Included here is the mountain range that runs along the western side of India and separates the Deccan Plateau from a narrow coastal plain (Malabar Coast) along the Arabian Sea.

Western Ghats Montane Shola Forest

These so-called shola forest are basically high altitude evergreen forests confined to high altitude plateaus and can become stunted at the highest elevations. They include both tropical and temperate elements and constitute one of the main natural plant formations of Kerala occurring in the regions of Anamalai (Eravikulam and Munnar), Vavul Malai (North Nilambur) and upper reaches of New Amarambalam (South Nilambur). The plant families Lauraceae (including Litsea species) and Myrtaceae (including Syzygium species) along with Microtropis species (Celastraceae) usually characterize these forests. In the Konkan area they typically have three or four tiers. In the first of these, trees such as the endemic Amoora lawii and Dysoxylum malabaricum (Meliaceae), Dipterocarpus indicus (Dipterocarpaceae) and Elaeocarpus tuberculatus (Elaeocarpaceae) reach heights of up to 45 m. The second tier between 15-23 m includes Alstonia scholaris and Hardwickia pinna, while the third tier includes small trees of between 10-15m such as Callicarpa tomentosa and Leea indica. There is also usually a dense thicket of shrubs and climbers including the mysterious climbing gymnosperm Gnetum ula. The Gnetinae, which also include Ephedra and Welwitschia, are a group of unusual gymnosperms with certain features in common with flowering plants. For example, they have vessels in the xylem and lack archegonia (multicellular female sex organs). It has been suggested therefore that these may be primitive descendants of flowering plants. Between 650-1000m the forests become entirely dominated by deciduous trees such as Bridelia squamosa, Dillenia pentagyna and Grewia tiliaefolia. Other endemics found in the Konkan area include Aporosa lindleyana (Euphorbiaceae), Lamprochaenium microcephalum, Nanothamnus sericeus (Asteraceae) and Oxytenanthera monostigma (Poaceae). In the Nigiri Hills the shola forests are interspersed among rolling downs. Conspicuous shrubs and trees include Berberis tinctoria, Hydnocarpus alpina and the endemic Garcinia cambogia (Hypericaceae) and Michelia nilgirica (Magnoliaceae), while less common endemics are Actinodaphne lanata (Lauraceae), Aglaia anamallayana (Meliaceae) and Apodytes beddomei (Icacinaceae). These shola forests are also notable for their many orchids such as Aerides ringens, Calantha veratrifolia and Habenaria longicornu.

The surrounding downlands are dominated by many herbaceous species such as the endemic Campanula wightii (Campanulaceae) and Impatiens nilgirica (Balsaminaceae). Endemic genera found in the Nilgiri include Campbellia represented by Campbellia cytinoides (Orobanchaceae) and Baeolepis represented by Baeolepis nervosa (Asclepiadaceae). Shola forests further south in the Anamalai, Cardamom and Palni hills are also richly endowed with species with at least 26 trees contributing to the upper tiers including the gigantic endemic Palaquium ellipticum (Sapotaceae). Other endemics in this area include Antistrophe serratifolia and Ardisia blatteri (Myrsinaceae) and the unusual saprophyte Haplothismia exannulata (Burmanniaceae). The flora in this part of the Western Ghats has much in common with Sri Lanka. For example, the monotypic genus Kendrickia (Kendrickia walkeri) of the Melastomataceae is restricted to the Anamalai hilltops and Adam’s Peak on Sri Lanka. This supports the idea that the island was connected to the Indian sub-continent in ancient times. Other common species in the shola include Actinodaphne bourdillonii, Berberis tinctoria, Daphniphyllum neilgherrense, Elaeocarpus recurvatus, Photonia notoniana, Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, Symplocos pendula, Turpinia cochinchinensis and the endemic Michelia nilagirica (Magnoliaceae) and Rhododendron nilagiricum (Ericaceae),

Western Ghats Wet Evergreen Montane Forest

Tropical evergreen forests constitute the climax vegetation of Kerala characterized by at least three tiers, the highest often attaining a height of 40-45 m. Many species develop plank buttresses. The middle stratum is more or less candle shaped and the lower characteristically conical. Buttressing and fluting are common. These forests represent the most important vegetation between altitudes of about 600 and 1100 m, while under favorable conditions with regard to as availability of shelter and moisture; they can extend to elevations of 1200 m or so. However, they generally require an annual rainfall of more than 2000 mm, temperatures between 15°-30°C and humidity between 70 -100%. The upper storey consists chiefly of Artocarpus heterophyllus, Bischofia javanica, Calophyllum elatum, Canarium strictum, Cullenia exarillata, Drypetes elata, Mesua ferrea, Persea macrantha, Poeciloneuron indicum, Polyalthia coffeoides, Vateria Indica and the endemic Dysoxylum malabaricum (Meliaceae), Elaeocarpus tuberculatus (Elaeocarpaceae), Holigarna arnottiana, H. grahamii, (family?)and Palaquium ellipticum (Sapotaceae). The second storey is characterized by species such as Aglaia elaeagnoidea, Actinodaphne hookeri, Baccaurea courtallensis, Dimocarpus longan, Elaeocarpus serratus, Garcinia morella, Gomphandra polymorpha, Litsea wightiana, Meliosma pinnata, Myristica dactyloides, Oreocnide integrifolia and the endemic Cinnamomum malabaricum (Lauraceae)attaining heights of 15 to 30 m. The third storey, which is usually less than 15 m, consists of small trees like Agrostistachys meeboldii, Euonymus angulatus, Memecylon sisparense, Syzygium munroii, Syzygium laetum, Xanthophyllum flavescens the endemic Turpinia malabarica (Staphyleaceae)and a profusion of shrubs like Dendrocnide sinuata, Sarcococca brevifolia, Solanum surattense, Thottea siliquosa and many others. Monocots are few in number and typically have localized distributions. Important species include Calamus gamblei, Pandanus furcatus, Pinanga dicksonii, Ochlandra travancorica, O. rheedii and the endemic Arenga wightii and Calamus thwaitesii (Arecaceae).At ground level, herbs like Elettaria cardamomum and species of Amorphophallus and Hackeria are common together with various ferns. Climbers like Pothos scandens, Caesalpinia bonduc and many species of Piper are also common. The epiphytic flora is rich and many of the trees are heavily infested with epiphytic orchids, aroids, mosses, and ferns. These forests are also storehouses of medicinal plants (about 180 species) and support many wild relatives of cultivated plants. About 25% of the forests of Kerala belong to this category with the forests of Silent Valley National Park and Periyar tiger reserve represents some of the richest stands.

Western Ghats Semi-Evergreen Montane Forests

West coast semi-evergreen forests are considered to be a transitional stage between evergreen and moist deciduous forests, and are sometimes associated with high levels of disturbances.  They usually occur between altitudes of about 600 to 800 m and in some places extending up to 900 m. The main evergreen species include Artocarpus heterophyllus, Bischofia javanica, Calophyllum elatum, Euvodia lunuankenda, Mangifera indica, Mesua ferrea, Myristica dactyloides and the endemic Hopea ponga (Dipterocarpaceae) while the important deciduous elements are Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, Bombax ceiba, Chukrasia tabularis, Dalbergia latifolia, Grewia tiliaefolia, Terminalia bellirica, Toona ciliata and the endemic Lagerstroemia microcarpa (Lythraceae). Species composition at sub-canopy and ground level is similar to evergreen forests.

Western Ghats Dry Deciduous Montane Forests

These forests are fairly rare in Kerala State and mainly confined to northern slope of Anamalai in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, eastern part of Mannarkad Division, and the South Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary where rainfall is less than 1200 mm. Their physiognomic structure is highly variable mainly due to impoverished soils, especially on steep slopes, but also due to anthropogenic instigated factors such as fire and grazing. Three types of are recognized. Forest dominated by Albizia amara, Gyrocarpus asiaticus and species of Acacia is found only in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, up to an altitude of about 650 m. Other characteristic species include Erythroxylum monogynum, Dichrostachys cinerea, Chloroxylon swietenia and Hardwickia binata. On the lower slopes, species such as Acacia chundra and A. leucophloea are characteristic of scrub woodland and thickets, but where slopes with skeletal soils predominate tree savannas become an important feature. In such places Gyrocarpus asiaticus, with its metallic-coloured bark, becomes conspicuous together with other slope-loving species, such as Cochlospermum religiosum, Commiphora caudate, Givotia rottleriformis and Sterculia urens.  Forest dominated by Anogeissus latifolia, Pterocarpus marsupium and species of Terminalia occurs above 600 m in Mannarkad Division and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctary.  Again physiognomy varies ranging from savanna woodland to tree savanna.  Other characteristic species include Dalbergia paniculata, D. latifolia, Emblica officinalis, Grewia tiliifolia and Kydia calycina. The third type of forest is dominated by Anogeissus latifolia, Tectona grandis and species of Terminalia. This is confined to the South Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary where it ranges from dense forest to woodland savanna. Other common species include Careya arborea, Diospyros melanoxylon, Emblica officinalis, Lagerstroemia parviflora and Madhuca latifolia, but in low-lying areas where drainage is impeded Shorea roxburghii become conspicuous.

Western Ghats Cullenia exarillata-Mesua ferrea-Palaqium ellipticum Montane Forest

These forests occur between the Ariankavu Pass and the Brahmagiri Ghat in Wayanad and South of the Ariankavu Pass. They are mainly defined by the altitudinal preference of Cullenia exarillata, which ranges from about 700m-1400 m but occasionally descends to about 550 m in some moist valleys. Mesua ferrea and the endemic Palaqium ellipticum (Sapotaceae) are widely distributed at both low and medium elevations. In dense forests other common canopy or emergent species are Aglaia lawii, Cinnamomum keralense, Dimocarpus longan, Diospyros sylvatica, Drypetes elata, Litsea oleoides and Syzygium gardneri, and of which are widely distributed.  Common third and second layers species include Agrostistachys meeboldii, Homalium travancoricum, Myristica dactyloides, Symphilia mallotiformis, Tricalysia apiocarpa and the endemic Diospyros paniculata (Ebenaceae).  However, some species like Aglaia tomentosa, Bhesa indica, Litsea bourdillonii, Litsea keralana, Semecarpus travancorica and the endemic Diospyros nilagirica (Ebenaceae) and Drypetes venusta (Putranjivaceae) are found up to the Palghat Gap. Beyond the Gap they either disappear or become rare.  In the fourth layer Ardisia pauciflora, Goniothalamus wightiana, Lasianthus jackianus, Psychotria anamalayana and Tabernaemontana gamblei are common. South of the Ariankavu Passthe local endemic Gluta travancorica (Anacardiaceae) becomes an important canopy species. Other canopy or sub canopy species either exclusive to these forests or rarely found to the north of the Ariankavu pass include Atuna travancorica (Chrysobalanaceae), Calophyllum austroindicum (Clusiaceae), Diospyros barberi (Ebenaceae), Garcinia imbertii, Garcinia rubro-echinata and Garcinia travancorica (Clusiaceae), while exclusive undergrowth species are Diotacanthus grandis (Acanthaceae), Goniothalamus rhynchantherus (Annonaceae), Memecylon gracile, Memecylon subramanii (Melastomataceae), Octotropis travancorica (Rubiaceae), Popowia beddomeana (Annonaceae) and Vernonia travancorica (Asteraceae). At elevations above 1000 m the endemic podocarp Nageia wallichiana (Podocarpaceae) also becomes an important canopy tree and represents the only indigenous gymnosperm tree in South India. Species such as Aglaia bourdilloni, Actinodaphne campanulata, Eugenia floccosa, Syzygium microphyllum and the endemic Bentinckia codapanna (Arecaceae) and Elaeocarpus venustus (Elaeocarpaceae) are found on the margins of these forests particularly near the cliffs.

Western Ghats Bhesa indica-Gomphandra coriacea-Litea Montane Forest

This forest is confined to upland zones (1400-1800 m) in the Western Ghats between the Ariyankavu Pass and Palghat Gap.  At this altitude several species of lower elevations disappear or become very rare and members of the family Annonaceae disappear altogether. Species that become more important include Acronychia pedunculata, Archidendron clyparia, Cocculus laurifolius, Gomphandra coriacea (a vicariant of Gomphandra tetrandra of low elevations), Hydnocarpus alpina, Mastixia arborea and Schefflera capitata.  The family Lauraceae, which tends to become more important with altitude, reaches a high level of diversity here. 

Western Ghats (Nilgiri) Sub-Tropical Hill Forests

Apart from their stunted growth these forests have much in common with lowland tropical rain forest, but they tend to be less luxuriant and the trees usually have shapeless boles often festooned with epiphytes. Apart from the Nigiri Hills they can also be found in Anamalai and Palani hills at altitudes ranging from 1000-1700 m. The main canopy and subcanopy trees include Actinodaphne hookeri, Calophyllum elatum, Canthium dicoccum, Ficus arnottiana and Persia macrantha. The shrub layer is typically dense and usually dominated by species of Strobilanthes, while species of Calamus are the main climbers.

Western Ghats Syzygium-Memecylon Sub-Montane Forests

In the sub-montane zones of the Bhimashankar-Junnar area the forests are largely characterized by Syzygium cumini and Memecylon umbellatum. These forests can reach heights of up to 35 m and typically have a dense canopy. Consequently the undergrowth is often rather meager. Other common trees include Actinodaphne hookeri, Atalantia racemosa, Cassia fistula, Elaeagnus kologa, Embelia robusta, Ficus arnottiana, Magnifera indica, Mallotus philippensis and Symplocos beddomei. The second story tends to be discontinuous and mainly found in more open areas. On the other hand, the shrub layer can be dense in places and often dominated by Carvia callosa, while other shrubs include Acacia concinna, Callicarpa lanata, Celastrus paniculata, Grewia laevigata, Gymnosporia rothiana, Leea sambucina, Murraya koenigii and Pavetta indica. Climbing plants are not a major feature but among the more common species are Cyclea burmanni, Gnetum ula, Smilax macrophylla and the endemic Piper trichostachyon (Piperaceae).  The epiphytic flora, on the other hand, is well developed with an abundance of orchids, ferns and mosses. The most common epiphyte is Pleopeltis linearis. This and othersfestoon most of the branches and often hang in tassels for 20 cm or so. Common ground layer species include Curcuma pseudomontana, Cynoglossum denticulatus, Gerardinia zeylandica, Heracleum concanese, Impatiens balsamina, Pimpinella heyneana, Plumbago zeylandica and Solanum indicum although many of these are confined to openings and forest margins.


Almeida, S. M. & Almeida, M. R. 1990. Threatened Endemic Plants from Maharahstra. In: Conservation in Developing Countries: problems and prospects. Eds. J.C. Daniel and J. S. Serrao. Proceedings of the Centenary Seminar of the Natural History Society. Bombay Natural History Society. Oxford University Press.

Annaselvam, J. & Parthasarathy, N. 2001. Diversity and distribution of herbaceous vascular epiphytes in a tropical evergreen forest at Varagalaiar, Western Ghats, India. Biodiversity and Conservation, 10: 317-329.

Ayyappan, N. & Parthasarathy, N.1999. Biodiversity inventory of trees in a large-scale permanent plot of tropical evergeen forest at Varagalaiar, Anamalais, Western Ghats, India. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8: 1533-1554.

Campbell, D. G. & Hammond, H. D. 1989. Floristic Inventory of Tropical Countries. The New York Botanical Garden.

Champion, H. G. & Seth, S. K. 1968. A revised survey of the forest types of India. The Manager of Publication, Government of India, Nasik.

Dabadghao, P. M. & Shankarnarayan, K. A. 1973. The Grass Cover of India. Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

Gopalan, R. & Henry, A. N. 2000. Endemic Plants of India. CAMP for the strict endemics of Agasthiyamalai Hills. SW Ghats. Bishen Singh Mahendra Palsingh, Dehra Dun.

Joshi, V. C. & Janarthanam, M. K. 2004. The diversity of life-form type, habitat preference and phenology of the endemics in the Goa region of the Western Ghats, India. Journal of Biogeography, 31: 1227-1237.

Nayar, M. P. 1996. “Hot Spots” of endemic plants of India, Nepal and Bhutan. Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute. Palode, Thiruvananthapuram.

Parthasarathy, N.1999. Tree diversity and distribution in undisturbed and human-impacted sites of tropical wet evergreen forest in southern Western Ghats, India. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8: 1365-1381.

Pascal, J-P., Pelissier, R., Loffeier, M. E. & Ramesh, B. R. 1998. Floristic composition, structure, diversity, and dynamics of two evergreen forest plots in Karnataka State, India. In: Forest Biodiversity Research, Monitoring and Modeling. Eds. F. Dallmeier and J. A. Comiskey. Man and the Biosphere Series, Volume 40. The Parthenon Publishing Group.

Puri, G. S., Gupta, R. K., Meher-Homji, V. M. & Puri, S. 1989. Forest Ecology. Plant form, diversity, communities and succession. 2nd Edition. Volume 2. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. Ltd.

Subramanyam, K. & Nayar, M. P. 1974. Vegetation and Phytogeography of the Western Ghats. In: Ecology and Biogeography in India. Ed. M. S. Mani. Dr W. Junk Publishers. The Hague.

Sukumar, R., Dattaraja, H. S., Suresh, H. S., Radhakrishnan, J., Vasudeva, R., Nirmala, S. & Joshi, N. V. 1992. Long term monitoring of vegetation in a tropical deciduous forest in Mudumalai, southern India. Current Science, 62: 608-616.