Blooms in the Garden
Come monsoon and the barren Kaas blossoms into a floral carpet that makes you fall in love with it…
The Western Ghats are home to over 5,000 species of flowering plants, nearly 1,700 of which are found nowhere else in the world. The northern part of the Western Ghats, the Sahyadri, is characterized by flat-top mountains and the plateau of Kaas is perhaps the most beautiful among them. It enjoys the status of being ‘the valley of flowers’ of the Sahyadri. The ephemerals, herbs and tuberous plants profusely flower during the monsoon. Orchids are particularly spellbinding. This flowering occurs in succession, week after week.
The never-ending table land looks like a colorful carpet woven with an endless variety of flora – a botanist’s paradise, a photographer’s dream and a treasure-house of biodiversity!
The origin of the name ‘Kaas’ is obscure. The region was home to ‘kaasa’ plants – Elaeocarpus. We still find this plant here, and the place probably draws its name from this plant. In the local dialect, kaasa means a lake. There is a lake here, and this too could be the reason for the place being named ‘kaas’. There is also a village called Kaas with about 100 houses, with a local Goddess ‘kasani’.
Though the plateau is surrounded by dense forest, it hardly supports any vegetation by itself because it is pre-dominantly made up of porous laterite rocks. This rules out any agriculture here. It is only in the rainy season that grasses sprout almost overnight. There is a thin layer of soil here which does not support any vegetation, except in the rainy season. This uniqueness has created the special flora here. The landscape of Kaas changes from yellow to bright white, to deep red to sky blue, to shimmering violet to yellow again. This festival of colours lasts from June to October but it reaches a crescendo in August and September.
Come June, and Habenaria (Ground orchid) sprouts show up in their fresh white everywhere. Another fortnight and the bright yellow Graham’s senecio (Seneciograhami) and Mickey Mouse-shaped Smithia make their appearance. As the monsoon settles and the month of August begins, Purple bladderworts are there to welcome us. The Red balsam rise up with petals folded like hands in prayer. Intermittently, one’s eyes might meet bouquets of ivory white Eriocaulon. The puddles and ponds on Kaas now boast of Violet spike (Pogostemondeccanensis). The careful observer will readily identify many varieties of Ceropegia, Marsh dew flower, Begonia and Drosera, which are special plants of this place. Pleocaulusritchiei (Mal karvi) that blooms only once in nine years is again a peculiarity of the plateau.
To give you numbers, there are more than 1,500 types of plants here. Over 156 botanical families, 680 genera and 1,452 species have made Kaas and the surrounding Koyna Valley their home. Over 400 medicinal plants have been documented. The Red Data Book that lists endangered varieties has 624 entries, of which 33 (6%) are found here. This rich natural treasure trove can only be compared to the ‘Valley of Flowers’ in Uttarakhand in north India. The Western Ghats and the Kaas plateau have been declared as Biodiversity World heritage site by The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Scientific Name: Smithiasetulosa
Common Name: Bristly smithia
Local name: Mothakawla
Smithiasetulosais a plant belonging to the pea family and grows up to 1 – 1.5 m in height. It is often referred to as Mickey Mouse because of the shape of its flower. It is named after the British botanist, Sir James Edward Smith. This plant is protocarnivorous which means it traps or kills insects, but lacks the ability to digest its prey. The plant is believed to have cosmetic uses.
Scientific Name: Murdannia lanuginose
Common Name: Marsh dew flower
Local Name: Abolima (Marathi)
The Marsh dew flower is an annual, emergent plant that invades water edges and marshes, and often remains immersed.
Scientific Name: Utriculariagraminifolia
Common Name: Purple bladderwort
The Purple bladderwort is an insectivorous aquatic herb. This plant is found in the areas between the south of China and India. In India, it is found in the northern parts of the Western Ghats spanning Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. It grows on wet rocks, soil covered boulders and grassy slopes. It is dominant on basalt and lateritic rock. It outcrops and forms ephemeral flush vegetation.
Scientific Name: Dipcadimontanum
Common Name: Deepcadi
Local Name: Deepkadi (Marathi), Katuvengain (Tamil)
Dipcadi is an erect bulbous herb. Flowers are greenish white, with six stamens attached to the petals.
Scientific Name: Pogostemondeccanensis
Local Name: Jamblhimanjiri (Marathi)
This is a small aquatic herb, native to India, that belongs to the mint family. It grows up to 8-10cm in height. It belongs to ephemeral flush vegetation. It can be identified by its narrow stalkless leaves which may be arranged in whorls of five or more leaves. The flower is purple with purple stamens sticking out of the flower.
Scientific Name: Seneciograhami
Common Name: Graham’s senecio
Local Name: Sonaki (Marathi)
It is a gregarious plant of the Western Ghats which makes a splash with its mass flowering during the monsoon. It is seen on hill-slopes, old roofs and in the forks of trees. It is an erect branched annual herb, that grows between 30 to 100 cm.
KAAS FACT FILE
Geographical details of the Kaas plateau are as follows:
Latitude: 17° 42’ to 17° 45’N
Longitude: 73° 47’ to 73° 56’E
Height above mean sea level: 1200 meters to 1240 meters
Area: 1142 hectares of forest land and 1792 hectares in all
Rainfall: The plateau receives an average annual rainfall of 2000 to 2500 mm. The porous laterite rock drains off most of it.
This was published in the July-August 2012 edition of Saevus magazine.