February 8, 2021 4:21:02 pm
“Why should someone grow grasses in the middle of the town?” That’s a query Ooty-based ecologist Godwin Vasanth has heard a lot over the past few years. But he is clear why 12 types of tussock grasses, six types of strobilanthes (Kurunji) and 75 other native plants have to be grown in his nursery.
“In Southern India, we can see the grasslands and shola forest patches in Annamalai, Nilgiris, Kodaikanal, and Munnar. But the sizes of patches are comparatively very small. So many initiatives were started, but very few people have applied the methodologies in reality,” says Vasanth, who decided to go ahead and set up a nursery just for these native plants and grasses.
South India and parts of Sri Lanka are the only two places where we could see the Shola forests — tropical montane forests.
“Before the colonial period, Nilgiris was full of grasslands and shola forests. As a result of the invasive species introduced into this native ecosystem, 150 years on, there are few native Shola forests left standing in Nilgiris while most of the grasslands had been converted into human habitats and estates for the cash crops,” laments Vasanth.
His is the only grassland nursery in Ooty. Apart from growing native plants, Vasanth is also providing expert advice to the Forest Department and private organisations. On a demand basis, he also supplies native shrubs, plants, and grasses to schools, colleges, government organisations and even homes.
“The real difficulty is to sell the idea to farmers. They are not seeing the Shola trees and grasses as potential commercial plants like tea and coffee,” adds Vasanth, a member of the expert committee on invasive species management constituted by the Madras High Court. Vasant has worked on projects to convert over 300 acres back to Shola forests and grass hills.
Vasanth says the native Toda tribes of the area were once largely depended on the grasslands and Shola forests for their livelihoods and ritual customs. This high hill pasturing community grazed their water buffalos on grasslands only and made made their houses and temples using the grasses which withstand the extreme climate of the Nilgiris. “Now there are no patches of Eriochrysis Rangacharii (Avful) anywhere and they have to search hard to find enough grass to renovate their temple, says Vasanth, who works with with tribes to fulfil their demands.
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