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Snowflake in the Tropics, Nymphoides indica: Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia | by Rana Pipiens
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Snowflake in the Tropics, Nymphoides indica: Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia

Nedel-Ambel, Limnanthemum, Villarsia, Menyanthes, Nymphaea and finally Nymphoides: a variety of names given to our Water snowflake, Floating heart or White water fringe down through many centuries. Not, by the way, to be confused with any kind of water lily as has often been done.

Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Draakenstein (1636-1691), governor for the Dutch East Indies Company of Cochin, India (west coast), and avid botanist, gives a first European description under the name Nedel-Ambel. This is apparently what our plant's designation was in Ayurvedic Indian medicine, for Rheede's main informant about Malabar plants was Itty Achuadan Vaidyan, his close Ayurvedic colaborator in his enormously wide-ranging collecting of plants. The same plant was described by De Tournefort (in 1700) and by the "Blind Visionary" of Ambon, Rumphius (in 1750) respectively as Nymphoides indica and ceramica (= from the island of Ceram). And there were other names as well - e.g. Linnaeus' Menyanthes (1753) - until the work of Carl Ernst Otto Kuntze (1843-1907). Since then (1891) the Nymphoides indica name has stuck.

It can easily be seen how Kuntze was appalled at this confusion with regard to the nomenclatura of this plant and a great many others. Originally a 'mere' druggist', he was also an amateur botanist. He set up a firm which extracted and sold plant oils; ... and he made his fortune, allowing him to travel widely and to take a Ph.D. on a study of the quinine shrub (1878). Then Kuntze decided to put forward an entirely new system of plant classification. This he did so unwisely and with such personal vehemence that he was soon an outcast in botanist circles. Even today the mere mention of his name can raise the hackles of botanists. Regardless, much of Kuntze's field work - and even his historical botanical studies - is still up-to-date and a boon to (the history of) botany.

This photo was taken in Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia, across from the Art Market, meant to entice tourists. The Market lives an unexciting life because tourism here has waned. But the beach just behind is marvellous, and on clear days the majestic Gunung Agung of Bali can be seen shimmering through the haze on the horizon.

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Taken on June 26, 2008