Safeguarding the Karvi and its natural habitats can support the livelihoods of forest-dwelling communities as well as help secure the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
The Western Ghats is full of surprises. As an ecological researcher, I don’t have to wait for the vacations to explore them, and have been fortunate enough to have witnessed intriguing landscapes and delicate flowers across it. An unforgettable phenomenon among all this splendour is the mass blooming of the Karvi flower. This occasion is in some places also called mel, Marathi for ‘together’, in recognition of the unique and synchronised way in which the Karvi flowers all bloom. And when they do, they change the lush green of the Sahyadris into the Neelgiris, the ‘blue mountains’, over seven years.
The Karvi has an interesting lifecycle. It is semelparous, which means it flowers only once in a lifetime and then dies off soon after seeding. This sequence of flowering and seeding is called masting; it reduces losses from invasion and ingestion, and maximises the flower’s chances of regeneration.
The Karvi belongs to the Strobilanthes genus of the Acanthaceae family. Some 46 of its species are found in India. Each species is characterised by its peculiar habitat.
The masting season is a busy time for honeybees and honey-hunters alike.
The Karvi also provides optimum protection to a variety of orchids and lilies, which flourish as its undergrowth.
Dried Karvi stems also support the livelihood of forest-dwelling communities. The wood of the Karvi is cut for domestic and commercial purposes.
Another Karvi found is the endemic, inverted bamboo basket like topli Karvi (Strobilanthes sessilis).
The bhui Karvi (Nilgirianthus reticulata) also looks the topli Karvi and inhabits a similar habitat in the northern most tip of Western Ghats.
The neelkurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana), unlike the Karvi, flowers once every 12 years.
Most of the Karvi grow in degraded soils and under harsh climatic conditions like high winds, extreme exposure to sunlight, heavy rains and drastic humidity variation to provide vital ecological services. Current land use patterns, including bringing wastelands like steep slopes and rocky plateaus under ‘productive uses’ like agriculture or plantations, have threatened this species.
Their extinction will have serious implications for the biodiversity of the whole of the Western Ghats. On the other hand, safeguarding the Karvi and its natural habitats can also support the livelihoods of tribal and forest-dwelling communities.
Jui Pethe is a freelancing ecological researcher working in the northern Western Ghats of Maharashtra.