In Our Backyard Environment

Why this thorny shrub is important to Delhi

The Kareel, or Kair, plays the perfect host

The Kareel, or Kair, plays the perfect host   | Photo Credit: Aashika Talreja

Kair is a thorny shrub that conserves water and plays host to the one of the most beautiful butterflies

Plants in dry habitats (arid and semi-arid) tend to either have small or no leaves, invariably growing just thorns, an evolutionary trait that protects them from cattle grazing and also helps them conserve water and sustain themselves with very little. Since most of the leaves are shed, the process of photosynthesis is carried out by the thin green twigs.

The Kair, or Karira, Kareel, is known in English as the Bare Caper, a shrub producing bright red flowers on its large thorny bush. The scientific name is Capparis decidua. Where there is space for spread (such as in Mangar and in the Aravalli Biodiversity Park), it may grow into a small tree.

As with other members of its family, Capparaceae, which includes most shrubs, it adapts well to dry, exposed, rocky or sandy habitats. It is dense, with leafless, green, wire-like thorny twigs. The young shoots in the bushes support narrow small leaves that they shed quickly.

A butterfly on the shrub

A butterfly on the shrub   | Photo Credit: Abhishek Gulshan

The shrub has a huge root system spreading deep and wide to absorb water. They can thus brave harsh conditions such as heat, drought, fire, frost and different kinds of soil settings as well. The spines on this plant are small, orange-yellow in colour and are present in pairs. Flowering happens twice a year during the months of April-June and August-October. The fruits start as a greyish-green, slowly ripening into a fleshy pink.

The flower buds and the fruits of this plant are often pickled. Powdered tender stems and leaves are considered medicinal, and used on boils and swellings, while the bark has been used as a laxative. It is one of the two prime ingredients of a famous Rajasthani Dish, ‘Ker Sangri’, where the fruit of this shrub is used.

The plant attracts insects (beetles and bugs), insectivores (birds that feed on insects) and frugivores (animals that lives on fruits). It serves as a larval host for the Pioneer butterfly that lays its eggs on the plant. When the caterpillar emerges, it feeds on the soft narrow leaves and flower buds before turning into a pupa, eventually emerging as a butterfly. The pink berries are relished by birds that help carry out the process of pollination.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He formerly led a programme at WWF India as a naturalist, and is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 3:47:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/why-this-thorny-shrub-is-important-to-delhi/article28517574.ece

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