Welcome to the only grassland nursery in the Nilgiris

Vasanth Bosco at his house in Udhagamandalam where he is growing native plants of the Nilgiris.   | Photo Credit: M. Sathyamoorthy

More than a 150 years ago, most of the upper Nilgiris was carpeted by grasslands with pockets of Shola forest interspersed between them. A combination of factors, such as the spread of invasive species, human agriculture and unfettered development across the Nilgiris over the last few decades threaten the remaining pockets of grassland in the blue mountains.

However, Vasanth Bosco and his father John, are two environmentalists trying to conserve grasslands and help indigenous grasses to regenerate themselves in more pockets of the Nilgiris. The father-son duo have started and look after the first and only grassland nursery in the Nilgiris.

Speaking to The Hindu, Vasanth said that even more vital to the Nilgiris biosphere than the Shola trees are wetlands and grasslands. “Research shows that Tussock or bunch grasses, and species such as Chrysopogon sequester huge amounts of carbon, binds soil together and are good for water conservation. A large number of herbivores depend on grasslands for food as well,” he said.

Vasanth has already planted more than 3,000 Shola trees on around eight acres of land. Now, his focus has shifted to grassland conservation and regeneration with around 20 acres being targeted for reintroduction of indigenous grassland species.

Being grown in the family backyard are a variety of tussock grasses, including the Toda grass, and Chrysopogon. While Vasanth is growing around 14 different varieties of indigenous grasses, he is currently focusing on growing and reintroducing around five to six species, such as Chrysopogon, Themeda, Bothriochloa, Andropogon and Eulalia to the slopes of the upper Nilgiris.

Due to a variety of factors, and even maybe because of climate change, Vasanth says that some of the indigenous grasses have stopped flowering in the wild, making seed dispersal almost non-existent and consequently, rendering some species of grasses at risk of local extinction. “This is probably the first population of grasses to be planted within Udhagamandalam in the last 100 years, and these grasslands form the habitat for a large number of animals and birds, such as the Nilgiri pipit. So understanding them will be extremely important to conserve the grasslands as well as the local wildlife,” he said.

On the afforestation policies of the forest department, Mr. Vasanth said that reintroducing Shola should be site specific and that local botanists and experts could also be consulted by the department when ascertaining the suitability of a particular location for Shola regeneration. “While regenerating degraded forests and introducing Shola species is important, there should also be more being done to conserve and regenerate grasslands,” said Vasanth.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 11:30:27 PM |

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