The best sort of colour therapy

The best sort of colour therapy

A single hibiscus flower is enough to beautify a dull space.

The hibiscus comes in a profusion of colours

Hibiscus is a versatile plant and grows effortlessly from cuttings or through seeds. It is commonly found in many households. A single plant is enough to beautify a yard, in the absence of any other. It so happens that the oldest flowering plant in my garden is a hibiscus with white flowers. My grandmother was fond of making tambuli from these flowers, a cuisine native to Karnataka. We would also soak a handful of leaves in water overnight and use it as a hair wash the next day.

As you know, the hibiscus flowers come in various hues, sometimes single-coloured and sometimes multi-coloured. What was fascinating about my hibiscus plant was that it would sport a pink flower occasionally. A single flower in the base would turn pink while the rest of the flowers were white. The colour change would happen for a couple of days in a year. Through the years, I spotted a pattern. The previous days had to be humid, followed by a rainy evening. I wondered what could be the sensitive element in hibiscus that was responsible for this transformation!
We all know that plants make colourful flowers to attract bees and butterflies. Every plant has a unique pigment to colour its flowers and fruits. Chlorophyll gives green colour. Carotenoids give red, orange and bright yellow colour while anthocyanin ranges from pink through scarlet, purple and blue. Flavonols have colours ranging from pale yellow to white. Many flowers hold on to the colour in which they bloom until they wither. But there are also Combretum Indicum(Rangoon creeper), Thespesia Populnea (Portia tree), and Lantana Camara that change colours between bloom and wilt. You might have also noticed that the night-blooming flowers are white. Producing colourful flowers at night is a waste of resource for a plant because there are just a handful of moths and bats to attract. Therefore they invest in fragrance and on the simplest of colours, white, that is visible enough to attract the pollinators.

A picturesque time

The picturesque colourful leaves of autumn, especially the red-hued leaves of maple, is because of anthocyanin. Though anthocyanin plays many roles, the interesting one is where it prevents the plant from getting stunned by a sudden drop in temperature (freeze-cap). As the temperature levels drop with the change in weather, the production of chlorophyll comes down, and anthocyanin peaks to protect the plant. The leaves absorb the anthocyanin and turn it into hues of red.

In order to conserve energy, the trees shed their leaves and create a vibrant season which we call Fall/Autumn. In the case of hibiscus, I learnt that when the temperature dropped suddenly after a warm day, anthocyanin was triggered to maintain optimum temperature. It just happened that in this case, the buds absorbed the anthocyanin and turned pink.

Do you remember that in one of my previous columns I wrote about how to grow elephant foot yam and colocasia? I called them the elephants in the garden. Our yam was planted in March and leaves started turning lemon by the end of October. Wilting is a sign that the tuber underneath is mature and it no longer needs the leaves to provide food. We harvested two yams, weighing two kg each. You might also remember that we spoke about ginger and turmeric. If you had sown them at the beginning of the year, look out for an inflorescence.

Though they are not indicators that the rhizomes are mature, they are part of the process and a pretty thing to see. A month or two after the inflorescence, the leaves of ginger and turmeric start turning lemon and then brown, an indicator that it is time to harvest. Colocasia is an exception, it doesn’t wilt and instead keeps on multiplying, and their leaves provide a continuous source of nutrition. Some plants are grown in winter and that time has now come. Peas, cabbage, capsicum, spinach, methi, are some that you can sow. Remember a well-prepped, draining soil gives a good yield.

Until next time, happy gardening!

Motley Garden is your monthly pot-pourri of observations and lessons from gardening and nature.

The author is a botanical artist from Bengaluru. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram as @neelavanam

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