Saturday, April 23, 2016

The incredible edibles and wonderful weeds of Jharsuguda India

Plant appreciation in the Indian village of Jharsuguda December 2015

In late 2015 I was gifted airline tickets to exotic India where I spent 4 weeks travelling with my family around the north central area of the country. The tickets were given to us by my father in law who migrated to Australia from India in the 1960s. For almost one week we stayed with his sister's family in the town of Jharsuguda in the district of Odisha.

Staying with the family was a great way of experiencing Indian life. The town is not really a tourist area so walking around there seemed a bit more authentic than other places I visited such as Agra. To a plant nerd like myself it was also a chance to wander around and see what plants grow in the area. As the name of the post suggests the main plants I noticed on my walks through the town were the weeds and edible plants that were both in abundant supply.

As I've mentioned on numerous occasions in my other posts the term 'weed' is not one I am comfortable applying to plants as weeds are really only 'plants out of place' or 'plants that grow where you don't want them'. Other factors which contribute to plants being labelled weeds are invasiveness and the ability to grow and thrive where other plants wouldn't (which in turn contributes to their invasive nature). The 'weed' plants I show beneath all contain some of the above mentioned characteristics but seeing them through the eyes of an outsider meant I could see beauty in them. It was novel to see the few that I did recognise thriving without care where in Australia they would usually be tended to as ornamental exotic plants.

The edible plants I saw in Jharsuguda were mostly ones I had never heard of before. There were lots of fruit trees growing in peoples yards and on street sides. Papaya plants seemed to grow particularly well in that area and almost every tree I saw had some fruit on show. The other fruit trees also had some fruit but unfortunately the mango trees has nothing but foliage on their branches as I was visiting in the middle of an Indian winter.

In a future post I will write about some magnificent local residential gardens I visited. Please note that all plant identification done on these pictures was done through speaking to the local residents and my memory of such conversations may not be entirely accurate.

I cannot call the above plant a weed as doing so would probably offend 1.2 billion people. It is a lotus flower which is the national flower of India. Here it was growing in the wild in a pond on the outskirts of town. Amazing to see such an iconic plant growing in the wild where in Australia it would be an ornamental exotic aquatic plant in a high end garden.

The plant above was described to me as the 'Besharam' plant in hindi (do not trust my spelling). It was everywhere and it was said that it could grow anywhere. I saw it growing in wetlands and also arid areas. After doing some googling I'm pretty sure the plant is Ipomoea carnea and its morning glory style flowers seem to confirm that. This plant was probably the most invasive species I noticed.

This was another plant that was a regular in arid vacant blocks where rubble was in plentiful supply. Not sure of its name but those flowers make for interesting viewing.

This any is crawling across the flower of another rubble loving plant. What an amazing flower structure. I think I remember somebody telling me this plant is poisonous. 

 The inflorescence above was described to me as a blackberry plant? I'm not sure it doesn't look anything like the flowers on the blackberry plants at home and I think I remember noticing a lack of thorns on the branches and the leaves looked different. Nevertheless people seemed to think you could eat its fruit (I think I would ask for a demonstration before trying it myself). Maybe I misunderstood what was being said to me.

A more entire view of the mysterious 'Jharsuguda Blackberry'

The leaves on this plant (some sort of Taro or Elephant Ear type of plant) were massive. It was growing near the edge of a pond. I'm not sure of its name.

What an amazing sight. A cashew tree spilling out of somebodies front yard.

A close up of cashew flowers. Incredible to see this as cashews in Australia are a very expensive snack. 

The tree above is one I've never heard of or seen before. It was described as the Bale tree. I didn't get to try its fruit as it wasn't ripe.

I wish I could remember what this fruit was called but I cannot recall its description. It could have been described as a 'wood apple' or maybe it what was called a 'Chicu' fruit. I'm not sure.

The iconic Neem tree which has several uses. Lots of these trees were growing in town. Apparently you can brush your teeth with a Neem twig.

Last of all the papaya or paw paw tree complete with fruit. This is one of the few fruits that I had the pleasure of eating straight from the tree. The papaya fruit on these Indian trees was significantly tastier and sweeter than the fruit back home

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