COMMON NAME: Mal karvy
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Strobilanthes sessilis var. Ritche
Topli karvi (Marathi)
DISTRIBUTION: Species from the Strobilanthes genus once grew abundantly in the Shola grasslands of the Western Ghats, although now much of their habitat is occupied by plantations and dwellings. They normally grow on hill slopes where there is little or no tree forest.
DESCRIPTION: Tall, bushy shrub
The genus Strobilanthes has a number of species whose flowering cycles range from one to 16 years! Of these, the Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthianus), which blossoms once every 12 years, is probably the best known. While the drawing in your books features the Neelakurinji, the photograph here shows a related species, the Mal karvy (Strobilanthes sessilis var. Ritche), which flowers every seven years.
Plants like these that bloom after a long interval are called ‘plietesials’. Plietesial plants grow for a number of years, flower ‘gregariously’ (in unison), set seed and then die. Since such plants have only one chance to reproduce, they invest all their resources into this single event. When these plants flower in unison, they cover entire hillsides in carpets of blue, attracting pollinators like the Indian Honeybee to the feast. This way, they overwhelm any form of competition, ensuring that the pollinators only see Strobilanthes for miles round!
It is suggested that the Neelakurinji give the Nilgiris (the ‘Blue Mountains’) their name. They are of great cultural value to people of the area, who are even known to calculate their ages by flowering cycles.
© All images on this page are the work and property of Prasanjeet Yadav