Ever heard of a flower that blooms once in 12 years? If not, then read on to know about the magnificent purplish blue flowers that cover the ravines of Munnar in down south Kerala between July and December.
Neelakurinji (Strobilanthus) flowers bloom once in 12 years and if you are lucky, you will get an opportunity to see the mesmerizing purplish blue flowers, which tribals used to calculate their age. The blossoming of the beautiful flowers in Munnar in Idukki district, located in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats, attracts a large number of tourists and nature enthusiasts to the hill town.
Munnar, a well-known tourist destination, is famous for its tea gardens, several vantage points and a rich variety of flora and fauna.
It is also home to the majestic Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragas hylocres) or the goat antelope, which is an endangered species. Over the years, generous conservation methods have helped the flower to thrive well in the Eravikulam National Park, located close to Munnar.
Coming to the most important question as to why does the Kurinji plant flowers only once in 12 years, here is a report published in 2006 by Donald Danforth, Plant Science Centre, St. Louis, USA. It says the “Chennai Kurinji (Strobilanthes sp.) and a number of other plant species synchronise their flowering (reproductive phase) within large local populations at a particular site. Populations at different sites may have different calendars, but the length of the cycle is almost the same within a particular species. This is one of the survival mechanisms evolved to escape complete destruction of the population by seed/flower predators and is termed “predator satiation”. Synchronisation of reproduction by large populations leads to an abundance of “prey” such that the predators are simply out-numbered. Therefore, the percentage of population destroyed by predators is significantly reduced. Jungle fowl and small mammals are the chief seed predators of Kurinji seeds. Other common examples of plants with synchronised flowering in long intervals include many species of bamboos, oaks and beeches. Predator satiation has been observed in a number of animal species such as the wildebeest of the Serengeti. How do plants “count” the number of years? They have an internal calendar, which recognises the difference in day length. There is very good evidence to show that by “recording” periodical changes in day length, these plants count the number of periods to wait before they flower. This calendar is usually well buffered for changes in environmental conditions and damages due to human activity such as burning. In addition, individuals that are “off-sync” will not survive due to predation. Each species waits for different periods of length before they flower so that they can accumulate enough nutrient reserves to produce a large number of seeds.”
The Kurinji flower last bloomed en masse in 2006. The next massive flowering in the Nilgiris-Palanis-Munnar belt is expected only in 2018.