Every 12 years, the Nilgiri (literally meaning blue mountain) hills of southern India turn blue as the flowers that give the range its name are in full bloom. Kurinji or Neelkurinji is a shrub that is found in the shola or montane forests of Western Ghats and blossom once in every 12 years. Some sub species of the flowering plant however do not follow this cycle and might bloom once in 7 years. It is this rare bloom that was spotted recently in the lower altitudes of the Western Ghats.
A K Pradeep, a naturalist from Kottayam in Kerala, visited the eastern sloped of the Western Ghats in Kerala and found the rare species Strobilanthes cuspidatus flowering. This plant is a cousin of the more abundant Strobilanthes kunthiana which is spread on the slopes of the mountains and blooms once every 12 years transforming the hills into a carpet of blue.
Pradeep says that Strobilanthes cuspidatus was found at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level, where the weather was slightly warmer than in the upper slopes.
“They are found in altitudes where there is hot air circulating. They seem to require a very particular climate to grow well.”
He adds that the place where the 3 plants of this species was found is very near the main road and agricultural land frequented by people. Without knowing about the rarity of these plants, locals could easily trample upon or destroy them. He therefore hopes the forest department would collect seeds and grow the plants in a safer location.
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The last mass flowering of the neelakurinji was recorded in 2006 and it is believed that the next big bloom will occur in 2018. In the meantime, conservationists are hoping that the hills and the habitat of this beautiful and unique plant is saved from encroachment, habitat loss and from the growth of invasive species.