[Explainer] Mass flowering and why do some plants bloom and die together?

[Explainer] Mass flowering and why do some plants bloom and die together?

  • Throughout mass flowering occasions, sure plant species dedicate assets to producing giant portions of seeds to make sure the pollination and survival of the subsequent technology earlier than they die. Periodic crops have mounted flowering durations from the second of germination.
  • Neelakurinji and bamboo are standard examples of mass flowering plant species in India. They’re intertwined with the tradition of native communities and likewise entice tourism to the realm.
  • Within the plant world, the phenomenon during which an organism reproduces solely as soon as earlier than it dies is known as monocarpy.
  • Researchers have hypotheses as to why this flowering sample developed, however extra analysis is required to raised perceive the complicated evolutionary relationships between these crops and the species round them.

Mass flowering is an enchanting phenomenon that happens everywhere in the world. Neelakurinji in India (Strobilanthes kunthiana) inflorescence, during which the vines of the panorama are lined with flowers, is a widely known instance of mass flowering – or simultaneous flowering. It is usually a sign of a sort of group bond within the plant world, which has developed its distinctive relationship with pollinators.

Why do some crops bloom en masse?

Mass flowering is an instance of semelparity, a phenomenon during which an organism – plant or animal – reproduces solely as soon as earlier than it dies. Within the plant world, this phenomenon can be referred to as monocarpy; this can be a distinctive flowering conduct during which a plant species blooms and produces seeds solely as soon as in its lifetime after which dies. Such crops are generally referred to as annual or periodic crops.

The genus Strobilanthes has 145 species, 72 of that are endemic, distributed within the Japanese Himalayas and Western Ghats in India. All Strobilanthes species bloom at lengthy intervals, however the well-known Strobilanthes kunthianaThe neelakurinji flower has been meticulously documented and its flowering vary is well-known and touted for tourism functions in sure areas of the Western Ghats.

Vegetation like this that bloom at lengthy intervals are referred to as plietesials. Neelakurinji blooms in late August, peaks in mid-September, and declines in October. It is a small blooming window, however fairly efficient from an evolutionary standpoint.

The picture shows a purple flower on a bush.
Mass flowering happens not solely within the genus Strobilanthes, but in addition in crops in about 20 households. Photograph By Simynazareth / Wikimedia Commons.

To arrange for a mass-seeding occasion, a protracted vegetative section helps crops accumulate adequate assets to supply giant portions of enticing seeds. After flowering, the mom crops die, the forest ground clears and soil nutrient ranges enhance for higher survival of their offspring. In the course of the flowering season, neelakurinji is pollinated by swarms of bees. The honey produced by these bees – Kurinjithen – is uncommon and regarded a delicacy and prized for its medicinal properties. The Paliyan tribe collects this honey and calls it ‘liquid gold’ due to its excessive market worth.

Strobilanthes has additionally developed distinctive plant-pollinator interactions to match its distinctive flower sample. Early scientists seen that the identical small animals and birds that consumed neelakurinji seeds additionally consumed mass-blooming bamboo seeds within the Western Ghats. As well as, honey bee swarms (Apis sp.) would pollinate neelakurinji whereas in bloom.

Analysis performed in 2019 confirmed tiny spiders residing contained in the tubular crown of neelakurinji. Spiders wait contained in the flowers, preying on pollinators that enter the nectar tube, and their motion makes the pollen stick with their our bodies. This facilitates the switch of pollen from flower to flower as spiders change their looking grounds and likewise permits the flower to self-pollinate. Pseudo-pollinators resembling these spiders haven’t been documented in analysis earlier than, and additional research of how they contribute to the copy of Strobilanthes is required to raised assess the complicated evolutionary relationships between these crops and the species round them.

Learn extra: Neelakurinji flower fades over time

An evolutionary race in opposition to pure choice

However why does it make ecological sense for some crops to subscribe to such a dramatic seeding sample? An identical course of referred to as mass flowering and masting (occurring principally in acorn or nut-pouring timber) is believed to have developed as an evolutionary protection in opposition to seed predation, as giant portions of seeds saturate predators and allowed many seeds to germinate into the subsequent technology. . One other speculation states that cross pollination will increase with mass flowering, making the species extra enticing and noticeable to pollinators. The third speculation is that mass flowering helps sure species outpace different crops within the space, permitting mass seedling formation and thus claiming dominance within the panorama.

After mass flowering, all people within the father or mother technology of crops die, abandoning an actual burial floor. There are two attainable explanations for this: first, seed manufacturing requires monumental power inputs that stress the plant to the purpose the place its lifespan is considerably shortened; second, the mom plant dies and leaves behind an area for daylight, water, and vitamins, creating optimum situations for its seedlings to outlive.

Picture shows flowers blooming on a hill
Neelakurinji blooms each 12 years. After mass flowering, all people within the father or mother technology die. Palmathi Vinoth’s picture.

Mass flowering happens not solely in Strobilanthes, but in addition in crops in about 20 households. Nonetheless, most of those species are non-periodic crops, that means the time between two mass flowering occasions shouldn’t be common. Two different collective genus of flowering crops embody Cerberiopsis (household Apocynaceae) and Tachigali (household Fabaceae); the latter is known as the ‘suicide tree’.

Though periodic blooms seem just like the bloom patterns seen in annual flowers, 2018 study discusses the delicate variations between these two phenomena. Annual species bloom concurrently in the identical season annually, and flowering might differ with seasonal modifications or particular person measurement. Nonetheless, periodic crops have mounted flowering durations from the second of germination. Seasonal modifications and particular person measurement don’t have an effect on the flowering cycle in these species, nor do they have an effect on the transplanting or slicing of particular person crops. Periodicity of greater than two years is a key characteristic of periodic crops and is taken into account an necessary occasion within the evolutionary historical past of such species. Different defining traits of periodic crops are mounted intervals of greater than two years between flowering occasions (periodicity), co-blooming of all people in a given inhabitants (mass flowering), and a lifetime flowering occasion (monocarpy).

Learn extra: Hot and dry – what do plants do when they push their limits?

bamboo case

Mass flowering additionally happens in bamboo species in Northeast India and South India. Most bamboo crops bloom solely as soon as of their life cycle. The flowering interval for various bamboo species varies; For some, the frequency is as soon as each three years, whereas in different species the interval is 150 years. However there’s something unusual about it – all members of a species bloom on the similar time, no matter geographic location. Which means that bamboo forests a whole bunch of kilometers aside have been instantly blooming on the similar time, one thing scientists are nonetheless attempting to know. A 2002 analysis research instructed that cyclical temperature fluctuations, presumably pushed by local weather cycles resembling El Niño, coordinate mating occasions between populations. Nonetheless, different researchers consider this mass bloom is genetic, identical to a time bomb, a silent countdown appears to set off this phenomenon of mass blooming, which leads to bamboo stands to die instantly, following the precept of monocarpy.

Most bamboo crops bloom solely as soon as of their life cycle. The flowering interval for various bamboo species varies; For some, the frequency is as soon as each three years, whereas in different species the interval is 150 years. Shagufta Ahmed’s picture.

Tradition and tourism intertwined with mass flowering

Bamboo bloom is seen as a foul omen in numerous elements of Northeast India. That is believed to have led to famines and poverty, maybe as a result of the blooming of bamboo in sure years is related to a rise in rodent populations that devastate crops. Nonetheless, bamboo performs an necessary function within the tradition of many Northeastern states, such because the bamboo dance of Mizoram. In Kerala, the place Ochlandra bamboo species are discovered, bamboo cultures (stalks) are utilized in cottage industries to make reed mats, baskets, flutes, pens, fish traps and even arrows. It is usually an necessary a part of the paper and pulp business.

Equally, the neelakurinji is shrouded in lore and infused with the tradition of its panorama. In Palani, a city in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, native communities rejoice the Kurinji Competition at Murugan Ghat. Indigenous tribes use the flowering of neelakurinji as a calendar, remembering birthdays, marriages and different necessary occasions because the final mass flowering occasion. The mass blooming of Neelakurinji can be a giant draw for Kerala tourism as hundreds of vacationers flock to Eravikulam Nationwide Park to witness the blue flowers masking the hills. In response to the Kerala Forest Division, almost eight thousand vacationers visited Eravikulam in 2018, which has led to stringent measures being taken to guard the delicate ecosystem from degradation.

The Kurinjimala Conservation Space was declared in 2006 as a approach to defend the neelakurinji’s most important habitat. Nonetheless, with the rise of tourism and agricultural actions on the outskirts of the sanctuary, small farms are going through stress from fields, resorts and lodges. At the moment, 32 hectares have been allotted as a part of the sanctuary, which can be dwelling to uncommon wildlife resembling Nilgiri tahr, Asian elephant, gaur, and noticed deer. Within the rush to guard a uncommon flower and its distinctive floral sample, authorities plans are additionally serving to to guard the delicate biodiversity of the Western Ghats.

Learn extra: Longwood Shola forest is a source of water for villages in Nilgiris and preserves biodiversity


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Header picture: Neelakurinji blooms in Ooty in 2018. Photograph By Rakeshkdogra/ Wikimedia Commons.

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