Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

Periya, North Wayanad, Kerala

Key details

About the project

Photo gallery


Key species


Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

Periya, North Wayanad, Kerala

Key details

Aim of the restoration project

Rewilding former plantations and degraded forest lands (including swampy valley fields, riparian vegetation and hill slope habitat) through different strategies

What was the condition of the land before restoration? And what are the past and current disturbances?

Since the private reserve at Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary was grown slowly, through purchase of many 1-7 acre parcels over 50 years, we will refer to them as lands or pieces or fragments.

The various contiguous lands (currently under the custodianship of Gurukula) were previously under tea, coffee, lemongrass or ginger plantations. Except for 7 out of the 73 acres of the private lands, the whole area had been clear-felled  50-60 years ago followed by grazing, home gardens or plantations and annual monocultures in the swampy fields which would have been widened by settler practices. Exotic species have run feral in many fragments. Firewood collection at the onset of the monsoon, from harvesting fallen trees or branches or lopping near buildings. There was a fire on one of the hill slopes. The stream was polluted, depleted of fish and full of trash and the banks were grazed or cultivated in many places.

What are the restoration activities that were/are being carried out?

Rewilding, rehabilitation and ecological nurturance are better terms for describing the practices at GBS. The main idea is to protect existing old growth habitat, encourage native diversity in degraded areas, and in a limited portion, to rehabilitate 2000 species comprising a rich array of lifeforms from the Western Ghats that we believe need targeted intervention in the form of ecosystem or rainforest gardening.  Within all this is a 2 acre botanical garden, planted with native and exotic tropical species focusing on aroids, orchids, gingers, acanths, pteridophytes, pterophytes, begonias, bromeliads, carnivorous plants and impatiensThis area is open to the public and serves as a locus for discussion and learning on plant diversity, ecology, classification (scientific and vernacular), form (tuber, epiphyte, climber, tree) and function (what is this plant doing?), biogeography and horticulture. The exotics can be used as nurse cover for native relatives in the same family or even genus, the latter requiring various microclimatic conditions made more easily possible with dense interplanting. Any form of gardening requires repeated removal of quick growing exotic plants ranging from tiny urticacines and alga to Clidemia, Eupatorium and Lantana.  Fungal damage, or parasitic and other imbalance,  or insect and animal proliferation become management issues where plants are cultivated.

The oldest fragment has medium-tall forest, within which we have planted understorey herbaceous, tuberous and woody plants, as well as climbers, tree ferns and epiphytes. Some of this is land is left alone. Over the years, exotic species have run feral in many fragments, but native herbaceous, epiphytic and woody species are establishing themselves too. In one of these fragments, the tea was removed by us 20 years ago. In three smaller fragments of 1-2 acres, tea has been allowed to grow into a dense stand through which we have cut tunnels for easy access and to plant some deep forest species like Cullenia.  In two fragments, the tea was removed fully, and the area was planted with rehabilitated grassland species from various higher elevations of the Western Ghats. In another fragment, the tea has suckered up despite removal but is acting as a nurse tree for native evergreen species. Coffee was grown as an understory plantation crop in some areas, when it became too expensive to maintain, was left to itself. Coffee sapling removal has begun along a walking trail that traverses the whole land. Fragments previously under lemongrass and ginger plantations have largely been left alone, young forest has grown by itself, no planting was done. Some grazing takes place in areas. Fallen trees are occasionally removed for fuelwood for the community kitchen. Upstream chemical effluents, overfishing, overgrazing and sandmining, annual cultivations were degrading  the Kallampuzha stream near Gurukula and have been largely slowed or halted, and recovery of dense vegetation, and species of fish, increase in otter populations are perhaps signs of ecological recovery.

Specific actions:

    1. Tea removal on 6 acres, then left alone.
    2. Tea left alone on 3 acres to growth into dense thicket, monitored for succession with some planting.
    3. Tea left alone on 2 acres and monitored, no planting
    4. Rehabilitation through ex-situ means and out-planting of Western Ghat grassland species on 4 acres of approximately 300 species
    5. Rehabilitation through ex-situ means and outplanting of Western Ghat evergreen forest species including higher montane shola species in 5 acres of selectively felled forest, ranging from epiphytes and climbers to tuberous and understorey perennials of over 1000 species.
    6. Coffee largely left alone in 5 acres, some seedling removal, some harvesting of uprights, some outright removal.
    7. Ginger and lemongrass left alone in 15 acres, recovering to secondary forest, some planting along tracks.
    8. Selectively felled forest left alone.
    9.  Riparian poromboke vegetation protected from annual monocultures, felling, sandmining and bamboo overharvesting. Occasional planting of Pandanus. Tree species monitored on a yearly basis since 2017

Area of the project

75 acres


Periya, North Wayanad, Kerala


720- 820 m

Annual rainfall

5000 mm


11°C to 35°C

About the project

The private and public lands under the Gurukula stewardship through its ecosystem gardening programmes and the community outreach initiative called the Green Phoenix,  include first order stream with riparian vegetation, swampy valley fields and hill slopes of the  land has been clear-felled in the past. Only 7 of the privately held acres had primary forest which had had some selective removal of large trees.  Our collective has taken slow custodianship for these smallholdings a few acres at a time, and carried out various activities ranging from ex-situ conservation of Western Ghat species and rehabilitation of the same in habitats, to passive and active measures to recover degraded land to forest cover. Much of the rewilding land is left alone, and yearly lists are maintained of species presence. On 15 acres, tea has been removed. Since there are few opportunities to study what happens to land under different treatments, we believe it is important to document our wide-spectrum approach to ecological nurturance. We raise questions, intervene in small ways in a larger part of the land (60 acres), and in an intensive way in nurseries and habitats in a smaller area (15). Our concern for water bodies and to not disturb springs and swamps, and protecting land from over extraction or grazing has brought about the great diversity of species over time, and also richly varying textures of habitat.  The land has powerful agents of transformation from the movement of animals, to quick spreading plants, and human beings who tend diversity, and also heavy rainfall. Mostly we are interested in asking questions and observing. Here are a few:

  • In an epiphytically rich, tree sprung biome with a diverse understory, is it better to remove feral plantation crops in one shot, or is it better to phase them out, or perhaps even to leave alone? 
  • Are there qualia to be nurtured such as coolness, density, protection of the soil, exuberance of vegetation, buffer zones for animals to hide in? Is succession something to harnessed and worked with?
  • Do microbial and fungal diversity matter? 
  • What about the diversity of bryophytes and pteridophytes? 
  • Where and how do herbaceous flora fit in? 
  • Which of these start the healing process? 
  • Since the forest has taken millennia to evolve to present day diversity and character, is time not a crucial factor also in rewilding? 

Meanwhile large scale conversion and clear-felling have dramatically affected habitat conditions. Plants are apparently vigorously trying to defend themselves and the soiland ameliorate/create local climate through all this. More questions:

  • When surrounded by heavily managed landscapes, is there need to rest the land as a preliminary stage of rewilding? 
  • Is Wedelia ( a fast speading exotic herbaceous aster) to be pulled out, or is it a deterrent to grazing, and will shade anyway not eliminate it? Is Clidemia ( a fast spreading exotic woody melastome) not dispersed by native frugivores, so, how can it be destructive? 
  • Are new and complex relationships (between plants and plants, trees and plants, animals and plants, fungi and others, soil microflora and others) being rapidly formed in a fast moving leapfrogging successional process?
  • How do the different cultural practices shape the land over long periods of time? And vice versa?

It is a fact, that, over time the lands at Gurukula and the Kallampuzha river have become more fecund.  Here is a rich surging milieu of habitats and microhabitats, with equally rich (and tangling) narratives and micro narratives.

Get in touch

Team: Suprabha Seshan
Suprabha, Laly, Sandilya, Jaimon, Sajji, Pradeep, Balan
Address: Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Alattil P. O., North Wayanad, Kerala 670644
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