Much of Kerala's notable biodiversity is concentrated and
protected in the Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in the eastern hills. Almost a
fourth of India's 10,000 plant species are found in the state. Among the almost
4,000 flowering plant species (1,272 of which are endemic to Kerala and 159
threatened) are 900 species of highly sought medicinal plants.
Its 9,400 km˛ of forests include tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen
forests (lower and middle elevations—3,470 km˛), tropical moist and dry
deciduous forests (mid-elevations—4,100 km˛ and 100 km˛, respectively), and
montane subtropical and temperate (shola) forests (highest elevations—100 km˛).
Altogether, 24% of Kerala is forested.:12 Two of the world’s Ramsar
Convention listed wetlands—Lake Sasthamkotta and the Vembanad-Kol wetlands—are
in Kerala, as well as 1455.4 km˛ of the vast Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
Subjected to extensive clearing for cultivation in the 20th century,:6–7
much of the remaining forest cover is now protected from clearfelling. Kerala's
fauna are notable for their diversity and high rates of endemism: 102 species of
mammals (56 of which are endemic), 476 species of birds, 202 species of
freshwater fishes, 169 species of reptiles (139 of them endemic), and 89 species
of amphibians (86 endemic). These are threatened by extensive habitat
destruction, including soil erosion, landslides, salinization, and resource
Eastern Kerala’s windward mountains shelter tropical moist forests and tropical
dry forests, which are common in the Western Ghats. Here, sonokeling (Indian
rosewood), anjili, mullumurikku (Erythrina), and Cassia number among the more
than 1,000 species of trees in Kerala. Other plants include bamboo, wild black
pepper, wild cardamom, the calamus rattan palm (a type of climbing palm), and
aromatic vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides).:12 Living among them are
such fauna as Asian Elephant, Bengal Tiger, Leopard (Panthera pardus), Nilgiri
Tahr, Common Palm Civet, and Grizzled Giant Squirrel.:12, 174–175 Reptiles
include the king cobra, viper, python, and crocodile. Kerala's birds are
legion—Peafowl, the Great Hornbill, Indian Grey Hornbill, Indian Cormorant, and
Jungle Myna are several emblematic species. In lakes, wetlands, and waterways,
fish such as kadu (stinging catfish and Choottachi (Orange chromide—Etroplus
maculatus; valued as an aquarium specimen) are found.