From a distance it looks as if the hill has wrapped itself in a dark blue shawl. As you walk up the ridge, you realise that thousands of shrubs of neelakurinji (Strobilantheskunthiana) have blossomed en masse.
At Ebbanad and Bikku Pathi Mund villages, close to Ooty in the Nilgiris, a rare spectacle that normally happens once in 12 years is on view. Tourists have been crowding the two villages, nearly 15km away from the Ooty district collectorate, to watch the blooms ever since news spread that the kurinjis have flowered.
Normally, neelakurinjis blossom across vast tracts of the southern Western Ghats. This time, however, only two hills in the Nilgiris have been fortunate to witness the blooms.According to local environmental activist Prabhu Poornan, the plants bloom normally in the Nilgiris, the Palani hills and the Munnar ranges in Kerala. The sighting of the flower, which has no fragrance, was recorded for the first time in the hills way back in 1838. The Nilgiri hills, which literally means the blue mountains, got their name from the purplish blue flowers of neelakurinji that blossoms gregariously only once in 12 years, said S Jayachandran of Tamil Nadu Green Movement. As the plant species is an endangered one and endemic to the southern Western Ghats, a proposal for listing the plant in Schedule 6 of the Wildlife Act is under the consideration of the government, said a forest official.
“Neelakurinji grows only at an altitude of around 1,500 metres and is considered the flagship species of the shola grassland ecosystem. The plant will not survive in any other climate and altitude,” says Prabhu. Though seeds will be formed in the plant immediately after the flowering, it takes another 10 months for these to become ready for germination. The conservation of the seed and the plant for the next 10 months is a major challenge for forest officials and wildlife enthusiasts.