munnar

Neelakurinji

Munnar is blessed with a rich variety of flora and fauna but the most well known among them is Neelakurinji

The Neelakurinji or Kurinji is a unique shrub species that blooms in Munnar and the hills across Western Ghats. Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) belongs to the family of Acanthaceae. The species name Kunthiana has been derived from the River Kunthi. The genus has around 300 species, of which at least 46 occur in India. Besides the Western Ghats, it can also be found in Eastern Ghats.
 

neelakurinji

On the hills, the plant usually grow 30 to 60 cm in height, but under more favorable conditions they can grow well beyond 180 cms. It can be found only in high altitudes between 1,600 metres and 2,600 m and what makes it so special, apart from its beauty, is that it blooms only once in 12 years. The mass flowering and subsequent death of the Kurinji is the subject of hill folklore.

Although Neelakurinji has flowering cycles ranging from one to 16 years, it has been flowering every 12 years since 1800. What triggers the massive flowering every 12 years is not known. Plants that bloom at long intervals like this is called plietesials. But stray flowerings do occur in between. The flowering season comes between August and November and peak in late September and October although some varieties exhibit little variation. It looks light blue in the early stage of blooming and has purplish blue colour when aged.

Neela means blue in Malayalam language and Kurinji is the local name of the flower. For those in Munnar, the blooming of Kurinji flower is a reminder that their lives have gone past another twelve years and for those from far off places it maybe once in a life time opportunity to witness the Kurinji flowers covering the hills of Munnar in a blanket of blue.

The Nilgiris, which means blue mountains, got its name from the blue flowers of Neelakurinji. Once they used to cover the entire Nilgiris like a carpet during its flowering season. However, now plantations and dwellings occupy much of their habitat. The departments of Tourism, Forests and Wildlife have initiated a campaign for the preservation of Neelakurinji and its natural habitat.

During the last blooming in 2006, the biggest Neelakurinji flowering was at the Eravikulam National Park in Munnar. It also bloomed gregariously at several places around Munnar and in Kodaikanal. The next mass flowering is expected to take place in 2018.
 

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