One of the pleasures of living by the sea, is that, at times, I get to take my visitors to the beach and witness their reunion with the sea. Sometimes, we start to take the most magical experiences for granted , just because they are commonplace, but watching someone else savouring the same experience can remind us of how precious that experience is.
I accompanied an old schoolmate to the Vagator beach, and we took a long leisurely stroll along the water’s edge at day break. After some time, I parked myself at the high tide line with our flip-flops and just savoured her enjoyment of the sunrise. She works as a corporate lawyer in Delhi, and was just soaking up the entire experience of space, and open sky , of the rolling waves and just the fun of walking around shoeless on a weekday.
So we walked along the beach and watched the flowers of Goat foot morning-glory (Ipomea pescapra) open as the sun rose. These are hardy creepers that spread in carpets on the beach, however they cannot survive in salt water, so one can see a neat margin where their spread is stopped by the high tide line. Hence in the Marathi language they are also known as ‘Maryada-vel’, the ‘Honour vine’ as it sticks to its parameters. The leaves do resemble the cloven footprints left by goats.
Local fishermen and divers also value the Goat foot morning glory for it’s medicinal properties. A poultice made by boiling the stems is said to be a very effective cure for jellyfish stings ,which unfortunately are quite common in some seasons.
The Goat foot morning-glory is generally found on our tropical beaches in association with another spiny salt resistant grass , the hilariously named Ravana’s-moustache. Ravana was the ten headed demon king , villain of the Indian epic ‘Ramayana’, and the spiny tubular leaves must have suggested a likeness to some ancient botanist as the English moniker is but a translation of its name in several south Indian languages.
These two trailing vines, the Goat- foot morning glory and the Ravana’s moustache hold down the sand dunes by the sea and form part of the natural flora of the beach. The ancient Tamil poets were the first to notice that the Sea turtles would come out of the seas on full moon nights and lay their eggs in shallow sand scrapes, on beaches, where the Goat foot morning-glory and the Ravana’s moustache grew.
The Ravana’s moustache grass produces really spiky balls as seed heads, that detach from the plant when ripe and easily roll across the beaches and even skitter across shallow water to set up new colonies.
These hardy plants are part of the natural ecosystem of the tropical beaches, but they are often destroyed by sand mining from the beaches, planting of salt resistant shade trees or clearing of beaches for a bare, sandy look. Yet they, and the nesting Sea turtles have been around since the age of the dinosaurs and only if we learned to appreciate their odd beauty, will they continue to flourish and nature will hopefully, smile under the spiny moustaches.