Foxtail Orchid, Coorg
The Panchatantra and Jataka Tales that have entertained children over millennia, are replete with stories of foxes and their inherent cunning. While the big bad wolf was the alpha villain infesting our imaginations, it was the fox with her bushy tail that symbolised an insidious presence that could beguile us, and insinuate herself into our midst, often with dire consequences. In the woods of Coorg, however, as in large parts of Northeast India, a Foxtail is something that only gladdens the heart. For, the Foxtail Orchid, a flower that hangs upside down resembling the tail of that much maligned animal, is considered the calling card of Kamadeva or the God of Love. In faraway Assam, it is considered a symbol of love, worn during the dancing and courting that marks the Bihu spring festival. It also has medicinal properties and is used to heal wounds (except broken hearts, one presumes), and has earned the honour of becoming the State Flower of Assam. The Foxtail, however, is not an interloper, and comes from one of mankind’s most feted floral families: the Orchids, who count among their members the interesting and the downright quirky. From the bizarre Bee Orchid which mimics a female bee to attract males and covers them with pollen when they try to mate, to the gigantic Tiger Orchid that weighs a monstrous 300 kilos; from orchids like the Vanilla that have pampered kids’ palates for years, to age defying ones that live to be a hundred years… Orchids have come to occupy the imagination like no other flower. Despite such a diverse and illustrious family, the Foxtail still manages to stand out for its unique qualities, and its lingering fragrance that lasts up to a month. Truly a case of at least one fox tale in the jungle, with a happy ending.