A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

For Getting a Look At One of Japan`s MOST AMAZING FLOWERS (the karasu-uri no hana) a Flashlight comes in handy- again

The karasu-uri flower photographed using my cell-phone camera and a flashlight. Just before midnight on August 1st, 2010 in Konda, Tsukuba

Out for an early morning walk, something exciting caught my eye. The edge of the thicket which lined the path we were strolling along was dotted with what looked like scrunched up  white balls of cotton or fur. I took a mental note of the exact location, because I knew that I would have to come back AFTER DARK, with flashlight in hand, to see these little fuzz balls open up into one of the most amazing blossoms I have ever seen- the karasu-uri no hana (烏瓜の花), the flower of the SNAKE GOURD vine, which blooms only at night !

A closed-up karasu-uri flower as seen in daylight

When I returned, well after the sun had gone down (almost midnight, in fact !), I was not disappointed. Most of the little balls I had seen earlier in the day had opened  up ,  extending lace-like filaments, fantastically intricate and delicate looking, more like something that you would find living underwater than on land.

A karasu-uri flower at night in Konda, Tsukuba

Its  sad ( and very surprising) for me to think that  so few people ever get a look at the flower of the karasu uri, or have even heard of it, for that matter, despite the fact that it blossoms COMMONLY, thoughout Japan in  summer. The plant on which it grows, which is a vine, is most recognizeable in autumn, when its fruit, which is bright orange and egg-shaped, stands out strongly as the only bit of color remaining after the summer foliage has fallen away. This fruit is a gourd, and has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes or cooking, not only in Japan, but also extensively in South and South-East Asia. Unfortunately, the fact that the plants flower DOES NOT OPEN IN THE LIGHT is what has keeps it a secret from so many, even from those in whose garden it grows!

A blossom which did not successfully close up, as seen in the morning in Konda, Tsukuba

This KARASU URI NO HANA is not only fantastic to look at,  it also gets us thinking. Why would it have taken on such an unusual shape, and why would it open only at night?  Well, my view is that this particular species, over the course of   the multi-billion year struggle for survival , found and took over a special time slot little used by other flowers, which helped it to compete against all the other species. As most other plants which have male and female flowers depend on bees and other daytime insects for transporting pollen and fertilization, the karasu uri no hana depends on NOCTURNAL insects, such as moths, for the same job. The unique shape of their white flowers, which at night glow like tiny moons on a cloudy night, have obviously evolved to attract these creatures.

Entymologist Eiji Oya, has confirmed this idea, and has sent a link showing a photo of the nocturnal hawkmoth, which uses its long proboscis to suck nectar from  the flower by night:


A snail on a closed up karasu-uri flower in the morning- Konda, Tsukuba

As part of this posting I have uploaded a few pictures that I have taken with my cell-phone camera. Please take note of the shots of the unopened flowers taken in the day-time. They will help you to find the locations to which you can return to AT NIGHT, with flashlight, for a look at at one of Japan`s most incredible flowers. And since my own cell phone photos do not do justice to their subject at all, please check out other  pics which can be found online. You can search under 烏瓜の花 , snake gourd flower, or the scientific name for this plant, which  is TRICHOSANTHES CUCUMEROIDES. You can see a good shot of the flower and the fruit here-
 and another good shot of a group of snake flowers here-
Unopened Karasu no uri flower ( Konda, Tsukuba) 
A karasu-uri flower in the morning, taken in Konda, Tsukuba

August 1st, 2010- in Konda

 And for an article I wrote last October, when the fruit of the Karasu-uri plant, the karasu-uri themselves, stand out in the autumn `s wild landscapes:

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