Himalayan flora

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
During the peak of the monsoon, this oak forest in the Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal, is incredibly lush, the great trees heavily laden with epiphytes such as mosses, ferns, and Begonia flowers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Contrasting sharply with the lushness in the picture above, this saxifrage, Saxifraga andersonii, grows on a barren rock in a high-altitude, alpine landscape around Annapurna Base Camp, central Nepal – an area which is popularly called ‘Annapurna Sanctuary’. As a means of protection against cold and evaporation, this plant forms compact cushions up to 10 cm across. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to Bhutan, at altitudes between 3,400 and 5,500 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The word Himalaya is from the Sanskrit hima (‘snow’) and alaya (‘abode’), thus ‘The Abode of Snow’. The Himalaya consists of a long arch of gigantic mountains, stretching from northern Pakistan southeast to the northern tip of Myanmar – a distance of more than 2,500 km. In these mountains are the Earth’s largest concentration of very high peaks, fourteen of which reach an altitude of more than 8,000 m, whereas hundreds are more than 7,000 m high. (For comparison, the highest mountain outside Central Asia, Aconcagua in Argentina, is a mere 6,962 m.)

The borders of the Himalaya are not well defined. To the northwest, the Karakoram Mountains (which some authorities consider a part of the Himalaya, others do not) merge into the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains. To the north and northeast, several mountain chains in Ladakh, Tibet, and China are a continuation of the Himalaya proper.

As a result of the great span in altitude and precipitation – besides various other factors such as micro-climate and soil composition – flora and fauna of the Himalaya are indeed diverse. In these mountains, two bio-geographical regions meet. In most areas, flora and fauna from the Indo-Malayan Region, which includes the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, dominate, but in Kashmir, Ladakh, and northern Pakistan, and elsewhere at altitudes above c. 3,500 m, there is a large element of species from the Palaearctic Region, which includes Central and West Asia.

The Himalaya is home to an overwhelming abundance of plant species. In Nepal alone, c. 6,500 species of seed plants have been found, and the number in the entire mountain range exceeds 10,000. To this number, add hundreds of species of ferns, clubmosses, mosses, and lichens.

 
 
 
Acanthaceae (acanthus family)
In subtropical valleys of the Himalaya, herbs of this family are conspicuous, comprising at least 28 genera.

 

Barleria Bush-violet

 

Barleria cristata
This shrubby herb is widespread in tropical and subtropical areas of Asia. In the Himalaya, it is quite common up to 2,000 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to Myanmar.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Barleria cristata, photographed near Manikaran, Parvati River Valley, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Strobilanthes
A genus with about 250 species worldwide, distributed in warmer parts of Asia and in Madagascar. About 25 species are found in the Himalaya.

The generic name is derived from the Greek strobilus (‘cone’), and anthos (‘flower’), thus ‘cone-shaped flower’, introduced in 1826 by German-Dutch botanist Karl Ludwig von Blume (1796-1862), based on the inflorescence of a Javanese species, Strobilanthes cernua.

 

Strobilanthes atropurpurea
This species, which can be identified by its dark, rather short, strongly curved flowers, is widespread in the Himalaya, between 1,300 and 3,600 m altitude.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Strobilanthes atropurpurea, photographed at Naggar, south of Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Strobilanthes dalhousieanus 
A slender plant with rather long, pale blue flowers. The specific name was given in honour Lady Dalhousie, wife of George Ramsay, the 9th Earl of Dalhousie, who was governor-general in India in the first half of the 1800s. Lady Dalhousie was an avid collector of plants.

 

 

Nordindien 1997
Strobilanthes dalhousieanus, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Strobilanthes nutans
This white-flowered species was first found in 1821 by Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), who studied the Indian and Himalayan flora in the early 1800s. Formal publication had to await the third volume of Wallich’s Plantae Asiaticae Rariores, from 1832, where it was described as a new species under the name Goldfussia nutans by German botanist Christian Nees von Esenbeck (1776-1858), the then expert on the Acanthaceae. (Source: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 2014, 31 (2): 168-179, © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

 

 

Nepal 2009
Strobilanthes nutans, Kutumsang, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. A species of spikemoss (Selaginella) and unripe berries of Hemiphragma heterophyllum, of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Strobilanthes wallichii Kashmir acanthus
 is found from Pakistan eastwards to Bhutan, growing between 2,700 and 3,600 m altitude. The specific name was given in honour of Nathaniel Wallich (see Strobilanthes nutans above).

 

 

Nepal 2000
Kashmir acanthus, covered in raindrops from a recent shower, Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Adoxaceae (moschatel family)

 

Viburnum Viburnum
In the past, viburnums and elderberries (Sambucus) were placed in the family Sambucaceae, but were then transferred to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). Recent DNA studies have caused them to be moved yet another time, to the moschatel family.

Viburnum is a huge genus, comprising 150-175 species of shrubs or small trees, which are native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with a few species in montane areas of North Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.

Eight species of this genus are found in temperate areas of the Himalaya. In autumn, several species display large clusters of scarlet berries, some of them edible.

 

Viburnum erubescens
The commonest Himalayan viburnum. It is found from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China, growing between 1,500 and 3,000 m altitude.

 

 

Nepal 2013
This flowering branch of Viburnum erubescens, full of rain drops, was photographed near Chitre, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Viburnum grandiflorum Large-flowered viburnum
This species is among the few high-altitude Himalayan trees, which bloom in winter and early spring. It is quite common in temperate forests of the western Himalaya, and is otherwise distributed eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, at altitudes between 2,700 and 3,700 m.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
The inflorescence of this large-flowered viburnum is covered in ice, which fell as snow the previous night, partly melted, and then froze. – Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Viburnum mullaha
This plant is quite common between 1,500 and 4,000 m altitude, growing at forest edges and in open areas, from Pakistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. It is also found in Southeast Asia.

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
Viburnum mullaha, displaying large clusters of scarlet, edible berries, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Araceae (arum family)

 

Arisaema
Flowers of this genus are very distinctive, having a large, often brightly checkered blade, called a spathe. This blade encircles the central club-shaped spadix, on which numerous tiny flowers are clustered, male flowers above, females below. Spathe and spadix often have a thread-like tip, which in some species is quite grotesque, growing to a length of up to 1 m. The flowers are often foul-smelling, attracting flies which pollinate them. The fruit is a cluster of bright red berries, remaining on the spadix after the spathe has withered. Altogether 17 species of this genus are found in the Himalaya.

A common name of these plants is Jack-in-the-pulpit. To some people, the flower resembles a person in a pulpit: ‘Jack’ is the flowering club, and the ‘pulpit’ is the spathe. Another name is cobra plant, referring to the cobra-like spathe on some species. The Nepalese name for these plants, sarpa ko makai (‘snake-maize’), also refers to the cobra-like spathe, and to the cluster of berries, which resembles a maize cob.

Outside the summer months, fresh vegetables are often difficult to find in rural areas of the Himalaya. A widespread method of obtaining nutrients from vegetables at times, when fresh ones are not available, is to make gundruk – fermented leaves of certain cultivated plants, including cabbage, mustard, and radish, and of various wild plants, such as Arisaema utile, a buttercup, Ranunculus diffusus, and Nepalese dock (Rumex nepalensis).

Two methods are utilized to make gundruk. One is to wash the leaves and leave them to dry for a day, after which the last juice is beaten out of them. They are then stuffed firmly into a container, which is tightly closed, making it airtight. About a week later, the fermented leaves are taken out and left to dry in the sun, after which they are stored in a dry place for later use. Another method is to boil the leaves for a short time and then stuff them tightly in a container. After a short period of time, the juice is removed and boiling water added. The leaves are then left to ferment for 4-5 days, before being dried in the sun. (Source: Manandhar, N.P. 2002. Plants and People of Nepal. Timber Press)

Gundruk can be kept for about a year. The fermented leaves emit a characteristic fragrance, and they have a unique, strong, and lovely taste – at least in my opinion.

 

 

Arisaema costatum
The thread-like tip of the spadix of this plant is quite grotesque, sometimes growing to a length of 1 m, and often lying on the ground. This species is restricted to central and eastern Nepal, where it is common in shrubberies, at altitudes from 2,000 to 2,600 m.

 

 

Everest 2010
Arisaema costatum, Surkhe, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Arisaema erubescens
This plant is easily recognized by its 7 to 14 radiating, narrow leaflets, and the brown- and white-striped spathe. It grows in forests and shrubberies from central Nepal eastwards to Sikkim, at altitudes from 2,000 to 2,600 m.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Arisaema erubescens, Choplong, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Arisaema griffithii
This striking plant can be identified by its very short flower stalk and the curled-up spathe. It is found in forests from central Nepal to Bhutan, at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,000 m.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Nepal 1991a
My companion Lars Nørgaard Hansen, seated near a large specimen of Arisaema griffithii, Makalu-Barun National Park, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Arisaema nepenthoides
This species is often called cobra plant, referring to the spathe, which resembles the spread-out hood of a cobra. It grows in forests and shrubberies at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,300 m, from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 1991
Arisaema nepenthoides, Tadapani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Arisaema tortuosum
The thick, purplish, velvety spadix of this species points 7-12 cm upwards, looking rather like an old man, pointing with his walking stick. It is widespread and very common in the Himalaya, from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Everest 2010
Arisaema tortuosum, Lukla, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Arisaema utile
This is the plant, which is most commonly utilized for making gundruk (see text above). It is common in forests from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Bhutan, at altitudes between 2,400 and 4,300 m.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Arisaema utile, photographed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

In autumn, the red berries of Arisaema species are gathered in a cluster, resembling a maize cob.

 

 

Nordindien 1982
Berry cluster of an unidentified Arisaema species, photographed near the village of Lata, Uttarakhand. A butterfly is sitting on the cob. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Asteraceae (composites)

 

Aster
This genus has given name to the composite family. The ray-florets of the major part of these attractive plants are bluish or lilac, whereas the disk-florets are various shades of yellow. This huge genus, comprising c. 152 species, is found almost worldwide, with c. 13 species in the Himalaya. Two species, both growing on alpine slopes between c. 3,000 and 4,500 m altitude, are presented here.

 

Aster falconeri
This species is found from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal, growing on alpine slopes at altitudes from 3,000 to 4,200 m. In local folk medicine, juice of its root is applied to wounds.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Aster falconeri, observed below the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Aster himalaicus
A very low plant, often only 10 cm tall, growing in open areas between 3,600 and 4,500 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Early in the morning, this Aster himalaicus flowerhead was covered in rime, which has by now melted in the morning sun. – Kyanjin Gompa, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cirsium Thistle
Thistles of the genera Cirsium and Carduus, comprising 350-400 species worldwide, are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, where c. 9 species are found.

 

Cirsium wallichii
This is one of the commonest Himalayan thistles, an extremely variable plant, which grows to a height of almost 3 m, often with many branches. Its leaves are heavily armed with recurved spines, and it has numerous white or purplish flowerheads, measuring to 4 cm across. This species is found from Afghanistan eastwards to south-western China, at altitudes between 1,200 and 3,300 m. The specific name was given in honour of Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), who studied the Indian and Himalayan flora in the early 1800s.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Cirsium wallichii, Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cremanthodium
Members of this genus, comprising altogether about 69 species, have beautiful yellow flowerheads. These plants are restricted to China and the Himalaya, with 13 species in the Himalaya.

 

Cremanthodium oblongatum
This plant is quite common in open areas at altitudes from 4,300 to 5,200 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan. As the specific name implies, its leaves are oblong.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Cremanthodium oblongatum, photographed in the Gosainkund area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cremanthodium reniforme
The rounded leaves are a characteristic of this species, which is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan, growing in shrubberies and open areas between 3,600 and 4,500 m altitude. It is rather common in Nepal.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Cremanthodium oblongatum (top) and C. reniforme, both photographed in the Gosainkund area, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saussurea
This genus is widely distributed in the Himalaya and Ladakh, comprising c. 31 species.  Only one species is dealt with here, whereas others are presented on the page Plants – Mountain plants: Tibetan flora.

 

Saussurea gossypiphora
Many Saussurea species are adapted to the cold and dry conditions at high altitudes, having a dense cover of insulating hairs, including this species, which resembles a cotton ball. It is found in barren and stony areas at altitudes between 4,300 and 5,600 m, from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Saussurea gossypiphora, photographed at an altitude of c. 4,700 m beneath the Ganja La Pass, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Senecio Groundsel
This huge genus, comprising c. 1,200 species worldwide, has about 22 species in the Himalaya, three of which are presented below. The majority of these plants, also known as ragworts or butterweeds, have yellow flowerheads.

 

Senecio cappa
A very common plant, growing in open areas between 1,300 and 3,300 m altitude, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China. In Nepal, juice of its root is given for fever, and a paste of the leaves is applied to boils. Alcohol is produced from the plant.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Senecio cappa, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Senecio graciliflorus
This species is also rather common, growing at forest margins and along riverbanks, from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China and Malaysia. In the Himalaya, it is found between 2,000 and 4,100 m altitude. It can be identified by its deeply cleft leaves.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Senecio graciliflorus, observed at Darjaling in the southern part of Langtang National Park, central Nepal. The mountain in the background is Bemthang. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Senecio scandens
Most Himalayan groundsels are erect herbs, but this species is scrambling over other plants, or hanging down from banks. It is very widely distributed in Asia, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. In the Himalaya, it grows at altitudes between c. 1,800 and 4,000 m.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
This Senecio scandens is pendent on a slope near Chame, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sigesbeckia orientalis St. Paul’s wort
This plant, which has numerous sticky glands on its bracts, is widely distributed, found in Africa, on the Indian Subcontinent, in East and Southeast Asia, in Australia, and on islands in the Pacific. In the Himalaya, it grows up to an altitude of c. 2,700 m. This plant was named after German botanist and physician Johann Georg Siegesbeck (1686-1755), who was director of the Botanical Gardens of St. Petersburg.

Initially, Siegesbeck was a friend of the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778). Later, however, he became a fierce critic of Linné’s Systema plantarum sexuale, from 1737, which was partly based on grouping plants according to the number of male and female organs in each flower. Siegesbeck called this theory “loathsome harlotry” and wondered “who would have thought that bluebells, lillies and onions could be up to such immorality?” He mockingly asked, whether God would allow 20 men or more (i.e. the stamens) to have one wife in common (i.e. the pistil). “What man,” he continued, “will ever believe that God Almighty should have introduced such confusion, or rather such shameful whoredom, for the propagation of the reign of plants? Who will instruct young students in such a voluptuous system without scandal?”

When Linné returned to Sweden, he realized that he had become a laughing stock, thanks to Siegesbeck’s criticism. He retaliated by naming a foul-smelling oriental weed with sticky glands Siegesbeckia.

Swedish botanist Johan Browallius successfully defended Linné’s ideas, but this did not alter Siegesbeck’s attitude, and the dispute continued. Linné relabeled a packet of Siegesbeckia seeds Cuculus ingratus (‘ungrateful cuckoo’) and sent it to Siegesbeck, who grew the seeds. When he realized that they were Siegesbeckia, he stopped his correspondence with Linné, and from then on there was cold air between the two. (Source: L. & L. Taiz, 2017. Flora unveiled: the discovery and denial of sex in plants)

The good German doctor’s name was Siegesbeck, but, according to Kew Botanical Gardens, London, the current correct spelling of the generic name is Sigesbeckia.

 

 

Himachal 2009
St. Paul’s wort, Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Balanophoraceae
This family contains 17 genera with c. 44 species, some of which superficially resemble fungi. The generic name stems from the inflorescence of Balanophora, which is covered by bumps, resembling barnacles (family Balanidae). These plants contain no chlorophyll, being parasites that obtains all necessary nutrients from tree roots. They are found in subtropical and tropical areas around the globe, with a few species extending into temperate regions.

 

Balanophora dioica
A plant with a wide altitudinal range, found in forests between 400 and 2,600 m, from central Nepal eastwards to China and Taiwan.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Balanophora dioica, Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Balsaminaceae (balsam family)

 

Impatiens Balsam
The attractive flowers of these plants are of a unique structure, having 3 or 5 sepals, of which the lower one is greatly enlarged to form a pouch with a spur, whereas the other 2 or 4 are small and greenish. There are 5 petals, of which the upper one is often helmet-like, whereas the 4 lateral ones are fused in pairs, the upper pair forming the wings, the lower pair the lip.

The generic name, as well as a popular name of these plants, touch-me-not, was given in allusion to their way of spreading their seeds. As the fruit reaches maturity, a tension builds up inside the pod, causing it to ‘explode’ when touched, hereby spreading the seeds a considerable distance.

Balsam species are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, comprising at least 50 species, most of which bloom during the monsoon, between mid-June and late September. As if the monsoon rain is not enough, many balsam species prefer to grow beneath waterfalls to benefit from the humid air. Many of the species are difficult to distinguish.

 

Impatiens bicornuta
This plant grows in shrubberies and along streams at altitudes between 1,900 and 3,000 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. It can be identified by its pink flowers with a yellowish, brown-dotted pouch, having a short, S-shaped spur, and by two very long, slender ‘tails’ on the lip. Locally, tender parts of this species are cooked as a vegetable.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
In this picture from the Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal, some of the flowers of this Impatiens bicornuta rather resemble French artist Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Impatiens falcifer 
A pretty, yellow-flowered balsam, identified by its brown-dotted upper petal and the broad, sickle-shaped wings. This species has a rather restricted distribution, from central Nepal eastwards to Sikkim, growing in forests between 2,500 and 3,600 m altitude. It is common in Nepal.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Impatiens falcifer, covered in raindrops after a heavy monsoon shower, Thangshyap, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Impatiens sulcata
This large species, growing to 3 m tall, is also called Impatiens gigantea. The flower colour is very variable, being pink, bright red, or purple. This plant is widespread and common, growing in a variety of habitats, such as forests, shrubberies, and cultivated areas. It is distributed from Kashmir eastwards to Bhutan, between 1,800 and 4,000 m altitude.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Himachal 2009
Impatiens sulcata is very common in Himachal Pradesh, where these pictures were taken, near the town of Manali (top), and near the village of Sissu, Lahaul. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Begoniaceae (begonia family)

 

Begonia
This huge genus, comprising more than 1,400 species worldwide, is distributed in tropical and subtropical regions. In Asia, there are more than 600 species, with no less than 173 in China alone, of which 141 are endemic. Around 18 species are found in the Himalaya, many of them difficult to distinguish.

 

Begonia picta
Easily identified by its hairy, irregularly double-toothed leaves, which are often blotched with purple. This plant is very common on moist rocks and banks, and in shady forest margins, at altitudes between 600 and 2,900 m. It is distributed from Pakistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. Leaf-stalk and stems are edible when pickled. This species is also widely used in traditional medicine. Juice of the plant is taken for headache, whereas juice of the root is used for inflamed eyes and peptic ulcer. The juice is also squeezed into vegetable dyes to make them colourfast.

 

 

Nepal 2009
The leaves of Begonia picta are often blotched with purple. – Chipling, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Begonia rubella
As opposed to B. picta, this species is hairless, with triangular, long-tipped leaves, which are with or without teeth. It grows on shady banks, at altitudes between 600 and 1,800 m, from central Nepal eastwards to Sikkim. In Nepal, leaf-stalk and stems are pickled.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Begonia rubella, hanging down from a bank along a trail, Chisapani, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Berberidaceae (barberry family)

 

Berberis Barberry
This genus is ubiquitous in the Himalaya, the majority of the c. 38 species being small shrubs, usually with spiny stems and leaf-margins. They all have pretty, yellow flowers, which later turn into red, blue, or blackish berries. The wood of many species yields a yellow dye.

 

Berberis lyceum
This plant is common in open areas, from Pakistan eastwards to eastern Nepal, at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 m. Its edible berries are a pretty blue, turning black when ripe, with a whitish bloom. In Pakistan, an extract from root and stems is used as a tonic and as an eye lotion.

Another species, Berberis aristata, is presented on the page Traditional medicine.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Berberis lyceum, Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Mahonia Mahonia

 

Mahonia napaulensis Nepalese mahonia
This shrub is very common in the eastern half of the Himalaya, from 1,400 to 2,900 m altitude. It is gorgeous when flowering, displaying numerous large clusters of bright yellow flowers. Its blue berries are eaten raw or pickled, and bark and fruit are used medicinally.

 

 

Nepal 2013
The blue berries of Nepalese mahonia are edible, raw or pickled. This cluster was photographed in the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Everest 2010
Young leaves of Nepalese mahonia are bright red before turning green. – Tharo Kosi, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Betulaceae (birch family)

 

Betula utilis Himalayan birch 
This tree is easily identified by its reddish bark, which peels off in large flakes. It is extremely common at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,300 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to China. In former times, the wood was used for buildings and as firewood, the bark as roof cover, to make paper, as incense, and in folk medicine, whereas the foliage was chopped for fodder.

 

 

Everest 2010
The reddish bark of Himalayan birch peels off in large flakes. – Deboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Boraginaceae (forget-me-not family)

 

Hackelia uncinatum
Like most members of the forget-me-not family, this plant is quite bristly-hairy. It is very common in forests and open areas at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,500 m, from Pakistan to south-western China.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Early in the morning, these flowers of Hackelia uncinatum are covered in dew drops. – Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Brassicaceae (mustard family)

 

Cardamine violacea
Among c. 13 Himalayan species of bittercress, this stout herb is probably the most handsome, growing to 1 m tall, with gorgeous, dark purple flowers. It is found in humid forests and meadows between 1,800 and 4,000 m altitude, distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China. In Nepal, its tender parts are cooked as a vegetable.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Cardamine violacea, photographed at Deorali, Annapurna, central Nepal, at an altitude of c. 3,200 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Crucihimalaya himalaica Himalayan rock-cress
This plant, formerly named Arabidopsis himalaica, is common in rocky areas and on grazing grounds between 2,400 and 4,300 m altitude, from Afghanistan eastwards to Bhutan. It is also found in Tibet, where its flowers and leaves are utilized to treat meat poisoning.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himalayan rock-cress, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Erysimum Wallflower
There is much controversy concerning the number of wallflower species in the Himalaya, and also around their identity.

 

Erysimum benthamii
This plant, with pretty, orange or yellow flowers, is common in open areas, fallow fields, and along trails. It is distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to south-western China, growing in a wide altitudinal range, between 1,600 and 4,100 m.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
This beetle is busy eating petals of Erysimum benthamii, Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pycnoplinthopsis bhutanica
With its low growth and thick leaf rosette, this plant somewhat resembles a primrose (Primula). It is a high-altitude plant, always growing on wet rocks or along streams between 3,000 and 4,500 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Annapurna 2007
Pycnoplinthopsis bhutanica, growing on a wet rock near a stream, Upper Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Campanulaceae (bellflower family)

 

Cyananthus
Nine species of this genus have been encountered in the Himalaya.

 

Cyananthus lobatus
This species is fairly common in alpine meadows between 3,300 and 4,500 m altitude. It is easily told from other members of the genus by its large flowers and lobed leaves.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Cyananthus lobatus, Cholang Pati, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle family)

 

Lonicera Honeysuckle
c. 180 species of shrubs or climbers, native to the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name was given in honour of German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528-1586), whereas the name honeysuckle stems from the sweet nectar in the flowers of this genus. Some species are indeed fragrant, and several are cultivated as ornamentals.

About 25 species are found in the Himalaya, shrubs as well as climbers. Besides the two species presented below, pictures of other Central Asian species may be seen on the page Plants – Mountain plants: Tibetan flora.

You may also read about the invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), see Nature: Invasive species.

 

Lonicera quinquelocularis
A large shrub to 6 m tall, with broadly elliptical leaves. The flowers are in pairs in the axils of old leaves, cream-coloured at first, later fading to yellow. This species is common in forests and shrubberies between 1,800 and 3,000 m altitude, from Afghanistan eastwards to China.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Lonicera quinquelocularis, photographed near the village of Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lonicera rupicola
This is a prostrate high-altitude species with pink or pale purple flowers, growing in shrubberies and grasslands, and on scree slopes, at altitudes between 2,000 and 5,000 m. It is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Lonicera rupicola, Kambachen, Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Morina
Formerly, Morina species were included in the scabious family (Dipsacaceae), but were then transferred to a separate family, Morinaceae. However, recent genetic research has reduced these two families to a subfamily, Dipsacoideae, within the honeysuckle family. Four species of Morina occur in the Himalaya.

The genus was named in honour of French physician, botanist, and meteorologist Louis Morin de Saint-Victor (1635-1715).

 

Morina longifolia
This striking and quite handsome plant grows to 1 m tall, found in shrubberies and on open slopes at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 m, from Kashmir eastwards to Bhutan. Its leaves are furnished with spines as a means of defense against grazing animals. 

 

 

Nepal 2009
Morina longifolia is very common in abandoned fields in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Morina nepalensis
This low plant, only about 15 cm tall, has rather large, pretty flowers. Instead of spines, the leaf margins are equipped with long, stiff bristles. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China, at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,400 m.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Morina nepalensis, encountered near Dole, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Morina polyphylla
The root of this rather thistle-like plant is foul-smelling. It is densely furnished with spines as a means of defense against grazing animals. It grows in open areas at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,300 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan.

 

 

Nepal 1987
Morina polyphylla, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Caryophyllaceae (carnation family)

 

Silene Campion
This genus is huge, comprising c. 600 species worldwide, of which around 50 occur in the Himalaya. According to Dr. Magnus Lärksporre Lidén, Uppsala University, Sweden, the identity of the Himalayan species are a cause of much confusion, and is far from clarified.

 

Silene gonosperma
This species, which has an inflated calyx, is quite common in stony areas and grasslands, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China, and in Central Asia, found at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,500 m.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Silene gonosperma, observed on the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Silene thomsonii
This is another Silene species with a strongly inflated calyx. It is restricted to central Nepal and adjacent southern Tibet, at altitudes between 2,300 and 4,700 m, growing in a wide variety of habitats, including rocky areas, sandy slopes, and open grassland.

Identification of this species, and information on it, were kindly provided by Dr. Magnus Lärksporre Lidén, Uppsala University, Sweden.

 

 

Silene thomsonii, photographed in the Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal, together with the blue-flowered Microula sikkimensis, of the forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Convolvulaceae (morning-glory family)
This family contains c. 58 genera, comprising close to 2,000 species, the majority of which are herbaceous vines, but with some erect herbs, shrubs, and trees. The flowers of almost all species are funnel-shaped, with five fused petals, and many are quite showy. The stem of most of these plants twine around other plants, fences, or anything else, hence the scientific name of the family, from the Latin convolvere, ‘to wind (around)’.

Many members of this family are dealt with in depth on the page Plants: Morning-glories and bindweeds.

 

Dinetus
Eight species, which were previously included in the genus Porana, have been moved to this genus. These Asian plants are distributed from Pakistan eastwards across India and Nepal to China, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.

 

Dinetus grandiflorus Tibetan moth vine
Formerly named Porana grandiflora, this plant is found from Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet, growing between 1,900 and 2,500 m altitude.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Dinetus grandiflorusChipling, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Dinetus racemosus Snow creeper
This species has about the same distribution as the genus. In the Himalaya, it is found up to an altitude of c. 2,400 m. Its clusters of small white flowers are gorgeous, “resembling dazzling patches of snow in the jungle,” as Oleg Polunin and Adam Stainton state it in their book Flowers of the Himalaya (Oxford University Press, 1984).

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Snow creeper, climbing up a stem of an aibika (Abelmoschus manihot), Sarangkot, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ipomoea nil Blue morning-glory
Flowers of this plant, which is also called ivy-leaved or Japanese morning-glory, are various shades of blue, with a white funnel. It may be told from similar species by the base of its calyx, which is hairy. It is thought to be a native of Mexico or Central America, but has been widely introduced elsewhere in warmer countries as an ornamental, or accidentally.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
This blue morning-glory, entwining a species of mugwort (Artemisia), was encountered in the Lower Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Crassulaceae (stonecrop family)
This family, which contains c. 35 genera with about 1,400 species, is found worldwide, with the greatest diversity in the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa. It is characterized by plants with succulent leaves – an adaptation to growing in dry areas with little water.

 

Rhodiola Roseroot
There are about 20 species of roseroot in the Himalaya. In the past, they were lumped with stonecrops in the genus Sedum (see below), but differ from that genus by having a stout rootstock and only 4 petals, versus a slender or no rootstock, and 5 petals, in Sedum species.

 

Rhodiola amabilis
This plant was formerly called Sedum amabile, due to its rather stonecrop-like appearance, forming loose mats on damp rocks. It is restricted to central and eastern Nepal, at altitudes between 2,300 and 3,900 m.

In the picture below, Rhodiola amabilis grows among mani stones (stone slabs with engraved Buddhist mantras), near the village of Thangshyap, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. – Mani stones and other Buddhist structures are dealt with on the page Religion: Buddhism.

 

 

Nepal 2000
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhodiola bupleuroides
This plant is named after its inflorescence, which somewhat resembles that of certain species of hare’s ear (Bupleurum), of the carrot family (Apiaceae). It grows in stony areas between 2,000 and 5,000 m altitude, from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Rhodiola bupleuroides, Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sedum Stonecrop
Creeping plants, which grow in dry areas, such as in sand, among scree, or on rocks. This genus, counting about 470 species, is mainly distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, but is also found in southern Africa and in South America. 15 species are encountered in the Himalaya.

 

Sedum oreades
This species grows in rocky areas between 3,000 and 5,200 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. It may be identified by its rather bell-shaped flowers.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Sedum oreades, photographed below the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Cupressaceae (cypress family)

 

Cupressus torulosa Himalayan cypress
This magnificent tree prefers to grow on calcareous soil. It is distributed from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China and northern Vietnam, at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 m. Its foliage is often burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Two magnificent Himalayan cypresses, growing in the Upper Kali Gandaki Valley, Mustang, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Juniperus Juniper
This genus of c. 60 species is distributed in almost the entire Northern Hemisphere. About five species are found in the Himalaya.

 

Juniperus indica Black juniper
A high-altitude tree, growing between 2,100 and 5,200 m, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. Its foliage is burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines, and the fruit is utilized in traditional medicine for fever and headache.

Another Himalayan species, the drooping juniper (J. recurva), is presented on the page Plants: Ancient and giant trees.

 

 

Nepal 2009-2
This old and gnarled black juniper was found at an altitude of c. 3,600 m in the Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Dioscoreaceae (yam family)

 

Dioscorea Yam
This huge genus of climbers, comprising c. 613 species, are native to warmer regions of the world. The vast majority are found in the tropics and subtropics, with only a few species extending into temperate areas. The genus is named after Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine).

 

Dioscorea deltoidea Nepalese yam
This climber is widely distributed in montane areas, from Afghanistan eastwards to south-western China, and thence southwards to Southeast Asia. The fresh tuber is used as fish poison. It is squeezed and mixed with water to wash clothes, and this soap is also used as a body wash to kill lice. It is edible after boiling. In Nepal, this species is widely utilized in folk medicine, juice of the tuber for constipation, and to expel roundworms. Bulbs from the upper part of the stem are boiled and the liquid drunk for gastric problems, and juice of these bulbs are used for dysentery. Elsewhere, the tuber is utilized for various diseases, including asthma and arthritis, and also as a contraceptive.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Fruiting Nepalese yam, climbing on a species of fig tree (Ficus), Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Droseraceae (sundew family)
Plants of this family obtain part of their nutrients by catching small invertebrates by means of glandular hairs on their leaves. When an animal gets stuck in the sticky juice from these glands, the leaf will envelop the unfortunate victim and dissolve its body juices, whereupon the plant can obtain nitrogen from it.

Sundew and other flesh-eating plants are dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Carnivorous plants.

 

Drosera peltata Crescent-leaved sundew
This species is distributed in montane areas, from the western parts of the Himalaya to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
The leaves of this crescent-leaved sundew, encountered in Langtang National Park, central Nepal, are heavy with monsoon rain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 
 
Ericaceae (heath family)

 

Agapetes
This genus has five members in the Himalaya, all small, epiphytic shrubs.

 

Agapetes serpens
The flowers of this small climber come in two colours, red and white. It occurs in the eastern parts of the Himalaya, between eastern Nepal and south-eastern Tibet, growing in forests at altitudes from 1,500 to 2,700 m.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Agapetes serpens, photographed in the lower Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cassiope White-heather
Two species of this genus are found in the Himalaya, both growing at high altitudes.

 

Cassiope fastigiata
This pretty shrublet is found from Pakistan eastwards to Bhutan and southern Tibet, growing among rocks and in open areas between 2,800 and 5,000 m altitude.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Cassiope fastigiata, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gaultheria Wintergreen
Another common name of members of this genus is mountain tea. These shrubs and dwarf shrubs, comprising about 135 species, are native to Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Seven species occur in the Himalaya.

In 1748, Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) – a pupil of the famous Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778) – named this genus in honour of French physician and naturalist Jean-François Gaulthier (1708-1756) of Quebec.

 

Gaultheria fragrantissima Fragrant wintergreen
This very common evergreen shrub displays large clusters of pretty, white, fragrant flowers in April-May. It grows in forests and shrubberies between 2,700 and 4,700 m, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. This species is widely utilized in folk medicine, juice of unripe fruits being used for stomach ache, whereas juice from the leaves is taken for cough, and to kill intestinal worms. Oil extracted from the leaves is applied to cure scabies and to treat rheumatism. The ripe fruits are eaten fresh, and also distilled to make alcohol.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Fragrant wintergreen, growing below the Burlung Bhanjyang Pass, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gaultheria trichophylla 
In autumn, this dwarf shrub is easily recognized by its sky-blue, almost luminous berries, which are edible. It is very common, creeping over rocks and forest slopes at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,700 m, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Fruits of Gaultheria trichophylla, Gopte, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pieris
A genus of beautiful shrubs, native to central and eastern Asia, eastern North America, and Cuba. Whereas American species are known as andromedas or fetterbushes, Asian species are merely called pieris, which name is derived from the Greek Pieria – home of the Muses.

 

Pieris formosa Himalayan pieris
A highly toxic plant, which is avoided by grazing animals. For this reason, it is very common in eroded areas or fallow fields, growing between 1,500 and 3,000 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to China and northern Vietnam.

 

 

Sydasien 1980
In April-May, Himalayan pieris displays a profusion of fragrant flowers, here photographed near the village of Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
Spring foliage of Himalayan pieris is a pretty reddish. – Chipling, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhododendron
In the Greek, rhododendron means ‘rose tree’, and, from a distance, the flower clusters of certain species do resemble roses.  However, they are not at all related to roses, as they belong to the heath family.

These trees and shrubs constitute a very large genus, comprising c. 1,025 species worldwide, with the largest concentrations in China, the Himalaya, Malaysia, Borneo, and New Guinea. China is the absolute stronghold of the genus, with no less than c. 571 species, of which 409 are endemic. The Himalaya is home to more than a hundred species, and a tiny country like Bhutan harbours more than 60. The further west you go in the Himalaya, the fewer species you encounter. Eastern Nepal is home to c. 30 species, western Nepal to seven, and Kashmir to only four.

Himalayan rhododendrons are dwarf shrubs, shrubs, or small trees, which bloom between March and July, with a peak in April-May. A majority of the species display flowers of various shades of red, yellow, or white, whereas violet and greenish are rarely seen. The inflorescence of most species is an umbel-like cluster, the corolla being funnel- or bell-shaped, with five lobes. The fruit is a capsule, containing between four and twenty chambers.

In the Himalaya, rhododendrons occur in almost all vegetation zones, from subtropical to alpine, the major part found between 2,000 and 4,000 m altitude. The largest species is Rhododendron arboreum, which can grow to 15 m tall. At the opposite end of the spectrum are various dwarf shrubs, such as R. nivale, R. lepidotum, R. anthopogon, and R. pumilum, the latter being only 10-15 cm tall. Other species are epiphytes, such as the large-flowered R. dalhousiae and R. lindleyi.

Pictures of rhododendrons from other parts of the world are presented on the page Plants: Rhododendron.

 

Rhododendron anthopogon
In Nepal, this dwarf shrub is called sun pathi. At altitudes between 3,000 and 5,100 m, it forms dense thickets, covering large areas. The dried flowers of this species are utilized as tea, and its branches are burned as incense in temples and on house altars.

 

 

Everest 2010
Rhododendron anthopogon, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2002
This man from the Gosainkund area of central Nepal shows a tray, full of dried sun pathi flowers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron arboreum
This is the tallest rhododendron species in the Himalaya, growing to about 15 m tall. It is very common, and in March-April, when it is flowering, it adds a reddish or pinkish tinge to the forest in numerous places, stemming from millions of flowers. The intensity of the red flower colour decreases with altitude, and near the upper limit of its distribution, around 3,800 m, trees with white flowers are sometimes encountered. In Nepal, this tree is the national plant, called lali guras (‘red rhododendron’).

In its widest sense, this species has an extensive distribution in Asia, from Pakistan eastwards to montane areas of northern Thailand and Vietnam, and with isolated populations in mountains of South India and Sri Lanka. The subspecies in South India is called Nilgiri rhododendron (R. arboreum ssp. nilagiricum), whereas the Sri Lanka rhododendron (R. arboreum ssp. zeylanicum) is sometimes regarded as a separate species, R. zeylanicum.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Rhododendron arboreum can grow to 15 m tall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
Nepal 2008
When it is flowering, Rhododendron arboreum adds a reddish or pinkish tinge to the forest in numerous places, stemming from millions of flowers. One of these areas is Annapurna, central Nepal, where these pictures were taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The flowers of Rhododendron arboreum produce a profusion of pollen, and they are much visited by various bird species. In this picture, a striated laughing-thrush (Garrulax striatus) is feeding in a flower. – Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
Nepal 2008
Nepal 2013
These pictures show three flower colours of Rhododendron arboreum. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
Inflorescence of Rhododendron arboreum, not yet unfolded. – Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron barbatum
From a distance, this species is quite similar to R. arboreum, but a closer look reveals distinctive glandular bristles on its twigs and leaf-stalk. Also, its pinkish bark peels off in thin, cinnamon-coloured flakes. It is very common in the Himalaya, found from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan, often forming pure stands at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 m.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
Dense Rhododendron barbatum forest, Kutumsang, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
This picture from Ghorepani, Annapurna, central Nepal, shows the distinctive bristles on a twig of Rhododendron barbatum. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
The bark of Rhododendron barbatum peels off in thin, cinnamon-coloured flakes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron campanulatum Bell rhododendron
As its specific name, derived from the Latin campanula (‘little bell’), implies, this attractive shrub has bell-shaped flowers. It is very common in the Himalaya, forming dense thickets at altitudes between 2,800 and 4,000 m. It can be identified by the rusty-coloured layer of hairs on the underside of the leaves.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
Bell rhododendron, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. In the lower picture, rain drops cling to the flowers. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
One of the characteristics of bell rhododendron is the rusty-coloured layer of hairs on the underside of its leaves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron campylocarpum
This shrub is very common from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-western China, at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,000 m. In places, it brightens large tracts of forest with its beautiful pale-yellow inflorescences.

The pictures below were all taken in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is very common. In the upper picture, the peaks of Nuptse (7879 m, left), Sagarmatha (Everest) (8850 m, centre), and Lhotse (8511 m) are seen in the background.

 

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Everest 2010
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron ciliatum
The white or slightly pinkish flowers of this small shrub have five notched, overlapping lobes. It has a rather limited distribution, found between eastern Nepal and Bhutan. It often grows on rocks, at altitudes between 2,700 and 3,900 m.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Rhododendron ciliatum, Barun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron cinnabarinum 
This shrub can be identified by its long, dark red, tubular, waxy, often pendent flowers. This species grows at altitudes between 3,200 and 4,000 m, from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
Usually, the flowers of Rhododendron cinnabarinum are dark red, but occasionally paler flowers are seen, as in the lower picture. This species is common in the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where these pictures were taken. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron dalhousiae
Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911) was a British botanist, who, during the period 1848-1850, described no less than 22 new rhododendron species from Sikkim and other parts of the eastern Himalaya, including this gorgeous species, which was named in honour of Lady Dalhousie, wife of George Ramsay, the 9th Earl of Dalhousie, who was governor-general in India in the first half of the 1800s. Lady Dalhousie was an avid collector of plants.

In April-May, this epiphytic species displays a profusion of lemon-coloured flowers, which later turn yellowish-white.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Rhododendron dalhousiae, Tashigaon, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rhododendron fulgens
This shrub, to 4 m tall, is of a rather limited distribution, found from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, growing at altitudes between 3,300 and 4,200 m.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Many rhododendron species are indeed hardy. Early in the morning, the flowers of this Rhododendron fulgens, observed in the Barun Valley, eastern Nepal, are covered in rime. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron hodgsonii
This large shrub, which grows to 7 m tall, is easily identified by its dense inflorescences and large leaves. It has a rather limited distribution, from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, often forming shrubberies in forests, at altitudes between 3,000 and 3,800 m.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
My guide Saila Tamang, standing in a dense growth of Rhododendron hodgsonii, Barun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The flower colour of Rhododendron hodgsonii varies from whitish to deep pink. These pictures are from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron lepidotum
Flowers of this dwarf shrub come in three colour forms, red, white, and (rarely) yellowish. This is one of the most widespread Himalayan rhododendron species, distributed from northern Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. It also has a wide altitudinal range, found between 2,400 and 4,500 m.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
The commonest flower colour of Rhododendron lepidotum is red, here encountered at Ghumtarao, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
White-flowered form, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Everest 2010
The rare yellowish form, encountered in the Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron nivale 
The alpine zone, above the tree limit, is home to several species of dwarf rhododendron, including R. nivale, which is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China, at altitudes between 4,500 and 5,500 m. It is quite similar to R. setosum (see below), but the leaf margin of that species usually has bristles, and its funnel-shaped corolla is reddish-violet, whereas R. nivale has darker violet, smaller flowers, and no bristles on the leaves. Generally, R. nivale grows in drier areas than R. setosum.

 

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Rhododendron nivale, photographed in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron pumilum
This plant rarely grows taller than 10 cm, reflected in its specific name, which is derived from the Latin pumilio (‘dwarf’). Its habitat is open slopes and rocks. It is distributed from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-western China, growing at altitudes from 3,600 to 4,300 m.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Rhododendron pumilum, Barun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron setosum
The funnel-shaped flowers of this dwarf shrub are usually reddish-violet, but a form with pink flowers is occasionally seen. It is quite similar to R. nivale (see above), but its leaf margin usually has bristles, whereas R. nivale has no bristles on its leaves, and darker violet, smaller flowers. R. setosum is found on alpine slopes at slightly lower altitudes than R. nivale, between 3,600 and 4,800 m. It is distributed from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Rhododendron setosum, photographed in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal. In the upper picture, the peak of Taboche (6367 m) is seen in the background. The lower picture shows the pink-flowered form, next to flowers of a normal colour. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron thomsonii
This shrub, growing to 5 m tall, is easily identified by its broadly bell-shaped, waxy, fleshy flowers, and the rather small, pinkish-red calyx. It grows in open areas, preferably near streams, at altitudes from 3,000 to 3,800 m. It is distributed from eastern Nepal to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
These pictures are from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where Rhododendron thomsonii is quite common. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron triflorum
The flowers of this small shrub, growing to 3 m tall, are a very pale yellow with a greenish tinge, arranged in clusters of three, as indicated by its specific name. The bark peels off in thin, cinnamon-coloured flakes. This species is found in shrubberies from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, at altitudes from 2,400 to 3,300 m.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Rhododendron triflorum, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron wallichii 
Formerly, this species was regarded as a variety of R. campanulatum (see above), but generally its flowers are paler, and the underside of the leaves is not hairy. The specific name was given in honour of Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), who studied the Indian and Himalayan flora in the early 1800s.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Everest 2010
These pictures are from the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where Rhododendron wallichii is very common. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhododendron wightii
This plant, which grows to 4 m tall, forms shrubberies many places in the eastern Himalaya, from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, between 3,300 and 4,300 m altitude. Its leaves are large, to 20 cm long, with felt-like, rusty hairs beneath, whereas its bell-shaped flowers are white or very pale yellow, with crimson blotches within.

 

 

Nepal 1991a
Nepal 1991a
Rhododendron wightii, Barun Valley, eastern Nepal. In the upper picture, it is photographed in front of a dark rock, named Neh. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Fabaceae (pea family)
Flowers of this family have five petals, forming a unique structure. The upper petal, called the standard, is large and often reflexed, covering and protecting stamens and pistil. The two lateral petals, called the wings, are of equal size, surrounding the two bottom petals, which are free at the base, but fused at the tip, forming what is called the keel, as it resembles the keel of a boat. They enclose stamens and pistil.

 

 
Erythrina Coral tree
The common name of this genus stems from the wonderful coral-red flowers of many of the species.

 

Erythrina stricta
This species is very common in the lower parts of the Himalaya, growing in forests and open areas up to 1,600 m altitude. It is widespread from India eastwards to China.

In March-April, this tree displays a profusion of gorgeous red flowers, in which various bird species feed, including Asian black bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus), red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus), and ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri).

 

 

Nepal 1998
Nepal 1998
Erythrina stricta, flowering near the village of Tatopani, Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Indigofera heterantha
One among 16 members of this genus in the Himalaya. It is widely distributed, from Afghanistan eastwards to Bhutan and southern Tibet, and also in Sri Lanka and parts of East Africa. It often forms dense thickets in the western part of the Himalaya, where it may be found up to an altitude of 3,000 m.

Formerly, a blue dye, indigo, was extracted from a lowland relative, Indigofera tinctoria, but nowadays the dye is produced synthetically. Incidentally, indigo cannot be extracted from any of the Himalayan species.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Indigofera heterantha is a conspicuous element in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lotus Bird’s-foot trefoil
This huge genus, comprising at least 130 species, is represented by a single species in the Himalaya. The trefoil part of the popular name refers to the tripartite leaves of the genus, whereas bird’s-foot alludes to their triple pods, which spread out from a common point, thus resembling a bird’s foot.

 

Lotus corniculatus Common bird’s-foot trefoil
This plant is widely distributed in Temperate Eurasia, growing in drier habitats with low vegetation. In the Himalaya, it is found between 1,500 and 4,000 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to central Nepal.

Other species of this genus are dealt with on the page In praise of the colour yellow.

 

 

The flowers of common bird’s-foot trefoil are usually yellow, but red or orange flowers are sometimes seen, as on this specimen from Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, photographed after a rain shower. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Parochetus communis
This plant with bright blue flowers is common in open areas in the Himalaya, found between 900 and 4,300 m altitude. Its distribution area includes the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In Nepal, this plant is used for fodder, and is also utilized medicinally, as juice of the leaves is applied to wounds and boils.

 

 

Nepal 1994
Large growth of Parochetus communis, encountered near Tolka, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Thermopsis barbata
This extremely hairy plant is easily recognized by its blackish-purple flowers. It is very common on disturbed ground, including abandoned fields and heavily grazed slopes, between 3,000 and 4,500 m altitude. The generic name is from the Greek therme (‘heat’), and opsis (‘appearance’), whereas the specific name is from the Latin barbatus (‘bearded’), thus meaning ‘the bearded one that appears to be burned’.

 

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Thermopsis barbata, photographed in a fallow field near the village of Namche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Gentianaceae (gentian family)
This family is worldwide, comprising about 87 genera with c. 1,650 species, mostly herbs. Within the c. 18 genera, which occur in the Himalaya, the flower colour of most species are various shades of blue. Below, representatives from four genera, Gentiana, Gentianella, Halenia, and Swertia, are presented.

Gentians proper, Gentiana, are a huge genus, comprising c. 360 species. It used to contain c. 635 species, but certain authorities, including the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group System (APG IV), have split out c. 23 species of fringed gentians (Gentianopsis), with ciliate margins to the petals, and c. 250 species of dwarf gentians (Gentianella), without scales or lobules between the corolla-lobes, whereas some species have hairs or lobes in the throat.

Members of these genera are distributed almost worldwide, found in Europe, north-western Africa, Asia, the Americas, eastern Australia, and New Zealand. The flowers of most species are various shades of blue, whereas others are purple, violet, mauve, yellow, white, or, rarely, red. The four or five petals are usually fused, forming a trumpet-, funnel-, or bell-shaped flower.

The name gentian was derived from King Gentius, who ruled in Ancient Illyria 181-168 B.C., and who allegedly discovered the medicinal value of the yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea). This species is presented in detail on the page Traditional medicine.

 

Gentiana

 

Gentiana depressa
This species may be identified by is its greenish-white, black-dotted corolla, blue petal lobes, and whitish-blue lobules (the slightly smaller lobes between the lobes proper). It grows on open slopes at altitudes between 3,300 and 4,300 m, from central Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Gentiana depressa, photographed in the Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana ornata
As its specific name implies, this is a beautiful plant, having a pale blue corolla with a whitish throat and black vertical stripes. It is very common at high altitudes between 3,400 and 5,500 m, from central Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. It blooms in autumn, adding a lovely blue hue to the otherwise rather drab landscape at this time of the year.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Gentiana ornata, photographed at an altitude of c. 4,200 metres, Ngegang Kharka, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Gentiana pedicellata
Almost all Himalayan gentians bloom late in the summer or in autumn, but a few are flowering in spring, including this tiny, often mat-forming plant, which is very common on grazing grounds and in forest clearings at altitudes from 750 to 3,800 m. It is found in the entire mountain chain, and also in China, South India, and Sri Lanka.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Gentiana pedicellata, Khanjim, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gentianella
This genus, often called dwarf gentians, can be told from other gentians by their flowers, which often have lobes or tufts of hair in the throat, and no lobules between the corolla-lobes.

 

Gentianella moorcroftiana
is distributed in the western parts of the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to central Nepal, growing in open, grassy areas at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,800 m. It is very common in Lahaul and Ladakh.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Gentianella moorcroftiana, encountered near Lake Deepak Tal, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, at an altitude of c. 3,800 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Halenia

 

Halenia elliptica Spurred gentian
This species is easily identified by its pale blue flowers, which have four spurs, projecting backwards. It is quite common in meadows and at forest edges in the Himalaya, between 1,800 and 4,500 m altitude. It is widely distributed, found in central and western Asia, eastwards to China and Myanmar.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Spurred gentian, encountered below the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Swertia Felwort
This large genus, comprising c. 150 species worldwide, is also known by the popular name columbo. Many species have small, but very ornate flowers, usually with five petals, which are adorned with beautiful, intricate patterns in many species. About 28 species occur in the Himalaya, the majority growing in humid places.

 

Swertia angustifolia Narrow-leaved felwort
This plant may be identified by its long, narrow leaves, and by having only four petals, which are white with tiny purple spots, and a large green spot near the base. It grows in subtropical valleys, up to an altitude of 3,300 m, from Pakistan eastwards to China and northern Vietnam.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Narrow-leaved felwort, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Swertia ciliata
The flowers of this plant are very spectacular, having five ovate, bluish-white petals, which are abruptly tapering to a long point, with a purple band near the base, and densely clustered, purple filaments. This species is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to Myanmar, growing in shrubberies and on open slopes at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,700 m.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Swertia ciliata, Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Swertia cordata Heart-leaved felwort
This species differs from most other felworts by its broadly heart-shaped leaves. It is widely distributed, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China, growing on grassy slopes between 1,700 and 4,000 m.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Heart-leaved felwort, encountered near the village of Bratang, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Swertia paniculata
This felwort has gorgeous purplish-white flowers with a narrow purple band and two green spots on each of the five petals. It grows in forests and on open slopes between 2,800 and 3,300 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Swertia paniculata, photographed at Danakju, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Swertia racemosa
Compared with other felworts, this species has rather dull, bell-shaped, whitish-purple flowers. It grows in grassy areas and on open slopes at high altitudes, between 3,200 and 5,000 m.

Formerly, this plant was called Kingdon-wardia racemosa, in honour of the English botanist and explorer Francis Kingdon-Ward (1885-1958), who, over a period of nearly 50 years, undertook about 25 expeditions to Assam, Myanmar, Tibet, and north-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Swertia racemosa, photographed at c. 4,000 m altitude, Langshisha, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Geraniaceae (cranesbill family)
In the Himalaya, almost all members of this family, comprising c. 18 species of cranesbill (Geranium) and two species of storksbill (Erodium), have reddish, pink, or violet flowers.

 

Geranium Cranesbill

 

Geranium himalayaense Himalayan cranesbill
This plant is found from Afghanistan eastwards to central Nepal, growing between 2,100 and 4,400 m altitude. It is quite similar to the Eurasian meadow cranesbill (G. pratense), which grows in drier areas of the western Himalaya. As a rule, Himalayan cranesbill is a larger plant, with petals up to 3 cm long, versus 2 cm in meadow cranesbill. Its fruits are also larger, up to almost 5 cm long, versus c. 3.5 cm in meadow cranesbill.

 

 

Nepal 2009
This picture shows the rear side of a Himalayan cranesbill flower, dotted with raindrops from a recent downpour. It was photographed during the peak of the monsoon, at Cholang Pati, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Gesneriaceae (gloxinia family)
Most Himalayan members of this family, comprising 11 genera, bloom during the monsoon. Five species are presented below.

 

Aeschynanthus
Many members of this genus, comprising c. 140 species, have gorgeous red flowers. These plants are epiphytes, growing on trees or rocks. They are distributed in warmer parts of Asia and on some Pacific islands.

 

Aeschynanthus parviflorus
This species, formerly known as Aeschynanthus sikkimensis, has long, hanging branches and thick, leathery leaves. It is distributed from eastern Nepal eastwards to Bhutan, at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,100 m.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Aeschynanthus parviflorus, growing on a rock near Chiruwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Chirita urticifolia
This pretty plant grows in humid forests and shrubberies at altitudes from 1,000 to 2,400 m. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Chirita urticifolia, seen below the Burlung Bhanjyang Pass, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Didymocarpus oblongus
This plant grows on shady rocks between 1,000 and 3,000 m altitude, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh. It may be identified by its small flowers, to 1 cm long.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Didymocarpus oblongus, encountered in Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Platystemma violoides
Another species, which grows on shady rocks between 1,500 and 3,000 m altitude, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Bhutan. It is easily identified by its single, broadly ovate leaf, from which a slender flower stalk is rising, having a single or few bluish-violet flowers.

 

 

Nepal 2000
Platystemma violoides, photographed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rhynchoglossum obliquum
Very widely distributed, found from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China, and southwards to montane areas in South India and Southeast Asia. It differs from most other species in the family by flowering in the autumn. It is very easily identified by its asymmetric, long-pointed leaves, and its long, spike-like cluster of small blue flowers. 

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Rhynchoglossum obliquum, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Grossulariaceae (currant family)
This family has a single genus, Ribes, which includes currants and gooseberries. It contains about 150 species, which are native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Eleven species are found in the Himalaya. To most authorities, this genus constitutes a separate family, whereas others include it in the family Saxifragaceae.

 

Ribes alpestre Asian gooseberry
This shrub is easily identified by its stout thorns and reddish, hairy berries. It is found in forests and shrubberies in drier areas, from Pakistan eastwards to Bhutan, and also in Central Asia and China, between 1,000 and 3,900 m altitude.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Asian gooseberry is heavily armed with spines on the branches. This one was photographed near Keylong, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeaceae (hydrangea family)

 

Deutzia
A genus of shrubs with pretty, fragrant flowers. Three species occur in the Himalaya.

 

Deutzia bhutanensis
The flowers of this shrub, which grows to 2 m tall, are purplish, as opposed to the other two species, which have white flowers. It has quite small leaves, to 4 cm long. It is found in a rather restricted area, from central Nepal eastwards to Bhutan, between 2,100 and 2,700 m altitude.

 

 

Everest 2010
Deutzia bhutanensis, Phakding, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Deutzia hookeriana
This species has the largest leaves of the Himalayan Deutzia, growing to 12 cm long. It occurs at forest margins and in shrubberies, between 2,000 and 3,500 m altitude, from Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
This gorgeous specimen of Deutzia hookeriana was encountered in the Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Deutzia staminea
This plant, which grows in shrubberies and on open slopes, is widely distributed, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China, between 1,700 and 3,000 m altitude. It is commonest in the western part of the Himalaya. In Nepal, juice of its root is used for fever, and the flowers are offered to gods by Tamang people.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Deutzia staminea, photographed in the Lower Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Hypoxidaceae (yellow star-grass family)

 

Hypoxis Yellow star-grass 
Members of this genus, also called star lily, are widely distributed, occurring in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, with the greatest concentration in southern Africa. The name star-grass alludes to the star-shaped flowers and grass-like leaves of the genus. An African species, Hypoxis hemerocallidea, called African potato, is an important ingredient in traditional medicine.

 

Hypoxis aurea
This tiny species occurs in the entire Himalaya, growing in open grasslands between 1,500 and 2,900 m. It has a very wide distribution in Tropical Asia and is also found in New Guinea.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Hypoxis aurea, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Iridaceae (iris family)

 

Iris Iris
This genus of wonderful plants, comprising 250-300 species worldwide, has about 13 members in the Himalaya. They are named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, alluding to the colourful flowers of many of the species. These plants are toxic and therefore avoided by grazing animals. For this reason, they often form large growths in high-altitude meadows and grazing grounds.

 

Iris kemaonensis
This is the commonest iris in the Himalaya, often forming large growths on grazing grounds and in abandoned fields. It is found at altitudes between 2,500 and 4,300 m, from Pakistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. Its leaves and root are used medicinally, and the leaves are occasionally cut for fodder. Presumably, they lose their toxicity when dried.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Iris kemaonensis is very common on grazing grounds, here in the Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
Close-up of Iris kemaonensis with dew drops, photographed early in the morning, likewise in the Upper Langtang Valley. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Iris milesii
This plant is confined to the western part of the Himalaya, from Kashmir eastwards to Uttarakhand, where it grows at altitudes between 1,600 and 2,700 m. The preferred habitat of this species is open coniferous forests. It is easily identified by its long, scimitar-shaped leaves, and the rather pale, purplish flowers.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Iris milesii, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Lamiaceae (mint family)

 

Caryopteris bicolor Bluebeard
This handsome shrub, growing to 3 m tall, has large clusters of bluish, fragrant flowers at the end of branches, which later turn into globular fruits, dark-blue when ripe. It has a wide altitudinal as well as geographical range, growing in open forests and shrubberies, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China and Thailand, between 400 and 2,100 m.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Bluebeard is very common in the Annapurna area, central Nepal, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Clerodendrum Glorybower 
Seven species of this genus are encountered in the Himalaya, for the major part restricted to the foothills or lower, subtropical valleys.

 

Clerodendrum infortunatum
This is a very important plant in Ayurvedic medicine, where root and bark are utilized for respiratory problems, such as cough and asthma, and for fever. The root is also used as a laxative and to kill fly larvae in wounds, whereas juice of the plant is applied to snake bites and scorpion stings. In Nepal, the leaves are used as a potherb. It is widely distributed, found in the entire Indian Subcontinent and in Southeast Asia.

The specific name infortunatum was given by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné (1707-1778), allegedly because he found the leaves of this plant rather ugly.

 

 

Nepal 1998
Clerodendrum infortunatum, photographed in Chitwan National Park, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Phlomis Lampwick plant
A genus with more than 100 species, native from southern Europe across the Middle East to Central Asia and China. Eight species occur in the Himalaya. Inflorescences of these plants are very characteristic, being arranged in dense whorls at intervals up the angular stem.

The generic name is derived from the Greek floga (‘flame’), probably referring to the former usage of the hairy leaves of this genus as lamp wicks.

 

Phlomis bracteosa
The commonest species in the Himalaya, a hairy plant with pinkish-purple flowers, growing to 80 cm tall. It is found in open areas at altitudes between 1,200 and 4,100 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Phlomis bracteosa, photographed below the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Salvia Sage
Many species of this huge genus, comprising c. 1,000 species, are cultivated as ornamentals. These attractive plants are distributed on all continents, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica. Eleven species are found in the Himalaya, some with blue, others with yellow flowers.

The generic name is derived from the Latin salvere (‘to make well or healthy’), referring to the healing properties of the common sage (Salvia officinalis).

 

Salvia lanata
The pale-blue flowers of this beautiful plant are arranged in whorls up the stem. It is found in open areas in the western Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal, between 1,500 and 3,000 m altitude. The specific name, derived from the Latin lana (‘wool’) and –atus (a suffix), refers to the woolly leaves. Locally, the plant is cooked as a vegetable, and also used in salads.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Salvia lanata, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Salvia nubicola
Due to its sticky, glandular hairs, this species was formerly called Salvia glutinosa, derived from the Latin gluten (‘glue’). It is easily identified by its spear-formed leaf-base and yellow flowers. This plant, which grows in open areas between 2,100 and 4,300 m altitude, has a very wide distribution, found from Pakistan eastwards to Bhutan, in central and south-western Asia, and in southern Europe. In the Himalaya, its seeds are roasted and pickled, and juice of the root is given for fever.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Salvia nubicola, Chame, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Liliaceae (lily family)
Originally, this family contained several hundred genera, but following genetic studies, the major part of these have now been moved to other families. Ten genera, which have been retained in the family, are found in the Himalaya.

 

Cardiocrinum giganteum Giant Himalayan lily
This spectacular plant, which can grow to a height of 3 m, is rather common in forests and shrubberies between 1,200 and 3,600 m altitude, from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China. A paste of its root is used in folk medicine to treat dislocated bones. Children make flutes from the hollow stem.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Giant Himalayan lily, Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Fritillaria cirrhosa
The commonest of two species of this genus in the Himalaya, this beautiful plant grows in alpine grasslands from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China. In traditional Nepalese medicine, its bulb is used for cough, asthma, and bleeding.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Fritillaria cirrhosa is quite common in Annapurna Sanctuary, central Nepal, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Gagea Alplily, Yellow Star of Bethlehem
In former days, 11-12 species of alplily constituted a separate genus, Lloydia, named in honour of Welsh naturalist, linguist, geographer, and antiquary Edward Lhuyd (1660-1709), who discovered the Snowdon lily (Lloydia serotina) on Mount Snowdon in northern Wales – an Ice Age relict, and the only occurrence of this species in Europe outside the central European mountains.

Following genetic studies, Lloydia species have now been moved to the genus Gagea, comprising more than 200 species, the major part of which have yellow, star-shaped flowers. For this reason, the common English species, Gagea lutea, is popularly known as the Yellow Star of Bethlehem. The generic name honours English botanist Sir Thomas Gage, 7th Baronet of Hengrave (1781-1820).

 

Gagea longiscapa Himalayan alplily
This plant very much resembles the Snowdon lily (see above), but has larger brown spots in the throat. It is found in alpine grasslands, between 3,600 and 5,000 m altitude, from Kashmir eastwards to Bhutan.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himalayan alplily, photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where it is quite common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lilium nanum
This tiny plant was formerly placed in the genus Nomocharis. It is rather common on grassy slopes between 3,300 and 4,600 m, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Lilium nanum, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Lilium nepalense Nepalese lily
This gorgeous plant is fairly common, growing on steep slopes at medium altitudes between 2,300 and 3,400 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China. It blooms in June-July.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Nepalese lily, Ringmo, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Lythraceae (loosestrife family)

 

Woodfordia fruticosa
A very widespread shrub with pretty orange flowers, found from Pakistan eastwards to Myanmar, and also in most warmer areas of Asia, Australia, Africa, and Madagascar.

In the Himalaya, this species is common in subtropical valleys up to an altitude of c. 1800 m. It has a wide range of local usages. The branches are utilized as fuel, and a yellow dye is produced from leaves and twigs, a red dye from the petals. Bark, flowers, leaves, and fruit are used for treatment of various ailments. The leaves are mixed with tobacco and smoked. Children often suck the sweet nectar out of the flowers.

 

 

Nepal 1991
Woodfordia fruticosa, Birethanti, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Magnoliaceae (magnolia family)

 

Magnolia
These trees, which display an abundance of magnificent flowers in spring, has eight members in the Himalaya.

 

Magnolia campbellii
This species is quite common in the lower temperate zone in the eastern part of the Himalaya, from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China. When flowering in April-May, these trees are magnificent, displaying a profusion of gorgeous white flowers.

 

 

This flowering Magnolia campbellii was observed near the village of Bharku, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. The rocks in the background are slate, which has eroded into flakes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 1987
A closer look at Magnolia campbellii flowers, Lukla, Solu-Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Melastomataceae (melastoma family)

 

Osbeckia
This genus of shrubs with pretty flowers, comprising about 50 species, are found in tropical areas of West Africa, and in tropical and subtropical parts of Asia. Seven species have been encountered in the Himalaya.

 

Osbeckia nutans
This common species is found between central Nepal and south-eastern Tibet. Juice of its root is used by locals for stomach trouble.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Osbeckia nutans, photographed near Pokhara, central Nepal. A beetle is crawling about in one of the flowers. These insects are often seen eating stamens of Osbeckia flowers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Osbeckia stellata
This is by far the commonest species in the Himalaya, often covering large areas in open country. It is found at altitudes between 1,200 and 2,400 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Myanmar.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Osbeckia stellata, observed near Kakani, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Nartheciaceae

 

Aletris
In later years, members of this genus have been placed in three different families. Originally, they belonged to the gigantic lily family (Liliaceae), which has since been divided into numerous families. Later, they were transferred to the trillium family (Melanthiaceae), but have lately been moved yet another time, to the family Nartheciaceae.

 

Aletris pauciflora
This handsome little plant is widespread in the Himalaya, found at altitudes between 2,500 and 4,900 m, from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China. Its tuber is used in folk medicine to treat cough and colds.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Aletris pauciflora, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Orchidaceae (orchid family)
Counting c. 880 genera and more than 22,000 species, orchids comprise one of the world’s largest plant families. About 150 genera are found in the Himalaya, the vast majority distributed from Sikkim eastwards. Most Himalayan orchids are epiphytes, i.e. they grow on trees without harming them. Below, a number of epiphytic as well as terrestrial species are presented.

 

Calanthe
12 species of this pretty genus of ground-dwelling orchids are found in the Himalaya.

 

Calanthe tricarinata
One of the most common orchids in Himalayan oak forests, growing between 1,500 and 3,200 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to Thailand and China.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Calanthe tricarinata, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Coelogyne
Epiphytic orchids of this genus, comprising 12 species, are very common in subtropical and lower temperate regions of the Himalaya, the majority flowering between March and May. Most species have white flowers with yellow blotches on the mid-lobe.

 

Coelogyne cristata
A very common epiphyte, growing on trees or rocks at altitudes from 1,000 to 2,000 m. It is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to Sikkim. The specific name, meaning ‘crested’, refers to two raised plates on the mid-lobe of the flower, which somewhat resembles a crest.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Coelogyne cristata, Lower Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Coelogyne nitida
This species, by some authorities called C. ochracea, is very common in forests at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,500 m, growing on trees or rocks. It is found from Uttarakhand eastwards to Myanmar.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
 
Coelogyne nitida, Lower Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Cypripedium Lady’s slippers
These plants are ground-living orchids, named after their flower shape, which resembles a small shoe. Insects are lured into this ‘shoe’, and in their effort to escape, they often pollinate the flower. Four or five species are found in the Himalaya.

 

Cypripedium cordigerum
This white-flowered species is fairly common in forests and shrubberies, from Pakistan eastwards to Bhutan, between 2,100 and 4,000 m altitude.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Cypripedium cordigerum, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cypripedium himalaicum
This red- or brown-flowered species is also quite common, found between 3,000 and 4,300 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Cypripedium himalaicum, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Dendrobium
About 26 species of these epiphytic orchids are distributed in subtropical and lower temperate regions of the Himalaya, the majority flowering between March and May.

 

Dendrobium amoenum
This species is common in forests at altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Myanmar.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Dendrobium amoenum, photographed in the lower temperate zone along the Modi Khola River, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Pleione
About 26 species of these pretty epiphytic orchids are distributed from Nepal eastwards to China, and thence southwards to the northern part of Indochina. Four species are found in the Himalaya, usually growing on moss-covered tree trunks, including toppled ones.

 

Pleione hookeriana
This plant is very common on oaks and conifers between 2,000 and 3,700 m altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Pleione hookeriana, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Satyrium nepalense
This very common ground-living orchid has a wide altitudinal distribution in the Himalaya, growing in grassy areas and forest edges between 600 and 4,600 m. It is distributed from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
In this photograph, several Satyrium nepalense grow among numerous pearly everlastings (Anaphalis) in a lush meadow at Magingoth, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Spathoglottis ixioides
This lovely plant mainly grows on moss-covered rocks or humid forest banks. It is distributed from central Nepal eastwards to Arunachal Pradesh, between 2,000 and 3,500 m altitude.

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
Spathoglottis ixioides, photographed in the Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Spiranthes sinensis Chinese ladies’ tresses
This ground-living species is easily identified by its red flowers, arranged in a spiral up the stem. It has a very wide distribution, from northern and central Asia southwards through the Himalaya, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia to Australia and New Zealand. In the Himalaya, it is rather common up to an altitude of c. 4,500 m.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Chinese ladies’ tresses, Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Orobanchaceae (broomrape family)
This family of parasitic plants is huge, containing about 90 genera and more than 2,000 species. The family name is derived from the Greek orobos (‘vetch’) and ankhein (‘to strangle’), alluding to the bean broomrape (Orobanche crenata), which is a common parasite on the fava bean (Vicia faba).

 

 

Aeginetia
This small genus of c. 3 species is distributed in open areas on the Indian Subcontinent, eastwards to Japan and Korea, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and New Guinea. One species is found in the Himalaya.

 

Aeginetia indica Indian broomrape
This plant is parasitic on roots of various grass species, including bamboo, rice, maize, and sugarcane. It is widely distributed, found from Uttarakhand eastwards to China and Japan, and in Tropical Asia. In the Himalaya, it grows up to an altitude of 1,700 m. In local folk medicine, its root and flowers are used for treating infections and skin problems.

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
Indian broomrape, Tamba Kosi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Paeoniaceae (peony family)
Formerly, peonies (Paeonia) were included in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), but now form a separate family. The number of species is disputed, with numbers varying from 25 to 40, depending on authority. These gorgeous plants are native to Temperate Eurasia and western North America. Due to their showy flowers, many species are cultivated as ornamentals. A single species is found in the Himalaya.

 

Paeonia emodi
This plant, which has large, white flowers, grows in the lower temperate zone, between 1,800 and 2,500 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal and extreme south-western Tibet.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Paeonia emodi, photographed near the village of Sangam Chatti, Lower Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Papaveraceae (poppy family)
Many members of the poppy family are presented on the pages In praise of the colour red, and In praise of the colour yellow.

 

Meconopsis
This genus of gorgeous poppies, counting c. 43 species, are almost all restricted to central and eastern Asia. About 17 species of these bristly beauties grow in the Himalaya, and several are very common.

The generic name is from the Greek mekon (’moon’), and opsis (’resembling’), referring to the round, yellowish petals of the Welsh poppy, which French botanist Louis Viguier (1790-1867) separated from the genus Papaver in 1814, renaming it Meconopsis cambrica, mainly due to the structure of its style. However, a phylogenetic study from 2011 suggests that the Welsh poppy is a Papaver species, rather than a Meconopsis.

Some Meconopsis species are cultivated as ornamentals in the West.

 

Meconopsis aculeata
Several Meconopsis species with sky-blue flowers are found in Central Asia, from Kashmir eastwards to China, including this species, which is found in rocky areas in the western part of the Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to Uttarakhand, growing between 3,000 and 4,000 m altitude, and M. simplicifolia (see below).

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Meconopsis aculeata, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Meconopsis dhwojii 
Much hybridization takes place in the Meconopsis genus. It is not clear, whether M. dhwojii, and others, are to be regarded as hybrids or full species.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Meconopsis dhwojii, photographed near Kyanjin Gompa, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Meconopsis paniculata
This wonderful plant is the tallest of the genus, growing to a height of 2 m. It is very common on cattle grazing grounds throughout the higher parts of the Himalaya, from 3,000 to 4,100 m altitude. It is distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

 

In this picture, my guide Ganga Thapa is standing in a very lush mountain meadow in the Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal, with vegetation of Meconopsis paniculata (in front), besides Pleurospermum benthamii (the tall umbellifer with white flowers), Pedicularis megalantha (a red lousewort, in front), and ferns. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Meconopsis simplicifolia
This species grows in shrubland as well as in open areas, between 3,300 and 5,300 m altitude, from Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. It is easily recognized by its mostly undivided leaves.

 

 

Everest 2010
Meconopsis simplicifolia, Dole, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Pinaceae (pine family)

 

Larix Larch
Larches, comprising 10-12 species, are among the few conifers, which shed their needles in winter. They are often tall trees, some species reaching a height of 45 m. They are native to the Temperate Northern Hemisphere, restricted to mountains in the southern populations.

 

Larix griffithii East Himalayan larch
Of the two Himalayan larches, this species is distributed from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, in places forming forests at altitudes between 2,800 and 4,000 m. The second species, the Nepalese larch (Larix himalaica) is restricted to a small area in northern central Nepal and adjacent southern Tibet, at altitudes from 2,400 to 4,000 m.

Both are handsome trees, growing to a height of 20 m, their branches covered in pale green needles, which turn yellow in autumn, then fall. The wood of the eastern species is used for construction, furniture, and fuel, and the bark yields tannin.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
East Himalayan larch is very common in the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where these pictures were taken, showing trees with new foliage (top), and unripe cones. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Tsuga dumosa Himalayan hemlock
This tree, which grows to 40 m tall, is very common in the Himalaya, found at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,600 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China, with an isolated population in northern Vietnam. Its cones are very small, to 2.5 cm long, with rounded scales. The timber is used for construction, furniture, and foot-bridges, and the foliage is burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

 

 

Magnificent moss-clad trunks of Himalayan hemlock on the mountain ridge Propang Danda, near Gosainkund, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Plantaginaceae (plantain family)

 

Picrorhiza kurroa Black hellebore
This strange, low plant, growing to 15 cm tall, has 3-cm-long stamens, projecting from its tiny flowers. It has a restricted distribution, from Pakistan eastwards to Uttarakhand, found in rocky areas between 3,300 and 4,300 m altitude. Rhizomes of this species are utilized in traditional medicine against dysentery, and it is highly threatened by excessive collecting.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Black hellebore, encountered in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Wulfeniopsis amherstiana
This small plant, to 15 cm tall, was formerly included in the genus Wulfenia. It may be identified by its tiny bluish flowers, arranged in a long, one-sided spike. It grows on shady rocks between 1,500 and 3,000 m altitude, from Afghanistan eastwards to central Nepal. Juice of its root is used for stomach ache.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Wulfeniopsis amherstiana, Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Polygonaceae (pinkweed family)

 

Polygonum Pinkweed
Smartweed, pinkweed, knotweed, bistort, knotgrass – plants of this genus has many popular names. It is huge, comprising c. 230 species worldwide, of which about 46 are found in the Himalaya. These plants vary from prostrate, 10 cm tall plants to large, shrubby herbs, growing to a height of c. 3 m. Formerly, they were divided into several genera, including Polygonum, Bistorta, Persicaria, and Aconogonum. Today, however, many authorities place them in a single genus, Polygonum, which I follow here.

 

Polygonum alpinum Alpine knotgrass
This erect herb, growing to 2 m tall, was previously often called Aconogonum alpinum. It has numerous much-branched clusters of terminal inflorescences, to 30 cm long, containing countless tiny flowers. It is distributed from central Europe eastwards to Central Asia, growing in shrubberies, on open slopes, and along streamsides. In the Himalaya, it is found eastwards to Himachal Pradesh, at altitudes from 1,500 to 3,000 m. Its stems are edible when cooked.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Alpine knotgrass, growing at a stream near Keylong, Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Polygonum amplexicaule
Formerly named Bistorta amplexicaulis, this erect herb grows to 1 m tall and is sometimes branched. Its lower leaves are large, to 10 cm long and 5 cm wide, ovate and long-pointed, and numerous slender, deep red or pink flower spikes are situated at the end of long stalks. It has a wide altitudinal as well as geographical range, found between 1,500 and 4,800 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to China. The rhizome is utilized for tea, and a paste of the plant is applied to wounds.

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Polygonum amplexicaule, photographed on the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh. A species of mugwort (Artemisia) is seen in front. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Polygonum capitatum
This prostrate, tufted herb, which is found in open areas, on rocks, and in stone fences, has several creeping stems, to 25 cm long, ovate or elliptic leaves, often with a blackish spot in the centre, and inflorescences of pink terminal globular heads, to 1.3 cm across. It has a very wide altitudinal as well as geographical range, from the Indian Subcontinent to the Far East and Southeast Asia, in the Himalaya growing between 600 and 3,500 m altitude. Previously, this plant was known as Persicaria capitata.

 

 

Nepal 2008
In this picture from Helambu, central Nepal, Polygonum capitatum grows in a crack in a stone fence. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Primulaceae (primrose family)

 

Androsace Rock-jasmine
These plants are closely related to primroses (below), but may be identified by their very short corolla-tube (a tube, formed by the petals). This genus contains about 100 species, distributed across cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with no less than 73 species occurring in China.

These plants are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, where c. 23 species have been encountered, the major part growing at high altitudes.

 

Androsace muscoidea
A mat-forming plant, whose flowers, to 1 cm across, are white, mauve-pink, or lilac, with a yellow eye, which later turns red. They are arranged in short-stalked, 1-3-flowered umbels, and the flowering stalk is absent or at most 1 cm long. This species is distributed from Pakistan eastwards to Himachal Pradesh, growing at altitudes between 2,200 and 5,200 m.
Flower colour White, mauve-pink, or lilac.
Height to 3 cm.
Habitat Stony slopes.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Many species of rock-jasmine are mat-forming, like this Androsace muscoidea, photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Primula Primrose
These plants, also called cowslip, are found in most parts of the world. They probably originated in the Himalaya, where a bewildering array of species is found, about 72 in total, ranging from 5 cm high dwarfs to robust plants almost 1 m tall.

The generic name is a diminutive of the Latin prima (’first’), referring to the early flowering of several European primrose species. The name cowslip stems from an Old English word, cuslyppe, meaning ‘cow dung’, probably referring to the fact that many primrose species grow on cattle grazing grounds. This is also the case in the Himalaya.

 

Primula atrodentata
Resembles P. denticulata (see below), but is overall a much smaller plant. It grows in open areas between 3,500 and 4,900 metres altitude, distributed from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.
Flower colour Bluish-violet.
Height to 10 cm.
Habitat Alpine slopes.
Flowering May-Jun.

 

 

Everest 2010
Primula atrodentata, photographed in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula denticulata
This is the most abundant primrose species in the Himalaya, growing in forest clearings and grassy areas. It has a broad altitudinal range, found between 1,500 and 4,500 metres, from Afghanistan eastwards to Myanmar and south-eastern Tibet. As a rule, the inflorescences of this very variable species become larger and denser with higher altitude.
Flower colour Blue to bluish-violet.
Height to 15 cm.
Habitat Alpine slopes, shrubberies.
Flowering Apr.-Jun.

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Primula denticulata is abundant around Annapurna Base Camp, central Nepal, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 1987
Primula denticulata, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula edgeworthii
Abundant in forests in the western Himalaya, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to central Nepal, growing between 2,100 and 4,100 metres altitude. Its bluish-violet flowers sprout directly from the leaf rosette.
Flower colour Bluish-violet.
Height to 5 cm.
Habitat Forested slopes.
Flowering Apr.-May.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Primula edgeworthii, photographed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula floribunda
This species is easily identified by its golden-yellow flowers, which are arranged in several umbels up the stem. It is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal, at altitudes between 800 and 2,000 m.
Flower colour Golden-yellow.
Height to 15 cm.
Habitat Wet rocks and cliffs.
Flowering Mar.-Jul.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Primula floribunda, growing on a humid rockface, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula geraniifolia
As its specific name implies, the leaves of this species resemble those of certain species of geranium. It mainly grows on wet banks in forests, between 2,700 and 4,600 metres altitude, from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China.
Flower colour Red.
Height to 30 cm.
Habitat Forested slopes.
Flowering May-Jul.

 

 

Nepal 1994-95
Primula geraniifolia, photographed near Gorjegaon, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula glomerata
The inflorescence of this plant is a very dense, globular head. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, growing at altitudes from 3,000 to 5,000 m. This is one of the few primroses blooming in autumn.
Flower colour Blue.
Height to 30 cm.
Habitat Shrubberies, open slopes.
Flowering Aug.-Nov.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Primula glomerata, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. Leaves of a cinquefoil, Potentilla peduncularis, and a dwarf rhododendron, are seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula irregularis
This pretty plant grows at altitudes between 2,700 and 3,500 m, from western Nepal eastwards to Sikkim. It is easily identified by its pink flowers, which has a yellow eye, bordered by white.
Flower colour Pink.
Height to 5 cm.
Habitat Forested slopes.
Flowering Apr.-May.

 

 

Snow, falling the previous night, has partly buried these Primula irregularis flowers, growing near Tharepati, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula macrophylla
This stout plant is found from Afghanistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, often forming large growths in meadows between 3,300 and 4,800 m altitude. Its leaves are lanceolate and entire, to 30 cm long, farinose beneath.
Flower colour Lilac or purple.
Height to 25 cm.
Habitat Damp slopes, meadows.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Everest 2010
Primula macrophylla, photographed in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula primulina
This tiny species is easily identified by its flowers, which have a tuft of white hairs in the throat. It grows in open areas at high altitudes, between 3,600 and 5,000 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.
Flower colour Lilac or purple, rarely white.
Height to 8 cm.
Habitat Open slopes, rocks.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Everest 2010
Primula primulina, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. Another primrose, P. atrodentata, is seen to the left. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula rotundifolia Round-leaved primrose
A small species, which grows on rocks between 3,500 and 5,000 m altitude. It has a rather limited distribution, from Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.
Flower colour Pinkish-purple.
Height to 30 cm.
Habitat Rocks.
Flowering Jun.-Jul.

 

 

Everest 2010
Round-leaved primrose, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula sessilis
This species may be identified by its serrate, strongly wrinkled leaves and the rounded petals, which end abruptly in a single small tooth. It is fairly common, growing in forests in the western part of the Himalaya, from Kashmir to western Nepal, at altitudes between 2,100 and 3,700 m.
Flower colour Pinkish-purple.
Height to 5 cm.
Habitat Forested slopes.
Flowering Apr.-May.

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Uttarakhand 2008
Uttarakhand 2008
Primula sessilis, partly covered in snow, Dodi Tal, Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. In the lower picture, a frozen waterdrop is hanging down from a flower. Snow, which fell on the plant the previous evening, partly melted, but froze again during the night. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula sikkimensis Sikkim primrose 
This stately plant, growing to almost 1 m tall, is found in wet meadows between 2,900 and 4,800 metres altitude, from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China.
Flower colour Yellow.
Height to 90 cm.
Habitat Wet meadows, damp slopes.
Flowering May-Jul.

 

 

Everest 2010
This beautiful Sikkim primrose was encountered in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula strumosa Golden-eyed primrose
Usually, this species has bright yellow flowers, but from eastern Nepal and eastwards, it hybridizes freely with the purple P. calderiana, with which it was formerly regarded as being conspecific. This hybridization may result in yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers in a single population. Golden-eyed primrose is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to China, at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,300 m.
Flower colour Yellow.
Height to 30 cm.
Habitat Shrubberies, open slopes.
Flowering Jun.-Jul.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
These pictures are from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where golden-eyed primrose is abundant. In the lower two pictures, inflorescences have been bent to the ground by snowfall. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula stuartii

This plant is distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Sikkim, growing at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,500 m.  It is common on cattle grazing grounds, especially in the western Himalaya.

Flower colour Yellow.
Height to 40 cm.
Habitat Open slopes.
Flowering Jun.-Jul.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himachal Pradesh 2007
Primula stuartii is very common in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where these pictures were taken. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

In the picture below, Hindus are placing a flower offering, consisting of yellow Primula stuartii, yellow Geum elatum, and blue and white Anemone obtusiloba, on a stone cairn – a shrine dedicated to a local Hindu goddess atop Rakhundi Peak (3622 m), Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. This goddess is probably a form of Devi, the god Shiva’s shakti (female aspect), as the trident is a symbol of Shiva. Such offerings to stone cairns, sacred trees, etc., indicate remnants of pre-Hindu and pre-Buddhist animism. You may read more about this belief elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Animism. – Geum elatum and Anemone obtusiloba are both described on this page, see Rosaceae, and Ranunculaceae, respectively.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Primula wollastonii
With its broadly bell-shaped flowers, this species differs significantly from most other species in the genus. It has a rather limited distribution, found in central and eastern Nepal, and in southern Tibet, between 3,600 and 4,900 m altitude.
Flower colour Blue.
Height to 20 cm.
Habitat Open slopes.
Flowering Jun.-Jul.

 

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Primula wollastonii, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. In the lower picture, Primula atrodentata is seen in the background. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)

 

Anemone Windflower
Altogether c. 17 species of this genus are encountered in the Himalaya. The vast majority has white flowers, a few species red, yellow, or blue.

 

Anemone obtusiloba
The flowers of this species come in three colour morphs: blue, white, and yellow. The yellow form, however, is restricted to Kashmir. This species is found at altitudes between 2,100 and 4,300 m, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. It is very common in Nepal, where juice of its root is used for eye trouble.
Flower colour Blue, white, or yellow.
Height to 15 cm.
Habitat Grasslands; open forests.
Flowering May-Sep.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Blue form of Anemone obtusiloba, photographed in Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Anemone tetrasepala
This tall plant mainly grows on rocky slopes between 2,100 and 3,600 m altitude, from Afghanistan eastwards to Himachal Pradesh and extreme south-western Tibet.
Flower colour White.
Height to 75 cm.
Habitat Rocks; open coniferous forests.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Anemone tetrasepala is very common in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Aquilegia Columbine
This genus, altogether comprising 60 to 70 species, is characterized by the peculiar shape of the flowers, with five spurs on the inner petals, pointing backwards. These spurs are often curved, hence the generic name, of the Latin aquila (‘eagle’), where the spurs are likened to eagle claws. The common name columbine is derived from the Latin columba (‘dove’), referring to the alleged resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves, clustered together. Another popular name is granny’s bonnet, again referring to the flower shape.

Four species are found in the Himalaya, all restricted to the western half of the mountains. Aquilegia moorcroftiana is dealt with on the page Mountain plants: Tibetan flora.

 

Aquilegia fragrans
This species is quite common, from Pakistan eastwards to Uttarakhand, growing in forests, shrubberies and grasslands at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 m. The specific name alludes to its fragrant flowers.
Flower colour White or cream-coloured.
Height to 80 cm.
Habitat Grasslands; open forests.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Aquilegia fragrans has white or cream-coloured flowers. This picture is from Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Aquilegia pubiflora
A quite common plant, found from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal, at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,300 m.
Flower colour Purplish-blue.
Height to 40 cm.
Habitat Forests; shrubberies; grasslands.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Aquilegia pubiflora, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Delphinium Larkspur
Members of this genus may be identified by their irregular flowers, having five coloured sepals, the upper one with a large, back-pointing spur, and four inner petals, of which the upper two have nectar-producing spurs that are enclosed in the larger spur. About 24 species occur in the Himalaya, many of which are very hard to identify.

 

Delphinium denudatum
This tall plant has rather small, pale blue flowers, to 2.5 cm across. It grows in open forests and grassy areas between 1,500 and 2,700 m, distributed from Pakistan eastwards to central Nepal.
Flower colour Pale blue.
Height to 90 cm.
Habitat Open forests; grassy areas.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Delphinium denudatum, Sainj Valley, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Delphinium glaciale
This species may be identified by its whitish-blue, hairy flowers. It grows on open slopes at altitudes between 3,300 and 6,000 m, from central Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and southern Tibet.
Flower colour Whitish-blue.
Height to 30 cm.
Habitat Gravelly slopes.
Flowering Jul.-Sep.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Delphinium glaciale, photographed at an altitude of c. 4,000 m, Langshisha, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Delphinium kamaonense
The inflorescences of this plant have few, large, dark-blue flowers, to 4 cm across, and the stem is smooth. It is common between 3,000 and 4,300 m altitude, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China. In Nepal, a decoction of the plant is applied to scabies.
Flower colour Whitish-blue.
Height to 45 cm.
Habitat Grasslands.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Nepal 2000
The flowers of this Delphinium kamaonense, photographed in Langtang National Park, central Nepal, are dotted with raindrops after a monsoon shower. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Thalictrum Meadow-rue
Members of this genus are distributed in the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, and also in southern Africa and South America. They are commonest in temperate regions. There is great controversy concerning the number of species. Accounts vary between 120 and 200. About 20 species are encountered in the Himalaya.

The name meadow-rue stems from the similarity of the twice or thrice divided leaves of these plants to those of the genuine rues (genus Ruta).

 

Thalictrum cultratum
This tall plant has several branched inflorescences, each with numerous tiny, greenish-white flowers, whose stamens are purple with yellow tips. It is very common in open areas between 1,700 and 4,200 m altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.
Flower colour Greenish-white.
Height to 1.2 m.
Habitat Shrubberies; grasslands; open slopes.
Flowering Jun.-Aug.

 

 

Himachal 2009
Thalictrum cultratum, Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

 

Rosaceae (rose family)

 

In the Himalaya, there are no less than c. 45 species of bramble, or raspberry (Rubus), most of which are large, rambling, prickly shrubs, whereas a few are creeping, unarmed shrublets. Their fruit is highly distinctive, being a globular head on the domed tip of the flower-stalk, consisting of fleshy carpels, among which numerous nutlets are situated.

 

Rubus ellipticus, whose orange fruits are delicious, sweet, and slightly acid at the same time, is very common in open, slightly eroded areas of the subtropical and lower temperate zones, up to an altitude of 2,600 m, from Pakistan to Myanmar, in the Far East, and in Tropical Asia. In several places, it is planted to prevent soil erosion. Medicinally, it is used for various ailments, including fever, diarrhoea, gastric problems, and dysentery. The leaves are used for fodder, and marmalade is made from the fruits.

 

 

Nepal 2013
Rubus ellipticus has delicious orange fruits. – Pati Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Stems of Rubus ellipticus are covered in long, stiff, red hairs. – Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The large, rambling Rubus hoffmeisterianus is fairly common in thickets and along trails at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,400 m, from Afghanistan eastwards to central Nepal. Its red or orange berries are edible, with a slightly acid taste.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Rubus hoffmeisterianus, Pati Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Rubus nepalensis is a very common dwarf shrub at altitudes between 2,100 and 3,200 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Sikkim, creeping along the ground in open forests and along trails. In this habit, it resembles the circumboreal cloudberry (R. chamaemorus), but has bright red fruits, which are slightly sour, but nevertheless delicious.

 

 

Nepal 2009-1
Rubus nepalensis, photographed together with a species of spikemoss (Selaginella) and Cyanotis vaga, a blue flower of the dayflower family (Commelinaceae). – Gul Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The word cinquefoil is an Anglicization of the Latin quinque (‘five’) and folium (‘leaf’), thus ‘five-leaf’ – a name, which was originally referring to those species of the genus Potentilla that have five finger-like leaflets. Today, however, cinquefoil is a name which refers to the entire genus, and also to marsh cinquefoils, of the genus Comarum.

There are no less than c. 40 species of these mostly small and ground-hugging plants in the Himalaya, many of which are widespread and common. The vast majority are yellow-flowered, but a few have orange, pink, red, or white flowers. Cinquefoil fruits are called achenes. They are small, hard, and nut-like, densely clustered in a fruit-head.

Pictures of other Central Asian cinquefoil species are presented on the page Plants – Mountain plants: Tibetan flora.

 

The flower colour of Potentilla argyrophylla varies greatly, from yellow or orange to crimson (var. atrosanguinea) or purplish. It can be told from other cinquefoil species by its strawberry-like leaves, which are usually densely silky-hairy. In some forms, however, the leaves are hairless, in which case they are dark green with paler undersides. This species is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to Sikkim.

 

 

Nepal 1987
Annapurna 2007
These pictures of Potentilla argyrophylla are both from Annapurna Sanctuary, central Nepal. The lower picture shows var. atrosanguinea. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Potentilla peduncularis is common on high altitude grazing grounds, found at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,500 m. This species is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
The achenes of Potentilla peduncularis are dark brown or blackish, forming what looks like a bramble berry. – Dukpu, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Avens (Geum) is a genus of about 50 species, which is widespread in Eurasia, Africa, New Zealand, and the Americas. Most species have yellow flowers, some red, orange, or white. A picture, depicting a gorgeous orange species, may be seen on the page Travel episodes – Chile 2011: The white forest.

At maturity, a silky tuft of brownish hairs grows from the styles, which has given rise to a popular German name of these plants, Petersbart (‘Peter’s beard’), probably referring to St. Peter.

 

Geum elatum is a large-flowered species of avens, growing to 50 cm tall. It is very common in alpine meadows at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,400 m, distributed from Pakistan eastwards to Sikkim and extreme southern Tibet. In Nepal, a paste of its pounded leaves is applied to wounds.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Geum elatum, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. Leaves of Potentilla argyrophylla (see above) are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Rubiaceae (bedstraw family)

 

With the help of hooked prickles on the underside of its leaves, Indian dyer’s madder (Rubia manjith) climbs or scrambles over other plants. The stems are green or yellowish, whereas the tiny flowers are deep purple, yellowish, or orange. A red dye, manjith, is obtained from its root, which is also used in traditional medicine as an astringent. A paste of the stem is applied to scorpion bites. This plant is found from Pakistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet, at altitudes from 1,200 to 2,700 m.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Indian dyer’s madder, Surkhe, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Close-up of flowers of Indian dyer’s madder, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ruscaceae (lily-of-the-valley family)

 

Three Himalayan species of Smilacina, which were formerly included in the lily family (Liliaceae), have been renamed Maianthemum, and, together with species of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), and others, they have been moved to the lily-of-the-valley family. However, by some authorities, including the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group System, this family is tentatively regarded as a subfamily, Nolinoideae, of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae).

 

Maianthemum purpureum is rather common in forests at altitudes between 2,400 and 4,200 m, occurring from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to south-western China. Young parts of this species are eaten by locals as a vegetable.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Maianthemum purpureum, photographed at Nara, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Sapindaceae (soapberry family)

 

Previously, maples (Acer) constituted a separate family, Aceraceae, but following genetic studies, they have been moved to the soapberry family.

 

The Cappadocian maple (Acer cappadocicum) has a very wide distribution, found from Turkey eastwards to Central Asia and China, with an isolated population in southern Italy. In the Himalaya, it grows between 2,100 and 3,000 m altitude.

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Young leaves of Cappadocian maple are a pretty red before turning green. This picture is from the Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Saxifragaceae (saxifrage family)

 

By far the largest genus of this worldwide family, which contains about 80 genera with c. 1,200 species, is Saxifraga, with around 450 species, found in Asia, Europe, North America, and the Andes Mountains of South America. Most species grow in alpine areas.

In the Himalaya, no less than c. 86 species have been encountered. Besides the two species below, S. andersonii is presented at the beginning of this page, and other species are mentioned on the pages Plants – Mountain plants: Tibetan flora, and Mountain plants: Flora of the Alps.

Literally, the generic name means ‘stone-breaker’, from the Latin saxum (‘rock’) and frangere (‘to break’). Rather than referring to the rocky habitat of many saxifrage species, it probably indicates the usage of one or more species for treatment of kidney stones and the like.

 

Saxifraga brunonis is a most characteristic species, easily identified by its numerous red runners. This species is widespread in the Himalaya, found from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China, between 2,400 and 5,600 m altitude.

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
Saxifraga brunonis, photographed after a heavy monsoon shower, Upper Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Saxifraga strigosa is a bristly-hairy and glandular-hairy plant, growing to c. 30 cm tall. It spreads easily by bulbils in the leaf axils. This species is quite common in Nepal, growing in forests and shrubberies, and on mossy rocks between 1,800 and 4,300 m, commonest at lower altitudes. The geographical distribution is from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China.

 

 

Nepal 2009
Saxifraga strigosa, Kutumsang, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Popular names of Bergenia species include large rockfoil, elephant’s ears, which refers to the large leaves, and pigsqueak, referring to the sound produced, when two leaves are rubbed together. This genus consists of 10 species, indigenous to Central Asia, of which three are found in the Himalaya. The generic name honours German botanist and physician Karl August von Bergen (1704-1759).

 

Hairy bergenia (Bergenia ciliata) is the commonest of the Himalayan species, often growing on rock faces. It is distributed from Afghanistan eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. Due to its pretty flowers, it is widely cultivated in the West, where it is generally regarded as an anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic, and it may also be effective in treatment of cancer. In Nepal, juice of the plant is taken for urinary disorders, and an extract of the rhizome is used for fever, cough, colds, asthma, haemorrhoids, urinary disorders, diarrhoea, and backache, and it is also applied to boils. People of the Gurung tribe drink a decoction of the rhizome for gout, and to improve digestion.

 

 

Nepal 2008
Hairy bergenia, growing on a rock face, Chomrong, Upper Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Due to its luxurious growth and pretty flowers, hairy bergenia is widely cultivated as an ornamental in the West. – These flowers were photographed at Dharkot, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Theaceae (tea family)

 

In Nepal, Schima wallichii is called chilaune (’itching’). Beneath the bark, mature trees have a layer of hairs, which irritate the skin. The toxic bark of this species can be used when fishing. It is chopped up and sprinkled into the water, anaesthetizing the fish, which float to the surface. This species grows up to an altitude of 2,100 m, from central Nepal to south-western China, and thence southwards to Southeast Asia.

The specific name was given in honour of Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), who studied the Indian and Himalayan flora in the early 1800s.

 

 

Nepal 2002
Schima wallichii, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Violaceae (violet family)

 

Violets (Viola) are a huge genus, comprising maybe 600 species, found in most parts of the world, with the largest concentration in the northern temperate zone.

The majority of violet flowers are white or various shades of blue, but some species have bright yellow flowers, such as Viola wallichiana, which is fairly common in humid forests of the Himalaya, from central Nepal eastwards to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet. The specific name was given in honour of Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854), who studied the Indian and Himalayan flora in the early 1800s.

Pictures of other yellow-flowered violets are presented on the page In praise of the colour yellow.

 

 

Everest 2010
Viola wallichiana, Surkhe, Khumbu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Zingiberaceae (ginger family)

 

This is a huge pan-tropical and -subtropical family of herbs, with 46-52 genera and 1,100-1,300 species. One characteristic of this group is their basal sheaths, which overlap to form a stem-like pseudostem. Besides cultivated species such as ginger, turmeric, and cardamom, members of c. 9 genera of this family are encountered in the Himalaya, three of these presented below.

 

Many members of the ginger family have fruits at ground level. One such example is Zingiber chrysanthum, whose fruits are bright red, enclosing pure white seeds with an irregular black patch, sometimes resembling a fly. This plant is found up to an altitude of c. 2,000 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Sikkim.

 

 

Nepal 2009a
Zingiber chrysanthum, photographed near the village of Chamje, Lower Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Seven purple or lilac species of Roscoea occur in the Himalaya, a majority of which grow in humid, open areas. Two species, presented below, are both common in Nepal.

 

The gregarious Roscoea alpina is found at high altitudes, between 2,400 and 4,000 m, from Pakistan eastwards to Myanmar.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Roscoea alpina, Surkhe, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Roscoea capitata is restricted to central Nepal and adjacent areas of southern Tibet, between 1,200 and 2,600 m altitude.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Roscoea capitata, Kendja, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

The pseudostem of Cautleya spicata is up to to 60 cm tall, with pretty yellow flowers in a terminal erect spike, to 23 cm long. It is a common plant between 1,000 and 2,800 m altitude, growing in forests, often on rocks, and sometimes as an epiphyte, from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to south-western China. Local people cook its pseudostem as a vegetable, and juice of the rhizome is used for stomach ache.

 

 

Everest 2010a
Cautleya spicata, Goyum, Solu, eastern Nepal. Another member of the ginger family, Roscoea alpina (see above), is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Lichens

 

Old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea) are a large, worldwide genus of the family Parmeliaceae, comprising about 600 species. Most members of this genus are greyish-green, and most grow on trees. They are ubiquitous in wetter areas of the Himalaya, where they often drape trees, hanging down from twigs and branches, and waving in the wind.

In his book Flora Danica, from 1648, Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680) gives this fascinating account of old-man’s-beard lichen: ”But above all other kinds of moss [lichens], which grow in the forests on trees, rocks and other places, the most famous one is Usnea, sev Muscus cranii humani, meaning: ’That moss which grows on human skulls’, which, although rarely, is sometimes found on the skulls of miscreants, who have been beheaded, or otherwise done away with, and whose heads have been placed on a stake.”

 

 

Everest 2010
Old-man’s-beard lichens often drape trees, like this Himalayan birch (Betula utilis), photographed near Pungi Tenga, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 1994-95
Old-man’s-beard lichens, waving in the wind, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

 

Ferns

 

Ferns are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, with hundreds of species growing from the hottest valleys to alpine areas. These pictures show four examples of Himalayan ferns.

 

Drynaria propinqua is an epiphytic basket fern of the polypody family (Polypodiaceae) with a wide distribution, from the Himalaya eastwards to China, and thence southwards to Southeast Asia. This species is much utilized in traditional Nepalese medicine, in which a paste, made from the rhizome, is applied to treat backache, headache, sprains, and dislocated bones. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been utilized for various ailments, including deafness, tooth ache, diarrhoea, involuntary urination, bone fractures, and hair loss.

 

 

Nepal 1994-95
Withering leaves of Drynaria propinqua, illuminated by the sun, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Cleared areas in the Himalaya, which lie fallow, are often invaded by large growths of a huge species of fern, Diplopterygium giganteum (formerly Gleichenia gigantea), which belongs to the family Gleicheniaceae, a group often called forked ferns. This species is distributed from Nepal eastwards to China and Southeast Asia.

 

 

Nepal 1994-95
Large growth of Diplopterygium giganteum, Gorjegaon, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2008
Young shoots (‘fiddleheads’) of Diplopterygium giganteum, Bheri Kharka, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Annapurna 2007
Light and shadow on a row of ferns. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Annapurna 2007
The youngest parts of this fern leaf, hanging down from a rock in the Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal, are red, but later turn green. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

  

(Uploaded September 2018)

 

(Latest update September 2019)