Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mathikettan Solai, Kodaikanal

Mathikettan Solai, Kodaikanal
This forest patch near Berijam Lake is significant as one of the largest contiguous sholas in the upper Palani’s. The name itself is curious as it is roughly translated from Tamil as “shola where one looses oneself.” Having had firsthand experience of being thoroughly lost in Mathikettan on past occasions, the name is fitting.

There has been dramatic change in the Berijam Lake and Mathikettan areas since the 1970s when the area’s montane grasslands were extensively planted with exotic tree species. Walking along the escarpment to the break off point of the old Berijam Ridge hike is enchanting. 

The state of grasslands here is quite precarious with wattle and eucalyptus spreading into areas that were never historically planted. There has been significant change and a notable decrease in the cliff-side grasslands.

There are important patches of grasses surviving amongst the plantations and there is good scope for restoration work along the cliff edge. Along the way there were also numerous Rhododendron arboreum trees in bloom with their unforgettable riot of red flowers. Mathikettan Shola itself is in fine shape with no apparent disturbance. There was even a spray of Calanthe triplicata ground orchids in flower - unusual for a flower that usually blooms during the South West Monsoon.

There were also significant numbers of shola pioneer species (Daphniphyllum neilgherrense etc.) invading the wattle and eucalyptus forests. This seems to confirm an observed trend of shola species recolonizing non-native plantations that have taken over montane grasslands.