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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Solanum virginianum: now the plant of rare occurrence

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Kantakari or Bhatkataiya is a beautiful plant known to me since my childhood. In those days we used to call it Bhaktoiya in our local rural language. Now I know that it is a member of the family Solanacea, taxonomically named as Solanum virginianum. The taxonomic name indicates that it should be a native of Virginia. I don’t know when did it come to India from Virginia and who brought it here, but I can say that this plant is familiar to me since my childhood when it was abundantly found everywhere except in cultivated lands. Taxonomic literature shows that Carl Linnaeus, the father of Taxonomy had named it so in 1753. Hence botanists call it Solanum virginianum L.  I treat and rather consider it as an Indian plant of great cultural and ethnoherbological importance. Since very few out of all the wild plants in our country have been investigated and listed for their properties, and many of these have been facing cruel behavior of developing human beings who consider these plants as invasive, or weed at least; vary few researches for their medicinal properties have so far been done, and I fear that many of these plants are seriously threatened to go towards extinction sooner or later.

Kantakari is deep green in colour. It is shy in exposing its worth and existence. However, it shows its worth and existence when some one tries to disturb or damage it carelessly thinking it a small, lowly and minor plant as it grows in little high patches on ground with all its parts touching the soil, and does not even spare the naughty goats, the great grazers on the earth, whenever they try to eat its green leaves. The whole plant except flowers and fruits is armed with thorns. This plant is damaged severely by some insects principally by Lady Birds and caterpillars of some moths who try to destroy it completely leaving it reduced to mere skeleton.



Image 1: Kantakari or Bhatkataiya 

In my childhood, once in a year in the morning of the day of Govardhan Pooja when sisters demanded kanta (thorny plants) and kusha (a weed of traditional and cultural importance taxonomically known as Saccharum ravennae) to plant on dung made Govardhan Mountain we used to come out of our houses like great warriors in search of Kantakari or Bhatkataiya plant to which we called Bhaktoiyas in our local rural language and attacked its branches to cut them into small pieces and collected those pieces in whatever container we used to carry on that day. For kusha, we did not worry as it used to grow abundantly on waste land or on demarcation lines of fields of farmers. Our sisters and other ladies of the village used to clean an area out side the village in the middle of which they used to construct a dung-Govardhan mountain on which they planted the twigs of Bhktoiya, kusha and other weeds. Then all the ladies used to sit around the Govardhan in a big circle.Any one of those ladies used to tell the story of Lord Krishna who had once holded the Govardhan mountain on the tip of his fore finger and all the inhabitants of Gokul village had taken shelter under it with all their cows and necessary commodities to escape from the great flood that was caused by angry Indra, the Hindu God, by the help of other gods to merge the whole village. In Hindu mythology there are a number of Gods and each God has some special power. So, if a great work is to be done all the Gods are requested to offer their powers. Lord Krishna had holded the mountain till the great divine calamity was over after Indra had accepted his defeat. 


Now, why had the Lord of Gods Indra got angry on Gokul inhabitants is not known to me. In our childhood there used to be a great Pandit, a great scholar of Sanskrit who used to tell these stories to villagers whenever they requested to arrange for his preaching programmes mostly during the summer evenings. A good high asana or sitting place had to be prepared by the villagers for sitting of the great pandit under the great banyan tree out side the village.


The Govardhan Pooja was performed by ladies of the village with great devotion. They used to worship Govardhan mountain for protecting the villagers and to bless their brothers who always remain ready to protect their sisters during adverse conditions.


The great traditional worship or the Govardhan Pooja is still practiced by Hindu ladies but kantakaries or Bhatkataiyas are hard to be found. Now that we have migrated in a city due to employment bhatkataiya plants are hard to be seen. However, I have a hobby of looking towards plants and greeting to the familiar ones. I search out most of the plants of my childhood even now. I have walked towards the country side to meet my friends of childhood but I am sad to say that very few of them are found here now a days.


Kantakari or Solanum virginianum has become a rare plant now. I have seen small children selling pieces of kantakari plants in the morning hours of the days of Govardhan Pooja, making small units with kush and other grasses to sell. In any one sale  unit if you purchase, you may hardly see a very small twig or leaf of kantakari and it indicates that the plant is very rare in the wild now.


Local vaidyas say that kantakari is a medicinal plant and it has immense medicinal properties but what of that? Kantakari is going away. On its place a similar plant of the same family, a brave erect exotic plant with white flowers is often seen growing along road sides and in waste lands.Some taxonomists call it Solanum attroprurience. To me, now it seems that this plant is an introduced species and fear that it may take the place of kantakari as the same is vanishing fast.





Image 2: Solanum attroprurience