For Getting a Look At One of Japan`s MOST AMAZING FLOWERS (the karasu-uri no hana) a Flashlight comes in handy- again
By Avi Landau
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 !
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.
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!
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.
Entomologist 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: