he Muduvar tribe, which inhabit the mountain ranges around Valparai(Tamilnadu) and Munnar (Kerala) in the Western Ghats, calculates its age with blossoming of the Kurinji. Neelakurinji ,This legendary flower blooms once in 12years and is due to enliven the mountain scapes, once again in the coming year.
In the Western Ghats, at an altitude of about 1,600 blooming flower tea metres, in the region of shoals and grasslands, the kurinji flourishes as a gregarious shrub. From the High Ranges to the Sayadhri Mountains, different varieties of the Kurinji flourish in valleys, in slopes and in gorges. All of them have a periodicity from eight to 12 years. After blossoming, the plant wilts. Though most of the varieties are blue, tjere are some yellow varieties too.
Geogaphers refer to the ranges south of the Palghat Gap as the Palni ranges and those to the north as the Nilgiris. In the Palni ranges, in Mattupatti and Gundumalai around Munnar, the Kurinji grows in abundance. In the area around Anaimudi also the plant thrives. Anaimudi(in Kerala) or the Elephant Peak is the highest point in South India, being several metres higher than the better-known Doddabetta near Ooty. And the area around it is now called and Eravikulam sanctuaty. The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary (in Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu) is contiguous to this sanctuary.
Though this flower has been a familiar subject for poets and for the hill folk, in modern times, two British botanists who explored the Palni ranges-Robert Wight in 1836 and Capt. Beddome in 1857 – documented the details and let the wider world get to know about this plant. The Kurinji found in the Palni and the Nilgiri ranges has been christened Strobulanthus kuntianum. The Catholic clergy in the Shenbaganur seminary in Kodaikanal kept careful notes of the flowering of the Kurinji.
In the Nilgiris, it was only from 1858 that we have records of the years of the plant’s blossoming. A resident of Kotagiri, Mr. Cockburne had details of those years. His father was a pioneer settler in the Nilgiris and his mother (Cockburne’s grandmother) had talked to the Kotas and Todas and had written down data on Kurinji. Thus data from three generations is available. Around the Nilgiris, this flower is called Nilakurinji and is abundant in the Mukurthi sanctuary. In recent years, the Pondicherry-based Salim Ali School of Ecology has been studying the blossoming of the Kurinji.
In Tamil Sangam poems there are quite a few references to this flower. In works such as Agananurum and Maduraijanchi, the plant is referred as “Karungal Kurinji”, meaning the Black stemmed flower. When it is in bloom, the honey gathered from the beehives in the vicinity was valued highly. One poet praises a king as “the one who rules over a country where the Kurinji honey is in plenty”.