Neelakurinji

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 in 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.

It was the Geman botanist Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (February 1776 – March 1856) who nomenclatured Neelakurinji as Strobilantehs Kunthiana. The standard botanical author abbreviation for him is Nees. He classified Neelakurinji to be of : -

  • Kingdom : Plantae
  • Division : Magnoliophyta
  • Class : Magnoliopsida
  • Order : Lamiales
  • Family : Acanthaceae
  • Genus : Strobilanthes
  • Species : S. Kunthiana
Nees described about 6,900 plant species. He was the predsident of the Geman Academy of natural Scientists Leopoldina. He also authored large number of monographs on botany and zoology.

The last few decades witnessed impairment to the habitat of Neelakurinji. Plantations of tea, cardamom and timber devastated stupendous range of pristine forests home to this rare bush. Vast stretches of virgin rain forests got drowned by some Hydro-electric projects. Tea plantations engorged the most of kurinji filled hills. Now the kurinji thrives in the valleys and gorges that remain undistorted.

Another anthropogenic threat witnessed this year is the indiscriminate collection and destruction of bushes and stocks of Neelakurinji by some unaware and unruly visitors. This is particularly noticeable in some of the Nilakurinji habitats around Ooty in the Nilgiris. In the last week of September many tourist were observed to make rampant inside Neelakurinji thickets at Kodanadu in Kotagiri. They were also found to collect bunches of these flowers.

In addition to habitant destruction, such impudent activities may well prove serious threats to this long term survival of this important member of the biodiversity of these mountains.