Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When a Good Plant Becomes Bad

Last fall we took a trip to Bandipur National Park in southern India.  My last post showed some of the wildlife I saw there, but, as a gardener, the trip was also a small treasure hunt to find and photograph some of the native flora.

I saw several Gloriosa lilies, growing wild in their native habitat.  

I think this is Thorny Nightshade.  Looks rather unfriendly, doesn't it?

Thorny Nightshade, aka. Solanum virginianum
I'm not sure what these little bell shaped flowers are called.  They remind me a little of petunias.

Mostly, though, I saw Lantana.  
and lots
of Lantana.

Lantana camara growing everywhere, including up onto trees.
Oh, I thought, Lantana must be native here!

It's from parts of Central and South America.  Lantana was only introduced into India in the early 1800's (as an ornamental shrub, of course).

Lantana camara
Even though butterflies love it, it is a huge detriment to other wildlife.  
It's leaves and flowers contain toxins that make it inedible to herbivores, and it also spread rapidly and chokes out the native plants, so there's less food for plant-eaters.

Lantana towering over the elephants at Bandipur National Park
 It's such a problem, that the decline of herbivores is also becoming a threat to the population of tigers and other carnivores in these protected wildlife and tiger reserves.

It's even hard for some of the large animals to make their way through the overgrown thickets of Lantana! 

Herd of elephants wading through the Lantana
Outside of the wildlife reserves, it's also affected people's livelihood, as Lantana takes over crop and pasture land.  Many of the efforts to get rid of it has failed.

Do you see the peacock hiding behind the Lantana?
Forest departments and other agencies are doing their best to manage this weed, uprooting it and planting native plants.  They are also researching ways to use Lantana, such as building furniture from it, in order to help the livelihood of the people in the local communities.  If life gives you lemons, try to make some lemonade, right?

But, really, after seeing the amount of Lantana, I feel bad for the forest agencies who are facing an uphill battle.

Lantana is growing up giant Bamboo mounds at Bandipur National Park.
I'll say this -
after seeing Lantana in India... 

'Chapel Hill Yellow' Lantana quietly growing in my old North Carolina garden.
Is it really making plans to escape?
I'll never look at it in a garden quite the same way again!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where the Wild Things Are

Last autumn, we traveled to India to visit relatives in Bangalore.  While in the area, we were also able to visit Bandipur National Park, a large wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve. Once the private hunting grounds for the Maharaja of Mysore, Bandipur now includes 337 sq. miles (874 sq km) of diverse terrain.  It is home to many different species of wildlife and protects several of India's endangered species.

bonnet macaque monkey
We saw lots of monkeys near the roads and near our hotel.  All too used to humans, an especially bold monkey would even approach to beg for food when we were eating.

a baby monkey snuggles into its mother to nurse
Herds of chital deer and wild boar also grazed nearby in the more open areas.

Chital deer
Wild boar
We then took a windowless bus into the Bandipur National Park, driven by one of the park rangers.  Following a dirt road deeper into the reserve, we were able to see some animals that were less tame..  

Gray langur
herd of Gaur, also known as Indian bison
Green Bee-Eater
herd of chital deer surrounded by old bamboo mounds
We saw quite a few peacocks with their gorgeous plumage.

Did you know that peacocks can fly for short distances?  I didn't, before I saw this:

peacock up in a tree
When we saw animals, the park ranger would stop the bus and turn off the ignition so that we wouldn't scare them and so that we could take pictures.  Of course we were all thrilled when we spotted a group of elephants.

Notice what the adult elephants are carefully guarding..

A baby elephant tried to come closer to see us.  The adults quickly pushed it back behind them.

Then an old matriarch elephant started out of the brush towards our bus.

One idiot in the back of the bus was busy taking pictures with the flash on.  'No flash!' hissed the park ranger.  I heard a click as he turned the key halfway in the ignition, ready to start the bus and hit the gas if the elephant decided to charge.

The elephant stopped about 10 feet away from the bus and stayed there, grazing on tufts of grass and keeping a very watchful eye.

I could barely breath at that point - I was sitting in a windowless bus 10 feet away from a colossal sized elephant... 
with my own 4-year-old daughter on my lap.

Thankfully, all she did was watch us.  After a while, the herd of elephants decided to move on, and we went our separate ways. 

I was actually quite glad we did not happen upon a tiger...

The encounter with the elephants was wild enough for me!

Photo props:
Mr. Red House and his father took many of these awesome photos, as I was often busy holding kids.
Great photos, guys!
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