to attract pollinators.

©Whip-Cord Cobra Lily

Cobra Lily (Arisaema tortuosum var. tortuosum) or Whipcord Cobra Lily also known as Jack in the pulpit is native to open Rhododendron forests, scrub and alpine meadows in the Himalaya from India to western China to southern India and Myanmar (Burma). It often grows as weed in the green understory along the hillslopes and tracts.

©Cobra Lily flower

With the onset of monsoons, the leaves unfurl and the pitcher that tops the stem opens to reveal a green Cobra Lily flower. Often the spadix-appendage is green, but when flowers mature, they can turn purple. This whip-like tongue can extend from the mouth of the flower upto 12 or more inches. During autumn season, this plant can be identified with the help of bright red ripened berries on the tall stem of these plants.

© Cobra Lily

The plant has various ethnomedicinal properties and has immense potential for future prospectives for exploration of its pharmacological activity for treating various diseases. According to the indigenous people of Kumaun Himalaya region of Uttarakhand, the herb is used to cure various ailments related to digestive tract like constipation, indigestion, abdominal pain and dysentery. It also has antinematodal activities and also used treat bone fracture. This plant is also used in ethnoveterinary medicine.

© Cobra Lily flower alongwith plant

Besides having various medicinal properties Cobra Lily can be used in outside as well as indoor gardens and balconies due to its unique appearance. It is also used as back border or focal plant due to its height, beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers and leaf texture.

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Bauhinia vahlii… Largest creeper and a wonder plant!!

With the onset of monsoons, the largest creeper in India, Bauhinia vahlii also known as Camel’s foot climber, locally known as Maloo climber is in full bloom along the hillslopes in the lesser Himalayas. The flowering in this plant species starts from the month of April – June. Bauhinia vahlii or Panera vahlii is a perennial creeper native to the Indian subcontinent.This plant species is found along the Himalayan extending from Kashmir to Sikkim, upto an altitude about of 1500 m. It is a fast-growing climbing shrub which can extend upto tree canopy covering the entire span of the host plant.

© Bauhinia vahlii flower

Eventhough, Maloo climber is considered as a problematic species with respect to the overall well-being of trees, this plant has multiple uses. The seeds, leaves, pod and flowers are the edible. The seeds of the plant are aphrodisiac can be eaten raw or fried and cooked as a pulse. The leaves are mucilaginous and have antiinflammatory properties. The leaves protect soil from erosion are also used for thatching, making plates, cups etc . The fibrous inner bark is used in making ropes. The stems are used for basketry, matting, and wickerwork.

©Bilobed leaves of Bauhinia vahlii

This species can be identified with the help of large bilobed, orbiculate leaves. The whitish flowers are present in rounded clusters which turn yellow when old. The fruits are in the form of large flat woody pods with seeds inside

©Intermittent shrubs and Bauhinia vahlii

Although this taxon has not yet been assessed by IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants, efforts must be made towards the same so that actual status of the plant in its natural habitat can be determined. Moreover, sincere efforts should be take by forest department, local NGOs, rural livelihood development agencies and cottage industries to incorporate leaves of Bauhinia vahlii species to manufacture eco-friendly serving plates, cups etc and explore new avenues. The fibre of the plant can be technologically upgraded to create various items of daily use. These climbers can also help combat deforestation and high rate of soil erosion and carbon sequestration ofcourse with proper forest management practices.

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