Shola grasslands are the habitat of kurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) and the habitat is more important than the plant itself. They occur in the Nilgiris, Pulneys (Palani) and Anamalai hills of Tamil Nadu and adjoining areas of Kerala at an altitude of more than 1700 metres. Sholas are found at lower altitudes (1300 metres and above) at agastyakoodam and its enviorns. They help to sustain life in the valleys and plains.
In Kerala, the most expansive and protected shola forests are in the Eravikulam National Park in Idukki district. Agastya hills in Thiruvananthapuram district, Brahmagiri hills in Waynad district and Sispara ghat in Palakkad district also harbour shola forests. The New Amarambalam Reserve forests in Malappuram district also have some sholas. This is an extension of sholas in the Nilgiris.
Conservation of sholas is important not only for the protection of the biodiversity of these regions but also the water security of the plains. Many rivers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu originate from the shola grasslands. They arrest surface runoffs from the hills during rains. Held by the foliage, grasses and the humus layers, this water is released gradually. Rains occur in these areas for up to nine months a year. Besides, precipitation occurs in the form of mist condensing on the plants. Watercourses originate from areas covered with trees and join with others on the grasslands. Thus the shola grassland system acts as perennial source of water for the rivers downstream.
Shola forests usually have three layers of plants, many of them endemic. New species have been discovered in shola grasslands even a decade ago. There is high concentration of lichen, mosses, ferns and orchids in these areas. Many plants in these forests have medicinal properties. However, potential of several species are yet to be studied. (See next page for more on sholas and endemism.)
Flora of shola grasslands
Fauna of shola forests
Vanishing shola forests of Ponmudi