The normally green slopes of the Nilgiris in south India turn bluish-purple once in 12 years, when the Neelakurinji shrubs blossom. Many plants have flowers throughout the year, some have them once a year. But Neelakurniji flowers come out only every 12 years, all the shrubs blooming together. In fact, the name Nilgiris – meaning Blue Mountains in Tamil – came from the Neelakurinji.
Kodaikanal and Palani in Tamil Nadu, Munnar in Kerala and Chikmagalur in Karnataka are places where you can see these beautiful flowers. The unusual blooming pattern was first recorded in 1838. But the Muthuvan tribe which lives in the Nilgiris has always known about the Neelakurniji. In fact, the older Muthuvans calculate their age by counting how many kurinji flowering seasons they have seen!
Bees love kurinji flowers, and when the purple blooms cover the hills, they are extra busy. The honey they make at this time is thicker and sweeter than usual and is precious because it’s rare.
The Neelakurinji grows only in the high areas of the Western Ghats and parts of the Eastern Ghats. Many years ago, the flowers covered the whole mountain range like a carpet. But as more and more land is being used to grow crops and build houses, the grasslands where the shrub grows are disappearing. Also, plastic waste and other types of pollution are making it hard for the kurniji to bloom.
The flowering of the Neelakurinji attracts a lot of tourists, and local people and officials keep watch to prevent them from plucking the flowers or littering the place.
July-August 2018 is bloom-time for the kurinji. Visit the Nilgiris to see this amazing sight. But take care not to harm the plants. Let’s make sure the entire Niligiris range turns blue in 2030.