Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes Kunthiana) is a bush with several branches. The species name Kunthiana has been derived from the River Kunthi which flows through the rich expanse of the renowned Silent Valley National Park in Kerala. It means that the plant has been first described from the vicinity of this river. The plant grows profusely Shola grasslands and mountain slopes of the mighty Western Ghats and Nilgiris in India. Neelakurinji blooms in a clustered manner on typical inflorescence stocks once in every 12 years. The flowering season ranges between August and November with a peak period of late September and October although some varieties exhibit little variation in their phrenology. The flower has purplish blue colour when aged. It looks light blue in the earlier stage of blooming.
The Nilgiris owe the Neelakurinji for it's name which means blue mountains as it used to clothe a vast area of hills. Neela means blue in Malayalam language and Kurinji is the local name of the flower. There are about 300 species of plants that bloom in 10 to 16 years and Neelakurinji is the best known among them. About 46 of them are found in India . Plants that bloom at long intervals like this is called plietesials. These are mostly found on the hills of high altitude. The main habitat of Neelakurinji is hills surrounding Munnar which is in the Western Ghats. It has become a symbol of bio-diversity of the Western Ghats. This endemic species is also an indicator of the health of the ecosystem. It may well be claimed as flagship species of the mountains
Neelakurinji in Munnar
Munnar is blessed with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Situated about 1600 mts above sea level, Munnar is well known for its vast expanse of Neelakurinji. It last bloomed in the year 2006 and attracted large crowd to Munnar. After an interval of 12 years, in 2018, the hills around Munnar will be blanketed again with Kurinji flowers. Though massive flowering happens in 12 years time, the neelakurinji blooms in small quantity, sometimes a few plants only, at places around Munnar.
About 32 sq. km core habitat of the endangered Neelakurinji plant is protected in Kurinjimala Sanctuary in Kottakamboor and Vattavada villages in Devakulam Taluk, Idukki district of Kerala State in South India. The area was declaried a sanctuary by the Kerala Forest Minister Benoy Viswam at the Neelakurinji Fest at Munnar which took place7th October 2006. The declaration of the sanctuary was in in view of protection of the unique biodiversity of the area. It has been estimated that about ten lakh tourists visited Neelakurinji at Munnar during the bloom in 2006.
Neelakurinji - where else?
Neelakurinji is also seen in the Selvarayan (anglicized as Shevaroys) range of hills in the Eastern Ghats which is noncontinuous range of mountains running from West Bengal in the north, through Orissa and Andhra Pradesh to Tamilnadu in the south. Selvarayan is a local deity and the name means the beautiful one. It is at an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,920 feet) from mean sea level.
Thanks to Dr. T N Khan, Ecology & Wildlife Biology Lab, Maulana Azad College, Calcutta, for his contributions to this site.