The Kurinji Flower And The Birds
The Kurinji is a rarely flowering plant that blooms once in twelve years and when it does, it paints the hills blue and gives the Nilgiri hills their name – Nilgiri means blue hills. And this year was that special year.
Elsewhere, in the Western Ghats in India, the flowers are present but not in such large numbers. In some places one may find only a few bushes here and there.
I saw that it was being pollinated by insects such as bees and flies. I was close enough to two areas to be able to see the birds associated with this plant. The two species that were common to both the areas were the Red-whisked Bulbul and the Jungle Myna. At one place, I noticed sparrows perching. At the other, a family of Rufous Babblers popped out from under the bushes. I also noticed a Long-tailed Shrike had taken perch on a tree branch overhanging the flowers. Also present but not perching on the bushes were Pied Bush Chats, Spotted Doves and a juvenile Indian Blackbird.
All these birds were eating insects and thereby performing housekeeping duties for the plant. I think the Red-whiskered Bulbul and the Rufous Babbler are residential housekeepers. The latter is found only in and around the hills of South India, in habitats similar to the Kurinji.
Although I didn’t see the rare Palani/Nilgiri laughingthrush, I found it hiding under a lantana bush in similar habitat and I think it could be associated with this plant too. I admit my trip was not long enough. Plus it was rain-washed.
Most of the other places where I saw the flowering bushes were on far away hill slopes.
I first learnt about this plant when I was ‘researching’ about the Nilgiri Tahr, a rare and endangered mountain goat that lives in parts of the Western Ghats. I saw pictures of this animal walking among endless expanses of Kurinji flowers there and it was my dream to see this very sight but it was not to be. Heavy rains followed by the opening of the gates of nearby dams caused intense flooding, landslides and disaster in the state of Kerala. Much searching has revealed no result as to how the hill slopes where the Kurinji blossoms and its co-inhabitants fared.
As it is, the plant faces competition from invasive plants like lantana.
And, as more and more hills are being encroached upon, even this much loved and revered flower has not been spared. Even flowering plants have been cut. I have heard that culturally, it is forbidden to cut these plants, even dried twigs.
In short, it is the same old habitat loss story.