Society for Conservation of Nature

NEELAKURINJI: BLUE BLOOM IN A BLUE MOON

ENCHANTING VIEW OF GREGARIOUS FLOWERING OF NEELA KURINJI IN KODAIKANAL

(Published in www.downtoearth.org.in Thursday 02 August 2018)

The name Kodaikanal means ‘The Gift of the Forest’ in Tamil. It is referred to as the ‘Princess of Hill Stations’ and preferred by tourists especially during the summer. This summer treat is situated at the crown of the Palni Hills at an altitude of 2,133 metres (6,998 feet) and is surrounded by dense forests. While lofty Eucalyptus plantations and dense shola forests flourish in the valleys, meadows and grasslands cover the hillsides. The Paliyar tribes are considered to be the earliest residents of Kodaikanal. References about this enchanting hill station are found in Tamil Sangam literature. The famous Kurinji Andavar Temple, named after the flowering plant Kurinji too has a carpet of Kurinji flowering now. The flowering of Kurinji was noticed in Kodaikanal Hills from July onwards and it may continue up to the month of November. Except the Nature Lovers, the Research Students and the Forest Officials, this plant has not reached others in spite of its enchanting beauty and rarity. Hence, the Dindigul District Administration has planned to celebrate a grand festival on Kurinji this year in order to make the public aware of this wonderful flowering species. It has been planned to erect hoardings with details of the plant species in the regions where the gregarious flowering is seen. The festival on Kurinji has been planned during the month of August this year.

9cd95b0c-80d3-47ef-94ec-1607ba854c62                GREGARIOUS FLOWERING IN KODAIKANAL HILLS OF DINDIGUL DISTRICT

Kurinji or Neelakurinji , scientifically known as ‘Strobilanthus kunthianus’ is a shrub found growing in the shola forests of the Western Ghats in South India. This plant is named after the famous Kunthi river which runs across the Silent Valley National Park, where the plant occurs abundantly.  Kurinji is found growing at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 metres. They grow to a height of 30 to 60 cm. This plant belongs to the genus ‘Strobilanthus’, family ‘Acanthaceae’ and was identified in the 19th century. The genus has about 250 species. Out of that, around 46 species are found in India. Most of the Strobilanthus species have an unusual flowering behaviour varying from annual to 16 year blooming cycles. Gregarious flowering, mass seeding and synchronized monocarpy (the characteristic character of certain plants which flower once in their lifetime and die after fruiting) are the typical characters of the plietesial life history. Mass seeding occurs only in species which are monocarpic like Strobilanthus kunthianus. This shrubby plant blossoms only once in 12 years. The long interval bloomers are known as ‘Plietesials’ scientifically. The blooming of this plant has been documented in 1838, 1850, 1862, 1874, 1886, 1898, 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018. Some Kurinji plants bloom once in every seven years and then die. Their seeds sprout subsequently and continue the cycle of life before they die eventually. The ‘Paliyar’ tribes live in this hilly region use the flowering periodicity of this plant to calculate their age.

22e08030-4257-4bdd-85fc-1db22e4fc689          GREGARIOUS FLOWERING OF KURINJI IN KODAIKANAL HILLS OF DINDIGUL DISTRICT

Kurinji used to grow once abundantly in the Nilgiri Hills. The brilliant blue colour of Kurinji has given the name Nilgiri Hills, literally known as the Blue Mountains in Tamil Nadu. But presently plantations and buildings have occupied the hills. In Palni Hills also the gregarious flowering used to be noticed like a carpet during the flowering season. In addition to the Western Ghats, Shervaroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats also provide habitat for this plant species. Anamalai Hills of Idukki district, Agali Hills of Palakkadu district, Eravikulam National Park of Munnar of Kerala State and Bellary district of Karnataka also have this plant. Kurinji was noticed in flowering in Kerala and Tamil Nadu during 2006 after a span of 12 years.

The year 2006 was declared as the ‘Year of Kurinji’ and a commemorative stamp was released in Kerala. There is a sanctuary in Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages of Idukki district specially meant for conserving Kurinji called ‘Kurinjimala Sanctuary’ in Kerala State. In ancient Tamil literature, the land was classified into four categories. They are Kurinji (Mountainous land), Mullai (Forest land), Marutham (Agricultural land), Neithal (Coastal land) and Paalai (Desert). However Tamil Scholars are of the strong opinion that the classification of the ecosystem is based on the most characteristic plants of the respective ecosystems: Strobilanthus kunthianus (Kurinji), Jasminum auriculatum (Mullai), Nymphaea nouchali (neithal) and Wrightia tinctoria (Paalai). The mountainous landscape   referred to as Kurinji was found with plenty of Kurinji flowers.

Honey bees act as pollinators of Neelakurinji. The nectar collected by the honey bees form these flowers is found to be very tasty, nutritious and has medicinal values.

Scientists feel sad about the plight of this rare species as we have only 10% of Strobilanthus in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The habitats of this plant species such as the shola forests and the grasslands have been converted into tea and coffee plantations. Indiscriminate planting of exotic species like Pinus, Wattle and Eucalyptus on large scale also have encroached upon the original habitats of this rare plant species. When there is increase in tourism, encroachment, water depletion and deposit of plastic waste, etc., have further degraded the ecosystem. As Neelakurinji, Strobilanthus kunthianus occurs in grassland and shola forests at an altitude of 1300 to 2400 metres, it is very much essential to maintain and improve the ecosystem without any further degradation and depletion. Since we enjoy the valuable ecosystem services like rainwater harvesting, soil conservation, release of oxygen and carbon sequestration, etc., the conservation of the fragile grassland and shola forest ecosystem should be given topmost priority. Above all, if the natural grassland and shola forest ecosystem is protected well, it will help mitigating the problem of global warming and climate change.