Will Neelakurinji bloom next season?

Experts say recent wildfires could have wiped out all the seeds of the endemic flower

April 06, 2019 05:37 pm | Updated April 07, 2019 02:14 pm IST - IDUKKI

Karnataka , Mangaluru : 22/10/2018 :  Neelakurinji flowers blossomed in Kumara Parvatha near Kukke Subrahmanya. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Karnataka , Mangaluru : 22/10/2018 : Neelakurinji flowers blossomed in Kumara Parvatha near Kukke Subrahmanya. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Next season, the Neelakurinji blossoms may not carpet the hillocks on the western side of the Western Ghats in a ravishing purple.

Wildlife experts say the recent large-scale wildfires on the grasslands where Neelakurinji ( Strobilanthes kunthiiana ) blossomed widely last year after a period of 12 years could have wiped out all the seeds of the endemic flowers from the area. The Forest Department suspects that the recent wildfires were man-made. Some areas are still engulfed in flames in the Munnar region. About 1,000 ha of forestland, grantis and eucalyptus plantations and grasslands have been destroyed in the fire.

Germination destroyed

There are allegations that the areas coming under the proposed Kurinji sanctuary were set on fire with a motive to destroy the germination of Neelakurinji seeds, immediately after the flowering season, so that the area would not come under the sanctuary.

A senior forest official told The Hindu on Saturday that in the proposed Kurinji sanctuary, there were encroachments and land grabbers wanted to keep the area off the limits of the sanctuary.

According to P. Sujanapal, scientist, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi, Neelakurinji seeds are sensitive without a hard cover and are unlikely to survive a massive fire. As a habitat, the Western Ghats is known for its rare collection of flora and fauna. There are some rare orchids in the area and even a flash of fire could destroy the seeds. The grasslands are important agents for protecting the biodiversity, both for plants and animal species. The damage done by a wildfire to its ecosystem would depend on the intensity of it. A massive fire could wipe out an entire habitat and there are many rare plants in the Western Ghats which are yet to be studied. All these and insects endemic to the area might face extinction in a massive fire, he added.

According to botanist Jomy Augustine, who has been studying Neelakurinji and the flora in the Western Ghats for over a decade, massive fires are rare in the sanctuary.

The area was widely covered with flowers in the last season. The seeds, so small, usually are distributed in the soil by January after the flowering season and by February they would get a soil cover through the summer rain. However, this season was noted for its absence of rain in February. Only after a serious study, it would be known how much the fires have affected the Neelakurinji, he said.

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