The Karamana river supports a wide variety of flora on its banks

The Karamana river befriends abundant flora and fauna in and around her banks. In the city region, the sides of the river abound in wild cane (Naikarimbu/Peykarimbu). Bamboo of different varieties (mula and eera) are also seen in abundance. In the Karamana-Thiruvallam-Poonthura segment of the river, one can find Kandal trees, and yellow bamboo almost everywhere. Water lilies are seen in the vicinity of the Karamana bridge. Coconut trees uprooted by floods, in course of time, manage to twist upwards to seek the sun. These twisted trees are a common sight near the river.

A fragrant flower on the river bank is that of Kaitha or screw pine (Pandanus). This is seen all over Kerala, especially besides canals and water bodies. The flower of the male plant is known in Tamil as ‘Thazhampoo’ and is the name popular in the city (immortalised by the film song ‘Thazhampoo manamulla thanupulla raathriyil…’). Old timers recall the cream-coloured Thazhampoo petals being kept in wardrobes as fragrant cloth freshners and as a moth repellant. School girls used to plait it into their braids.

Once upon a time, the leaves of the plant were wound in a conical fashion and idli was steamed in it. Moreover, the leaves, which have saw-like edges, are used for making soft mats (Thazhapaa).

The ‘Aanapuruthi’ fruits that is borne by the female plant, as the name indicates, is a favourite of elephants. In some parts of Indonesia, the fruit is processed and eaten by humans though in Kerala it is mostly confined to being used as a cockroach repellent. Even though the Kaitha plants blush and bloom near the Karamana river, flower shops in the city procure the flower from Thovala (in Tamil Nadu) for Rs. 200 a piece. The flower is quite large, reaching up to two to three feet in full growth.

A tree notorious for its poisonous fruit grows abundantly on the river bank in Thiruvallam region. It is locally called Othalam/Chattanga/Kandakkai (Cerebra odolllum and popularly known as Sea Mango/Suicide Tree world over, in costal habitats/mangroves). The seed kernel is known to contain cerberin, a potent alkaloid toxin that blocks the calcium ion channels in heart muscle, causing disruption of the heart beat. The fruit looks very much like a mango, but has a very ‘meshy’ husk beneath the skin and a hard nut inside which the poisonous kernel is enclosed. Local children use the dry fruits as a ball.

The Karamana river ends its journey, which starts from the Western Ghats, at an estuary named Pozhikkara on the coast. It is between Poonthura and Panathura/Kovalam. One can walk about three km from Poonthura through the coast to Pozhikkara estuary. Ward and Conner (1827) point to the history of this region thus: “Poontoray, a fishing village on the cost three miles South of the capital, once a place of importance in a commercial view. The factory is a large building unoccupied; near it is a flagstaff and a Roman Catholic church; small vessels and craft are built on the beach”.

(Continuing the weekly series on the Karamana river, written by Dr. Achuthsankar S. Nair, head of the Department of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Kerala. He is a music and history buff. Contact the author at sankar.achuth@gmail.com)