Tracing Monsoon: Part IV: An Ode to Graminoids
Their birth is marked by very few, yet we all eagerly await them. They are one of the few organisms that, if I may use the phrase, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. But they lack shoulders, or bones. Scientists studying them call it agrostology, taxonomists identify them as Graminoids, but we all call them grass.
|A carpet of grass in Western Ghats|
|Rice after an early morning shower|
|A caterpillar enjoys a fresh green blade of rice|
|Grass in June, Karnala Fort|
By mid-July, the landscape is lush green. The monsoon ephemerals mingle with the grasses, and they both combine different hues of green-and-blue to form an enigmatic mottle of dark and light patches. The colours are so vibrant that they seem to glow in the moonlight too. The monocultures of grass, especially of rice, are saturated with water which has aided in rapid growth of the crop.
The growth pattern of grasses is not constant throughout the Ghats. They are now well over ten inches tall in some places, while in others they’re barely over two inches off the ground. Certain species grow extremely swiftly, and cover hillsides in isolated or dense bushes.
|Grass flowers on the outcrop of Kanheri Hills, Sanjay Gandhi National Park|
In October most of the grasses have spent their energy successfully. They’ve flowered, and, with the aid of wind and insects, have been successfully pollinated, mated and produced seeds. Some already turn brown, while others last a little longer until the sun saps all the moisture from the surface of the earth. And so we come to the end of one of the billionth lifecycle of grasses.
|Grass in December|
|A Preying mantis mimicking a stick, or grass|
|Eristalinus visiting a sedge at Yeoor Hills|
|Pheidole sp. - Harvester Ants|
|Trachelostylis lawiana on partly degraded land|
|A pasture field on Peb Fort without boundaries|
Most of the grassland habitats along the Sahyadri occur over the Deccan Traps and the hinterland. The very few ones of the Konkan plain have been converted into paddies, and the ones on top of the Traps are being converted into “forestland” by planting monocultures of trees. This was especially the case on the “bare” mountains – mountains that were once dominated by grasses.
These monocultures replace completely the native ecosystem with, more than often, the exotic plantations. And as years go by the resident grasses are replaced by more resistant species of grasses. Another kind of monoculture is related to our food. Fields of grains and especially sugarcane also have a devastating effect on the biotic as well as abiotic factors of the region.
|Sugarcane fields in Kolhapur|
The biological diversity of this region is as a matter of fact quite poor. Only a few birds like the Baya Weavers, who are an adaptable bird species of the Ghats, and others that rely on small wetlands, reside in this region.
|The grass-rich slopes of Sindola Fort, Western Ghats|
On the treks in the Sahyadri, you’ll see that it is grasses that are the most dominant in numbers of all living things. And indeed they must be, for along Sahyadri’s steep slopes and lose soil, where no tree can get a hold, it is grasses that keeps the mountains from crumbling.