Green memories | Sunday Observer

Green memories

2 June, 2019
GREEN DREAM: A cool stream cascades through rocks under a forest canopy
GREEN DREAM: A cool stream cascades through rocks under a forest canopy

Imposing steep mountains clothed in a mantle of greenery with patches of cloud either drifting across or resting atop them characterise the western parts of the Sinharaja Forest at Pimbura, Ayagama. Human settlements with tea cultivation dot the slopes and the base of the mountains in most places. Dense forests are largely confined to the mountain tops and the deep valleys.

Nurturing a desire to understand the rich biodiversity, particularly, its floral diversity, we made a day’s visit to the western lowland rainforest patches near Pimbura, in the third week of May.

As a photographer, I wanted to convey a message to our readers on the value of nature and its treasures which are part and parcel of our lives. According to conservationists, the forest cover of the island today is confined to 17 per cent. It should be everybody’s duty to pay more attention to protect and preserve nature for the future generation.

Pimbura, being a biodiversity hot spot, I focused on the landscape and some of the plants endemic to the island, the low hillocks, meandering streams, rare wild orchid flowers and thick foliage.

My interest in the Wet Zone rainforest patches near my village led me to discover many natural treasures in the hope that nature lovers would learn more about this important natural treasure. It needs better protection and more could be done to help preserve it. We captured some incredible landscapes on our cameras.

Continuing our trek we took to the winding footpath etched into the steep slopes, amid the constant gurgling of streams and the chirping of birds in the woods around us.

The forest patches that cover the mountain tops are natural and unique because it is the only location on the lowland rainforest where the altitude changes in an area measuring 1 km from east to west. This contributes to the astonishing diversity of fauna and flora species.

The forest patch is characterised by the rain forest in a high altitude area of high rainfall and high winds. The forest is a wilderness of unique grandeur, with a majestic canopy of hora (Dipterocarpus zeylanicus), and kena (Calophyllum walker) trees casting long shadows, enveloping us in a green world, often over 40 m high.

In a valley bordering the forest, the little stream that has its source in the hills flowed and cascaded down as a small waterfall into a shallow pool–like a cylindrical rock formation. The stream tumbled down and we sat on the rock boulders to rest our tired feet, an area where six people can comfortably stretch out and feel all the aches and pains vanish as water splashes down through the rocky boulders, even on dry days.

Wealth of flora

The mountains kept us company. We spotted the pinkish-purple rare Vesak orchid flowers (featured last week) bloom on the branch of a mature tree near the stream under a forest canopy. The landscape kept changing with every turn on the footpath.

Dense evergreen forests, little streams, and rock boulders followed us wherever we went. But, it was not just the beauty of Nature that fascinated us; it was also the absolute silence everywhere.

We have focused more on the flora than the fauna. Our main themes are habitat, water and biodiversity in the forest and I captured a few close up shots of ferns and flowers.

By the end of May, the wild Vesak Orchid’s flowering comes to an end in the high and lower altitudes and we were lucky to see several still in bloom. In the lower parts of the forest, we spotted Niyagama (Gloriosa superba), an attractive flower known as the flame lily with its deep red and yellow flowers.

Proceeding on we came upon an open field covered with ground flowers. The Heen Bovitiya (Osbeckia octandra), not many, but one of the finest of the rosy purple-flowered species, with its beautiful contrasting hues stood conspicuously, competing in the backdrop of the green environment. Still on the main trail, a brief walk to the interior of the forest brought us to a large grouping of the Pitcher Plant or Bandura (Nepenthes distillatoria), which traps and digests insects for food. It mostly grows on moist surfaces of rock boulders on the Pimbura mountain slopes. The Bandura plant is a fast vanishing plant in the Wet Zone tropical rainforest.

We trekked the slopes arduously, stopping and taking pictures of beautiful tree ferns (Cyatheacrinita) attractively stretching their branches. This species can grow even at high altitudes near streams.

We also spotted several reptiles - the brown- patched kangaroo lizard (Otocryptis wiegmanni) among them. The giant wood spider (Nephila maculate) and ubiquitous leeches too are to be found in abundance in the forest here.

Climbing up we met several people, mostly devotees who ascend the mountain taking the leech infested footpath to venerate the ancient Buddhist cave temple in the forest. Surprisingly, none of them disturbed or destroyed the pristine forest as they were genuine nature lovers.

The Forest Conservation Department of Sri Lanka is directly responsible for the management of the forest, but environmentalists claim that species rich sections of the forest are under threat from a variety of activities including, the continuous cleaning of the forest edges for tea cultivation and illegal logging. Hence, conservation plans are needed to protect this area.

Finally, we must remember not to damage the endemic plants in the forest. As genuine nature buffs, leave only your footprints in the pristine forest. Having spent nearly two hours in the company of the attractive flora amid the green carpet, we started the next leg of our journey to visit the ancient Buddhist cave temple on the summit of the Pimbura forest.