Six hundred and forty one flora species of the Nilgiris are identified and recorded in IFGTB’s seminal book Flowering Plants of Sholas and Grasslands of the Nilgiris. K. Jeshi reports
“From cradle to coffin, every single custom of the Todas is associated with plants and trees,” says Dr. N. Krishna Kumar, director of Institute of Forest Genetics and Tree Breeding (IFGTB). He has co-authored Flowering Plants of Sholas and Grasslands of The Nilgiris along with P.S. Udayan (an assistant professor in Botany in Kerala with rich research experience in the flora of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats), S.P. Subramani (currently in-charge of the Fishcer Herbarium at IFGTB, Coimbatore. He has 20 years of research in the Western Ghats and the Western Himalayas) and scientist R. Anandalakshmi who has done studies on seed biology of shola species.
“The tribals know the names of plants and trees in their language and we have recorded their botanical names, commonly used names in South Indian languages, besides their distribution, habitat,” he says.
The book also covers other species associated with Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Siddha, Tibetan, and modern. “We have included 641 species that is 90 per cent of species of the Sholas and the grasslands of the Nilgiris.”
The idea for the book came about when Krishna Kumar was the District Forest Officer in the Nilgiris from 1990 to 1996. “I was involved with a study on the fencing of shola patches and seminars on their restoration. I photographed the flowering plants and trees along with intern P.S. Udayan. We brought out a pictorial ready reckoner with 250 flowering plants and their taxonomy. But there was so much more to explore,” he says.
When he came back to Coimbatore as director of IFGTB, he decided on a more detailed work. “Udayan and Subramani who had earlier worked with Foundation for Re-vitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), an NGO in Bangalore that recorded medicinal plants of the Western Ghats, and Anandalakshmi joined me. The result is an important reference document.”
Subramani and Udayan visited over 20 different shola and grassland belts in the Nilgiris including Ankinda, Anumapuram, Bangitappal, Burliar, Coonoor, Doddabetta, Masinagudi, Mukruthi, Pykara, staircase shola, Thaishola, and upper Bhavani.
P.S. Subrami says, “We surveyed flowering plants, herbs, shrubs and trees. Every shola is unique with species diversity. The book has the combined data from the various sholas.”
The book classifies the species taxonomically along with details on distribution, flowering and fruiting time of the species and the altitude at which they are found.
Krishna Kumar mentions the Mappia species found in some of these sholas. Its leaves and bark are used in treating cancer. “Such species that have high medicinal value should be restored along with other dwindling medicinal plants,” he says.
Some of the unique species of the sholas include Ilex species, Garcinia, Gaultheria (a main ingredient in manufacture of pain balms), Syzygium (wild jamuns), Elaeocarpus ( rudraksha tree), Rhododendrons and Drosero( an insectivorous plant).
Subramani says accurate identification is important. “Over 100 tree species are endemic to the sholas.”
Free copies of the book have been distributed to forest offices in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Krishna Kumar says: “It is a benchmark reference especially at a time when climatic changes are affecting the Nilgiris. It serves as a handy guide for students, foresters, botanists, scientists, and researchers on Ayurveda and Siddha. A decade of work has gone into the making of this book. Tamil Nadu has 40 forest types, of which the Sholas and the Grasslands are unique. We have to study them intensively and conserve their rich bio-diversity.”
The book is published by IFGTB, Coimbatore along with Hill Area Development Programme, Ooty and National Biodiversity Authority, Chennai. It costs Rs. 1150. To get a copy of the book, call 0422- 2484100 from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. on working days.