Hidden Kingdom – Fantastical Plants of the Western Ghats

Hand-painted by Nirupa Rao

Written by Suniti Rao

Researched by Siddarth Machado and Prasenjeet Yadav

About the Book

Hidden Kingdom is a book of botanical illustrations featuring fascinating plants native to the Western Ghats—from carnivores to parasites to flowers that smell like rotting flesh. You’ll encounter familiar species (like pepper) as well as the more obscure (like the colourless ghost orchid), all certain to make you see the natural world with new eyes. The book is made for everyone—a family heirloom for the young and old alike—with ecological insights and crafty wordplay set to rhyme. It also carries a thoughtful afterword by noted British science writer and broadcaster, Colin Tudge. 

The reasoning for this book echoes a thought voiced by activist, George Monbiot: that a generation disconnected from nature will not strive to save it. Believing this to be a loss with environmental and human consequences, 3 cousins (Nirupa Rao, Suniti Rao and Siddarth Machado) and their friend, Prasenjeet Yadav, set out to try and change this. The result is 50 pages of watercolour paintings, lively poetry and plant trivia. Their next goal is to translate it into local languages for distribution in the region. The project is supported by the National Geographic Society.

This project was conceived three years ago, when Nirupa received a National Geographic grant. As part of the project, the team also travelled around the Western Ghats region to study and photograph the plants in person. They have compiled these photographs into a website, www.hiddenkingdom.in. Readers who would like to delve deeper into the plants they see in the book can glean further information on them from the website.

About the Artist

Nirupa Rao is a botanical illustrator based in Bangalore, India. Her illustrations are inspired by regular field visits into the wild, and are informed by close collaboration with natural scientists to achieve scientific accuracy. In 2017 she was named a National Geographic Young Explorer, and received a grant to pursue her work. She has been published in: Harper’s Bazaar India, and named in their list of Indian Women to be Proud of; Chickpea USA; Medicor, a publication of the Karolinksa Institutet, Sweden. In 2018, she published Pillars of Life, a debut project on native trees of the Western Ghats, in collaboration with naturalists Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation. She was also named an INK Fellow for the year 2018. In 2019, she was named one to ‘watch out for’ in Forbes India’s annual 30 Under 30 issue, and attended the Plant Humanities Summer Program at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Centre.


Hidden Kingdom can be purchased here.