I find the level to which plants are significant in peoples lives here incredible. Garlands of flowers adorn gateways, rickshaws, buses and the occasional building. Cars often have a lime and peppers hanging from the bumper. Fresh fruit is available on the street everywhere.
The relationships with plants here are so much more full than what we found in Africa. Not that people were not passionate about plants in Uganda, but here the relationships are intense. We are in the heart of the Nilgiri Hills in a town called Ooty. This town was where the government of southern India (when it was under British rule) shifted to in the summer. It is one of the hill stations of Tamil Nadu. Being at about 2500 metres above sea level the climate “is like England”. It is winter here and while it does get to a few degrees above zero at night the days are warm, the sun hot, and the weather fantastic. here are fields of carrots, potatoes, cabbages, and other such British classics making it feel a little like a British Market garden town. But as just an hour away (down the hill) it is tropical and lush, there are also bananas, Pineapples, Tangelos, and a stack of other tropical fruit for sale.
We are enjoying the fruit and I have tried a few new things – custard apple ( Annona squamosa ), the fruit of a palm – like but quite different to a date – and we are about to try a peppino – I can’t find anything about it, and have no idea what it is.. apparently it tastes like cucumber – I think it might just be a short roundish variety of cucumber.
Plants are big business in the Nilgiris, and at best we are not even scratching the surface here. The tourist shops sell locally extracted essential oils, and the hills around the town are covered with a blanket of tea plantations. The British set up a great botanic gardens that is now the main park in the town, and is very well kept. It’s an amazing area.
So – Plant stories. To those of you who have not caught up with what we are doing, we are asking people which plant is most important to them. We then record their story and add it to our little database. We also take some photos of them. We have an exhibition at the Oxford Uni Botanic Gardens next year, and then will start to put the information into a form that can be used by schools, botanic gardens, and anyone else (almost) that is interested. It is a fun way to find out about plants, places, and people. We are loving it. It is not always particularly easy and sometimes we get a good story and bad photos, or vice versa.
We have a bit of a back log of photos to get on here, but our internet access is limited to taking advantage of random internet cafes etc, but hopefully we will get some up here soon.