The original vegetation found in Palnis is known to be Sholas, marshes, and grasslands. Shola is the local term for the thick, green forest.
It’s when the settlers started to increase in the number that many exotic plants and trees were introduced to the hills. Some for commercial and ornamental purposes and some to make the new residents feel at home.
FLOWERING PLANTS AND TREES
Other names: –
Native to: Upper Palnis
Flowering Season: March to June
Location to Spot: Coaker’s walk, Palni viewpoint, Klavarai village, near the main entrance of KIS
2018 (my first visit to Kodaikanal) was the year of bloom for these Kurinji flowers. They bloom every 12 years. Although I was chasing to look at hills or rocky slopes covered in these mauve colors flowers, I couldn’t. The most I saw was a hillside with pockets of these shrubs. It was beautiful nevertheless especially with the mist floating.
There’s something about the flowers in the rain, they seem to radiate.
2. Mimosa-leaved Jacaranda
Other names: Nil-Gulmohar (Hindi, Nilkantha (Bengali)
Native to: Brazil and Argentina
Flowering Season: March to June
Location to Spot: Outer garden on Bodhi Zendo
I was walking on the ghat road when my eyes stopped at a magnificent tree covered in violet flowers. I have since seen a few of these trees around Kodaikanal but the sight of that tree in full bloom remains special.
3. Himalayan Cherry
Other names: Paddam(Hindi), Padmak (Bengali)
Native to: Himalayas, South Tibet, Assam, Myanmar, Nepal, West China
Flowering Season: July to September
Location to Spot: Valley view from Greenland’s youth hostel, behind the church in KIS
The leafless trees covered in pink flowers is a sight to behold. The aromatic wood is used to make walking sticks.
4. Angel’s Trumpet
Other names: Angel Star
Native to: Columbian Andes
Flowering Season: Year-round
Location to Spot: Sri Vignesh guest house (behind Spencer’s)
A weed now, Angel’s trumpet is an invasive species. This plant is known to be hallucinogenic to a dangerous level. The plant has many hybrids now, so it’s common to see flowers in yellow, pink, red, and white. They are sweetly scented, if you’re around the shrub the scent will reach you.
5. Mexican Wall Daisy
Other names: Mexican fleabane
Native to: Mexico
Flowering Season: Year-round (Peak – March to June)
Location to Spot: Common on walls
These weed clinging to walls forms a beautiful mat of flowers. The small flowers are generally shades of pink and white in color. The weed was supposedly introduced by Sir Vere Levinge (Madurai collector who led the Kodaikanal Lake project).
6. Avocado Pear
Other names: Butter fruit (local name)
Native to: Mexico and Tropical America
Fruiting Season: May to July
Location to Spot: Vellagavi village, Bodhi Zendo farm
It was only in Kodaikanal that I learned Avocados are cultivated in India as well and in large quantities esp. in the Palnis. Locally known as Butter fruit, they are sold for Rs. 50 a kg in the peak season in Sunday market. But they can be purchased during the week at vegetable carts around the lake at a slightly higher cost.
7. Pink Passionflower
Other names: Banana passionflower
Native to: Venezuela, Columbia, Peru
Fruiting Season : Year-round
Location to Spot: In Dostel garden
The flowers hanging down over trees (this is a climber) look beautiful but they take over bushes and trees quickly if not kept in check.
The fruit is edible and appears quite like passion fruit inside (flavourful seeds with jelly around it).
Other names: Akhi (Punjabi)
Native to: Pakistan to southwest China and most of Southern Asia
Fruiting Season: July to September
Location to Spot: Common shrubs along old cemetery road
The shrub is covered in spikes, making many miss the juicy fruit. I love picking the berries on hikes. They are so common around Kodaikanal, you just have to keep an eye out and you will find the shrubs with these delicious fruits. The deep orange ones are edible but the sweetest ones are slightly purple in color.
9. Wild Guava
Other names: Hill gooseberry
Native to: India, Malaysia, South China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Australia
Fruiting Season: –
Location to Spot: The fruits are sold in fruit stalls along the ghat road
I haven’t seen the trees around (or didn’t pay attention to them) but I have seen the fruits being sold by local fruit vendors along the ghat road. They get pinkish purple when ripe and the locals
10. Country Pear
Other names: Wild Pear, Bhutan Pear
Native to: Northern Iran and west of Southern Europe
Fruiting Season: August to October
Location to Spot: Pear Orchards on Observatory road, Vilpatty
They are rich in water but not very flavorful. Locally, they are mostly used in making jams and cakes. Country Pear were first introduced in Palni hills by Mr. Tapp (from Tapps corner), who planted an orchard in Shenbaganur.
Other names: Ginger grass
Native to: Peninsular India, Myanmar, Thailand
Location to Spot: Ganeshpuram hike or hikes around Bodhi Zendo
It was on the Ganeshpuram waterfall hike that I first saw a wide array of lemongrass shrubs. Our guide had a stick in his hand that he used to hit lightly at the shrubs, this let the sweet scent fill the air. I have since then found lemongrass commonly while hiking around Kodaikanal, also a few shrubs on Observatory road.
Kodaikanal is rich in a variety of Ferns so much so that a road is named after it – Fern Hill road.
In Bhutan curled fern fronds called ‘fiddleheads’ are eaten quite commonly but I haven’t seen that anywhere in Kodaikanal in spite of their abundance.
Commonly found ferns in Kodaikanal – Tree fern, Golden fern, Bracken fern.
Eucalyptus, Pine, and Wattle were all planted as monocultures which means these were planted in important grasslands as one type of vegetation. The damage they caused to the local ecosystem were recognized many years later and as a result of it, planting Eucalytus is now banned in the hills.
Of all the exotic trees introduced in the Palnis, Acacia/wattles are still known to be most damaging. They grow rapidly overtaking the grasslands. These grasslands are crucial for local animals like Bison that have a large appetite for greens. One of the reasons wattle trees gained popularity was because the bark of the trees can be used for tanning leather. An industry that continues to exist nearby in Dindigul.
Further Reading: Flora of the Southern Western Ghats and Palnis by Pippa Mukherjee
“The health of the hills is the wealth of the plains”