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Updated: September 16, 2012 17:47 IST

Oh, touch me not

MARIANNE DE NAZARETH
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The Mimosa pudica or the pretty touch-me-not flower
The Mimosa pudica or the pretty touch-me-not flower

The shy Mimosa pudica plant evokes memories of childhood memories in everyone

They grew everywhere in Bangalore when we were kids, the Mimosa pudica or the pretty touch-me-not plant. In fact, while walking to school on the little roads off the main road, we would find clumps of them and never stopped till we closed down every single one of their delicate leaves.

A creeping perennial plant, the Mimosa Pudica grows now in the open spaces in the city, like vacant plots. Considered a weed in India, interestingly botanists say that the second half of the name — pudica has Latin roots which means shy, bashful or shrinking; which is exactly what it does. It sensitively shrinks to our touch and its compound leaves fold inward and droop when touched or shaken, but re-open a few minutes later. The flowers are a pretty powder puff pink and it closes its leaves naturally every night and opens them in the morning.

“The Mimosa Pudica, what fun, I remember as kids we always went around in the wide open spaces that Bangalore used to boast of, touching the little plants and delighting in their instant reactions! I still cannot resist closing one if and when I see them today,” says Mala Dhawan, the Founder Trustee of A Hundred Hands, who lives off M.G. Road.

Jayalakshmi Chatterjee, who was in UNICEF, Kolkata and who now is helping to restore the Narsipura lake shares, “The sheer pleasure of seeing those leaves close! I rediscovered them here at the Narsipura Lake after ages and with every leaf closing the years fell steadily away and I was a little girl all over again, trying to make as many of them close as fast as possible! Thank you Mimosa for rekindling the eternal child in us.”

The plant probably shrinks as a defence mechanism from predators. Seeing it move may deter cattle from making a feast of the plant. A lawyer by profession, Babu Vrindachalam goes poetic thinking of them and calling them, “The untouchables of the plant kingdom. They rise up early morning, flex their leaves and are extremely shy. They blush when somebody touches them and when sun sets they wilt and droop and retire.”

Obviously, the little plant evokes fond memories in all of us of our childhood and hopefully the kids of today do get a chance to enjoy a chance of fun like we had, finding the Mimosa Pudica at least on the outskirts of the city.

While remembering childhood fun with Mimosa pudica, also recall the wonderful work Jagadis Candra Bose -- a brilliant physicist of Calcutta, who took to plant physiology in later years. JCB explained the mechanism of opening and closure of leaves on touch, which was pooh-poohed by his Western contemporaries. But now we know how correct Sir Bose was. Also recall that Sir Bose's wife Abala was one of the early batch-graduates of Madras Medical College.

from:  Anantanarayanan Raman
Posted on: Sep 17, 2012 at 03:15 IST
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