Encyclopedia of Earth

India’s Western Ghats: Biodiversity and Medicinal Plants

Content Cover Image

Western Ghats as seen from Gobichettipalayam (By Magentic Manifestations (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)


India’s Western Ghats is a rolling mountain range containing such great biodiversity that it has been named as one of the world's eight ‘hottest hotspots of biological diversity. Spread along the entire west coast of India, this mountain range contains a large proportion of the country's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. Over 5000 species of flowering plants, 139 species of mammals, 508 species of birds, including 22 endemics, 225 species of reptiles, and 179 species of amphibians live in the region.


Starting from the northern part of Mumbai, this extensive mountain range extends over Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu to the southern tip of India.


caption Asian Elephant The northern part of the range contains almost half of the reptiles, one third of the plants, and more than three fourths of the amphibians found in India. The southwestern Ghats contain one of the largest populations of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), approximately 10,000 individuals, found anywhere in the world along with about 10% of the world's Bengal tigers. Other noteable mammalian species include sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus), and Nilgiri tahrs (Nilgiritragus hylocrius). Interesting reptiles include the mugger (Crocodylus palustris), the endemic Cochin forest cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica), and the king cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah). The Uropeltidae, a family of primitive burrowing snakes, is also restricted to these mountain ranges.

Protected Areas

Almost 350 globally-endangered species live in this mountain range. To protect this rich wildlife and to restrict human interference, several protected areas are established across the mountain range. These protected areas include 13 national parks, two biosphere reserves and many wildlife sanctuaries. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the Western Ghats. Spread across three different states this reserve covers an area of around 5500 sq.km, and includes deciduous forests of Nagu and the evergreen forests of Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu and Mukurthi National Park in the state of Kerala. The most important national parks in the Western Ghats are Bandipur National Park, Karnataka, Kudremukh National Park, Karnataka, Chandoli National Park, Maharashtra, Eravikulam National Park, Kerala, Grass Hills National Park, Tamilnadu, Karian Shola National Park, Tamilnadu, and Silent Valley National Park, Kerala

Western Ghats: Repository of Medicinal Herbs

caption Ophiorrhiza mungos

The Western Ghats are well-known for producing a rich variety of medicinal plants. The forests house ver 700 medicinal plants, several of which are utilized in Ayurvedic medicine production firms, while others are exploited commercially for their active enzymes. Medicinal plant species of Western Ghats include algae, climbers, lichen, herbs, shrubs, and trees. Fifty of these species hold a very high value in the traditional and herbal methods of treatment to heal various ailments.

Common plants such as Mimosa pudica, Leucas aspera, Hibiscus angulosus, Calotropis gigantean, Phyllanthus neruri, Tridax procumbens, and Parthenium hysterophorus are used to treat major ailments like asthma, jaundice, bronchial ailments, and blood disorders. Buchanania lanzan, Anona squamosa, Dioscorea bulbifera, Semecarpus anacardium, and Aphanamixis polystachya are used to treat various forms of tumor.

Pepper and cinnamon are commonly used spices in Indian households. When these two are mixed together, the formula turns to a strong medication used to cure migraines. Frequent doses of medicinal plant extracts like that of Rhincanthus nasuta, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Momordica dioica, and Ophiorhizza mungos are used as a plant-based medicinal practice to provide relief from cancer. Plants including Saraca asoca, Rauvolfia serpentina, Gloriosa superba, Strycnos nux-vomica, and Gymnema sylvestre are used to manufacture specific drugs to treat severe diseases.


The Westerh Ghats offers a variety of tourist activities including walking through the coffee and spice plantations, rainforest hikes, or visiting to view wildlife. The most notable wildlife sightseeing spot in the Western Ghats is the Nagarhole National Park, which is a great place to view tigers, buffalo, and elephants. To cover its main attractions, a minibus tour is organized inside the forest. Wayanad is a great hiking area, as it has many extensive trails suitable for daring hikers.

References and Further Reading



Sharma, T. (2014). India’s Western Ghats: Biodiversity and Medicinal Plants. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/53df77740cf2541de6d027c5


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