The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) has listed Neelakurinji ( Strobilanthes kunthiana) under Schedule III of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, including it on the list of protected plants.
- Those who uproot or destroy the plant will invite a fine of ₹25,000 and three years’ imprisonment. The cultivation of Neelakurinji and its possession is not allowed, according to the order.
- In the Western Ghats region, nearly 70 varieties of Neelakurinji plants have been identified.
- The most popular Neelakurinji is Strobilanthes kunthiana which blooms once in 12 years.
- However, some other rare varieties of Neelakurnji are also found in the Western Ghats region.
- The most recent blooming of Neelakurinji was over a vast area on the Kallippara hills at Santhanpara in Idukki. An expert team had identified six varieties of the plant across the mountains.
- The Eravikulam National Park, near Munnar, is known for widespread blooming of the kurinji, with the next flowering season expected in 2030.
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About Kurinji or Neelakurinji
- Kurinji or Neelakurinji, scientifically known as Strobilanthus kunthianus, is a shrub that grows in the shola forests of the Western Ghats in South India.
- The plant is named after the famous Kunthi River which flows through Kerala’s Silent Valley National Park, where the plant occurs abundantly.
- The Kurinji plant belongs to the genus Strobilanthus, family Acanthaceae and was identified in the 19th century.
- The genus has about 250 species. Out of that, around 46 species are found in India. Kurinji grows to a height of 30 to 60 cm and is found at an altitude of 1,300-2,400 metres.
- Most of the Strobilanthus species have an unusual flowering behaviour varying from an annual to 16- year blooming cycles.
- Honey bees act as pollinators of Neelakurinji.
- Some Kurinji plants bloom once in every seven years and then die. Their seeds sprout subsequently and continue the cycle of life before they die eventually. Strobilanthus kunthianus and other species, that are long interval bloomers, are known as “Plietesials” scientifically. Strobilanthus kunthianus blossoms only once in 12 years.
- In the ancient Sangam literature of Tamilakam or Tamil Country, land was classified into five types. They are Kurinji (mountainous), Mullai (forested), Marutham (agricultural), Neithal (coastal) and Paalai (desert).
- Tamil scholars opine that this classification was based on the most characteristic plants of these ecosystems: Strobilanthus kunthianus (Kurinji), Jasminum auriculatum (Mullai), Nymphaea nouchali (Neithal) and Wrightia tinctoria (Paalai).
- The mountainous landscape, referred to as Kurinji, abounded with Kurinji flowers.
- The Paliyar tribal community that lives in the montane rain forests of the South Western Ghats uses the flowering periodicity of this plant to calculate their age.
- Kurinji used to once grow abundantly in the Nilgiri Hills (part of the Western Ghats) in Tamil Nadu. The brilliant blue colour of Kurinji has given the hills the name “Nilgiri”, literally meaning “Blue Mountains”.
- But presently, plantations and buildings have occupied the hills. In Kerala, the Anamalai Hills of Idukki district, the Agali Hills of Palakkad district and the Eravikulam National Park of Munnar (all in the Western Ghats) also have this plant.
- In addition to the Western Ghats, Kurinji is also found in the Shevaroy Hills of the Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu as well as the Bellary district of Karnataka.
- The year 2006 was when the Neelakurinji last bloomed in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, after a span of 12 years. The year was declared as the “Year of Kurinji” and a commemorative stamp was released in Kerala.
- There is a sanctuary in Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages of Idukki district specially meant for conserving Kurinji called “Kurinjimala Sanctuary”.
- The best place to see the plant and its blossoms is the hill station of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. The name “Kodaikanal” means “Gift of the Forest” in Tamil. It is referred to as the “Princess of hill stations”.
- Kodaikanal is situated on the crown of the Palani Hills, at an altitude of 2,133 metres (6,998 feet) and is surrounded by dense forests. The Paliyar tribes are considered to be the earliest residents of Kodaikanal.
- The famous Kurinji Andavar Temple in Kodaikanal, is named after Kurinji, that carpets the region every 12 years.
- As Neelakurinji or Strobilanthus kunthianus occurs in grassland and shola forests, at an altitude of 1,300 to 2,400 metres, it is very essential to maintain and improve the ecosystem without any further degradation and depletion.
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