The shola forests used to grow extensively in tropical montane forests in South India and Sri Lanka, but during the colonial period, invasive species were introduced to the native ecosystem due to commercial purposes.
Godwin Vasanth's nursery in Ooty (IE Image/ Nithya Pandian)
Ooty based ecologist Godwin Vasanth has been growing six kinds of Strobilanthes, a flowering plant, 12 kinds of tussock grasses and 75 other native plants in his nursery to increase the depreciating patches of grasslands that once thrived in this Tamil Nadu town in the Nilgiris districts.
Talking to Indian Express, Vasanth said that the grasslands and shola forest patches are comparatively small than those in Annamalai, Nilgiris, Munnar and Kodaikanal ranges in Southern India. Although several initiatives were taken, only a few showed interest to the methodologies in reality. Hence he decided to set up his own nursery with native plants and grasses in the middle of the town.
Further reasoning about what caused the loss of these grasslands he said that the shola forests used to grow extensively in tropical montane forests in South India and Sri Lanka, but during the colonial period, invasive species were introduced to the native ecosystem due to commercial purposes reducing the number of Shola forests in the Nilgiris. Most of the grasslands here are now inhabited humans and the soil is used to grow cash crops, says Vasanth who has worked in government projects to convert 300 acres of land back to grass hills or Shola forests.
Owner of the only grassland in Ooty, Vasanth now provides expert advice to the Forest Department and to other private organisations. He also supplies saplings of native plants, shrubs and grasses to the gardens of government organisations, schools, colleges and even homes. Vasanth has also been a member of the expert committee on invasive species management constituted by the Madras High Court.
However, selling the idea of planting native trees to the farmers has been a challenge, points out Vasanth, whom he finds are interested in commercial crops like tea and coffee. However the Toda tribe in the Nilgris are dependent on the grasslands as they use it for grazing their cattle and build their houses and temples that can withstand the extreme climate of the area, says Vasanth, who works with these tribes to fulfil their livelihood demands.