Man-made forest fires threaten ‘neelakurinji’ plants

The fire at the Kalhatti slopes destroyed most of the kurunji plants.

The fire at the Kalhatti slopes destroyed most of the kurunji plants.   | Photo Credit: M. Sathyamoorthy

District administration urged to monitor human activities in the area

Forest fires, caused by Kalhatti residents, in the hillocks where the mass blooming of the iconic ‘neelakurinji’ (Strobilanthes kunthianus) was observed last year, could threaten the plants’ continued presence along the Kalhatti slopes, horticulturalists and environmentalists fear.

The kurinji plants, which flowered gregariously across many parts of the Nilgiris last year, bloomed also along the Kalhatti slopes after a 12-year-gap. The mass blooming of the plants led to thousands of visitors flocking to the two hillocks along the Kalhatti slopes where the mass flowering was observed.

However, this year, farmers cultivating the areas surrounding the locations where the flowers bloomed, have started forest fires which have completely burnt down all the plants in the two hillocks where the plants were observed.

There is concern among conservationists that the fires, started to allow the regeneration of grass to serve as fodder for cattle after the rains, could lead to the disappearance of another important location where the Strobilanthes plants bloom.

Speaking to The Hindu, G. Rajkumar, chief co-ordinator for the Save Kurinji Campaign Council, said that there was a chance that the fires themselves could potentially kill the next sprouting and blooming cycle of the ‘neelakurinji’ along the Kalhatti slopes.

V. Ramsundar, a horticulturalist who was formerly working in the Nilgiris, said that the plants have the capability to survive natural forest fires.

“They have the inherent capacity to regenerate despite being subject to fire,” said Mr. Ramsundar, who however wanted forest officials to ensure that the patch of land where the plants bloomed to not be diverted for other purposes.

“Artificial fires, started in declared forest areas, can be used to clear lands that can later be used for agriculture, grazing or for constructing structures. Such activities could pose a threat to the survival of the plants in that particular region,” said Mr. Ramsundar, who called on the Forest Department and the district administration to ensure that human activities in such landscapes to be controlled and monitored.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 5:09:18 PM |

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