Plants of the Himalaya

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
During the peak of the monsoon, this oak forest in the Rolwaling Valley, eastern 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 metres. (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 kilometres. In these mountains are the Earth’s largest concentration of very high peaks, fourteen reaching an altitude of more than 8,000 metres, while hundreds are more than 7,000 metres high. (For comparison, the highest mountain outside Central Asia, Aconcagua in Argentina, is a mere 6,962 metres high.)

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 metres, there is a large element of species from the Palaearctic Region, encompassing e.g. 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.

In the Greek, rhododendron means ‘rose tree’, and from a distance, the flower clusters of certain species do resemble roses. These trees and shrubs, however, are not at all related to roses, as they belong to the heath family (Ericaceae). They 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.

In the Himalaya, rhododendrons occur in almost all vegetation zones, from subtropical to alpine, the major part found between 2,000 and 4,000 metres altitude. The largest species is Rhododendron arboreum, which can grow to 15 metres tall. At the opposite end of the spectrum are various dwarf shrubs, such as R. nivaleR. lepidotumR. anthopogon, and R. pumilum, the latter being only 10-15 centimetres 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 elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Rhododendron.

 

Rhododendron arboreum is the national plant of Nepal, called lali guras. 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 metres, you sometimes encounter trees with white flowers.

 

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)

 

Nepal 2008
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)

 

 

From a distance, Rhododendron barbatum 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. This species is very common in the Himalaya, found from Uttarakhand eastwards to Bhutan.

 

Nepal 2013
Rhododendron barbatum often forms pure stands at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 metres, as in this picture from Kutumsang, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo 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)

 

 

As its popular and specific names imply, the bell rhododendron (Rhododendron campanulatum) has bell-shaped flowers. This attractive shrub is very common in the Himalaya, forming dense thickets at altitudes between 2,800 and 4,000 metres. It can be identified by the rusty-coloured layer of hairs on the underside of the leaves.

 

Nepal 2013
Flowers of bell rhododendron (Rhododendron campanulatum), covered in raindrops, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Formerly, Rhododendron wallichii was regarded as a variety of R. campanulatum, but generally its flowers are paler, and the underside of its 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
This picture of Rhododendron wallichii is from the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this species is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhododendron campylocarpum is very common from eastern Nepal east to south-western China, in places brightening large tracts of forest with its beautiful, pale-yellow inflorescences.

 

Everest 2010
Like Rhododendron wallichii, R. campylocarpum is also very common in the Khumbu area, eastern Nepal, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhododendron lepidotum is a dwarf shrub, whose flowers come in three colour forms: red, white, and (rarely) yellowish. This species is widespread and common, found from northern Pakistan eastwards to south-western China.

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Rhododendron lepidotum, observed at Ghumtarao, Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhododendron wightii which grows to four metres tall, forms shrubberies many places in the eastern Himalaya, between 3,300 and 4,300 metres altitude. Its leaves are large, to 20 centimetres long, with felt-like, rusty hairs beneath, and its bell-shaped flowers are white or very pale yellow, with crimson blotches within.

 

Nepal 1991a
In this picture from the Barun Valley, eastern Nepal, Rhododendron wightii is photographed in front of a dark rock, called Neh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Another shrubby species is Rhododendron thomsonii, which is distributed from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. It prefers humid soils, growing mainly along water courses. It is easily identified by its broadly bell-shaped, waxy, fleshy flowers, and the rather small, pink calyx.

 

Nepal 2013
This picture of Rhododendron thomsonii is from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where this species is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhododendron fulgens is of a rather limited distribution, growing at high altitudes from eastern Nepal east to south-eastern Tibet.

 

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

 

Nepal 2013
Usually, the flowers of Rhododendron cinnabarinum are dark red, but occasionally you encounter plants with paler flowers, as seen in this picture from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The large Rhododendron hodgsonii, which grows to 7 metres tall, is easily identified by its dense inflorescences and large leaves. This species has a rather limited distribution, from eastern Nepal east to south-eastern Tibet.

 

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

 

Nepal 1994-95
The flower colour of Rhododendron hodgsonii varies from whitish to deep pink. This picture is from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The alpine zone, above the tree limit, is home to several species of dwarf rhododendron, among these Rhododendron setosum and R. nivale, both of which are distributed from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China. They are quite similar, but the leaf margin of R. setosum usually has bristles, and its funnel-shaped corolla is reddish-violet (rarely pink), whereas R. nivale has darker violet, smaller flowers, and no bristles on its leaves. Generally, R. nivale grows in drier areas than R. setosum.

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
Rhododendron setosum (top) and R. nivale, both photographed in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal, and both with the peak of Taboche (6367 m) in the background. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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, among these the gorgeous Rhododendron dalhousiae, 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.

 

Nepal 1991a
Rhododendron dalhousiae is an epiphytic species, displaying a profusion of lemon-coloured flowers, which later turn yellowish-white. This picture is from Tashigaon, Arun Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Flowers of the pea family (Fabaceae) 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.

 

A member of this family is the extremely hairy Thermopsis barbata, easily recognized by its blackish-purple flowers. The generic name is from the Greek therme (‘heat’), and opsis (‘appearance’), while the specific name is from the Latin barbatus (‘bearded’), thus meaning ‘the bearded one that appears to be burned’. This species is very common on disturbed ground, e.g. abandoned fields and heavily grazed slopes, between 3,000 and 4,500 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

Lotus is a huge genus of the pea family, comprising at least 130 species, of which only one is found in the Himalaya. The popular name of these plants is bird’s-foot trefoil, the trefoil part referring to the tripartite leaves, while bird’s-foot refers to their triple pods, which spread out from a common point, hereby resembling a bird’s foot. Some DNA studies suggest that North American plants, which were formerly included in Lotus, should be placed in other genera, while other studies indicate that they should be retained in Lotus. – Other species of this genus are presented elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour yellow.

 

Common bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) 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 metres altitude, from Pakistan east to central Nepal.

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
The flowers of common bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) 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)

 

 

Another pea flower is the bright blue Parochetus communis, which is common in open areas in the Himalaya, found between 900 and 4,300 metres altitude. Its distribution includes the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Africa. In Nepal, this plant is used for fodder, and it 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)

 

 

 

The Himalayan hemlock (Tsuga dumosa), which grows to 40 metres tall, is very common in the Himalaya, found at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,600 metres, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-western China, with an isolated population in northern Vietnam. Its timber is used for construction, furniture, and foot-bridges, and its needles are burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

 

Nepal 2002
Magnificent moss-clad trunks of Himalayan hemlock (Tsuga dumosa) on a mountain ridge named Propang Danda, near Gosainkund, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The genus Saussurea, of the huge composite family (Asteraceae), is widely distributed in the Himalaya and Ladakh, comprising c. 31 species, of which many are adapted to the cold and dry conditions at high altitudes, among these Saussurea gossypiphora, which has a dense cover of insulating hairs, resembling a cotton ball. – Pictures of other Saussurea species are found elsewhere on this website, see Mountain plants: Plants of Ladakh.

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Meconopsis is a genus of gorgeous poppies, counting c. 43 species, almost all of which are found in China and the Himalaya. About 17 species of these bristly beauties grow in the Himalaya, several of them being 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 closer related to Papaver species than to Meconopsis.) Some species are cultivated as ornamentals in the West. – Read more about the poppy family elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour red.

 

The wonderful Meconopsis paniculata is the tallest of the genus, growing to 2 metres. It is very common on cattle grazing grounds throughout the higher parts of the Himalaya, from Uttarakhand eastwards to south-eastern Tibet.

 

Rolwaling 2004
In this picture, my guide Ganga Thapa is standing in a very lush mountain meadow in the Rolwaling Valley, eastern Nepal, with vegetation of Meconopsis paniculata (in front), an umbellifer, Pleurospermum benthamii (the tall plant with white flowers), a red lousewort, Pedicularis megalantha, and ferns. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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)

 

 

Several Meconopsis species with sky-blue flowers are found in Central Asia, from Kashmir eastwards to China, including M. simplicifolia, which grows in shrubland as well as in open areas, between 3,300 and 5,300 metres altitude, from Nepal east to south-eastern Tibet, and M. aculeata, which is found in rocky areas in the western part of the Himalaya, from Pakistan east to Uttarakhand, growing between 3,000 and 4,000 m.

 

Everest 2010
Meconopsis simplicifolia is easily recognized by its mostly undivided leaves. – Dole, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

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

 

 

 

About 25 species of Strobilanthes, of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae), are found in the Himalaya. This genus numbers about 250 species worldwide, distributed in warmer parts of Asia and in Madagascar. The generic name is 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.

 

Kashmir acanthus (Strobilanthes wallichii) is found from Pakistan east to Bhutan, growing between 2,700 and 3,600 metres altitude. 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 2000
Kashmir acanthus (Strobilanthes wallichii), covered in raindrops from a recent shower, Shyabru, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Strobilanthes dalhousieanus is 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)

 

 

The white-flowered Strobilanthes nutans was first found in 1821 by Nathaniel Wallich (see Strobilanthes wallichii above). 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)

 

 

 

In later years, Aletris pauciflora has been placed in three different families. Originally, it belonged to the gigantic lily family (Liliaceae), which has since been divided into numerous families. Later, it was transferred to the trillium family (Melanthiaceae), but has lately been moved yet another time, to the family Nartheciaceae. This handsome little plant is widespread in the Himalaya, found at altitudes between 2,500 and 4,900 metres, from Kashmir east 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)

 

 

Like most members of the forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae), Hackelia uncinatum 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)

 

 

Osbeckia is a genus of shrubs with pretty flowers, belonging to the family Melastomataceae. There are seven members of this genus in the Himalaya, of which Osbeckia stellata is by far the commonest, often covering large areas in open country. Another common species is O. nutans, found between central Nepal and south-eastern Tibet. Juice of its root is used by locals for stomach trouble.

 

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

 

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)

 

 

Primroses, or cowslips (Primula), 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 one metre 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.

 

Himalayan primroses vary greatly in size, among others including the tiny Primula atrodentata, which is found in open areas between 3,500 and 4,900 metres altitude, from Uttarakhand east to south-eastern Tibet, and its complete contrast, the stately, almost one metre tall Sikkim primrose (Primula sikkimensis), which grows in wet meadows between 2,900 and 4,800 metres altitude, from western Nepal to south-western China.

 

Everest 2010
Everest 2010
The tiny Primula atrodentata (top), and its complete contrast, the almost one metre tall Sikkim primrose (Primula sikkimensis), both photographed in the Khumbu region, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The pretty, pink-flowered Primula irregularis grows at altitudes between 2,700 and 3,500 metres, from western Nepal east to Sikkim.

 

Nepal 2008
Snow, falling the previous night, has partly buried these Primula irregularis flowers, growing near Tharepati, Helambu, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Primula denticulata 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. As a rule, the inflorescences of this very variable species become larger and denser with higher altitude.

 

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

 

 

Primula sessilis can be identified by its serrate, strongly wrinkled leaves, and its rounded petals, ending abruptly in a single small tooth. This species is fairly common in forests between 2,100 and 3,700 metres altitude, from Kashmir to western Nepal.

 

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)

 

 

Usually, the golden-eyed primrose (Primula strumosa) has bright yellow flowers, but it hybridizes freely with the purple P. calderiana, sometimes resulting in yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers in a single population. It is found in the eastern Himalaya, from Nepal eastwards to China, at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,300 metres.

 

Nepal 2013
Nepal 2013
These pictures are from the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where the golden-eyed primrose (Primula strumosa) is abundant. In the bottom picture, an inflorescence has been bent to the ground by snowfall. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

With its broadly bell-shaped flowers, Primula wollastonii differs significantly from most other species in the genus. It has a rather limited distribution, found in central and eastern Nepal, and southern Tibet, between 3,600 and 4,900 metres altitude.

 

Everest 2010
Primula wollastonii, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. The tiny Primula atrodentata is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The inflorescences of some primrose species differ from those of most other members of the genus in that the flowers are arranged in several umbels up the stem. One such example is the golden-yellow Primula floribunda, which grows on rocks, from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal.

 

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

 

 

The stout Primula macrophylla is found in Central Asia and the Himalaya, where it grows in meadows between 3,300 and 4,800 metres altitude. Its leaves are lanceolate and entire, to 30 cm long, farinose beneath, and its flowers are lilac or purple.

 

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

 

 

Round-leaved primrose (Primula rotundifolia) is a tiny species, which grows on rocks between 3,500 and 5,000 metres altitude. It has a rather limited distribution, from Nepal to south-eastern Tibet.

 

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

 

 

The stately Primula stuartii is distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to Sikkim, growing at altitudes between 3,600 and 4,500 metres.

 

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

 

 

 

The Himalayan cypress (Cupressus torulosa), which prefers to grow on calcareous soil, is distributed from Kashmir east to south-western China and northern Vietnam, at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,300 metres. Its foliage is burned as incense in Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

 

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

 

 

Old-man’s-beard lichens, of the genus Usnea, are ubiquitous in wetter areas of the Himalaya, often draping trees, hanging down from the branches and waving in the wind. – In his book Flora Danica from 1648, Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680) notes about 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 (Usnea) 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)

 

 

Cyananthus is a genus of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), comprising 9 species in the Himalaya. C. lobatus is fairly common in alpine meadows, between 3,300 and 4,500 metres 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)

 

 

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. These mostly small and ground-hugging plants belong to the rose family (Rosaceae). There are no less than c. 40 species in the Himalaya, many of them 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 found elsewhere on this website, see Mountain plants: Plants of Ladakh.

 

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)

 

Nepal 2009
The achenes of Potentilla peduncularis are dark brown or blackish, forming what looks like a bramble berry. This species is common on high altitude grazing grounds. – Dukpu, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Superficially, plants of the genus Balanophora resemble fungi, but are in fact seed plants, belonging to the family Balanophoraceae, which contains 17 genera with c. 44 species. The genus Balanophora (and the entire family) is named after the inflorescence, 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.

 

Nepal 2009
Balanophora dioica, Langtang Valley, central Nepal. This species has a wide altitudinal range, found in forests between 400 and 2,600 metres, from central Nepal eastwards to China and Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Another parasitic Himalayan plant is Aeginetia indica, of the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae), which grows on roots of various grass species. It has a wide distribution, found from Uttarakhand eastwards to China and Japan, and in Tropical Asia. In local folk medicine, the root and flowers are used for treating infections and skin problems.

 

Rolwaling 2004
Aeginetia indica, observed in the Tamba Kosi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Magnolia campbellii, one among 8 species of this genus in the Himalaya, is quite common in the lower temperate zone in the eastern part of the mountain chain, growing from central Nepal eastwards to south-western China. When flowering in April-May, these trees are magnificent, displaying an abundance of gorgeous white flowers.

 

Nepal 1998
In spring, Magnolia campbellii is a magnificent tree, displaying an abundance of gorgeous white flowers. This one 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
Magnolia campbellii, Lukla, Solu-Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Originally, the lily family (Liliaceae) contained several hundred genera, but has now been divided into numerous families. Ten genera, which have been retained in this family, are found in the Himalaya.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

The spectacular giant Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum), which can grow to a height of 3 metres, is rather common in forests and shrubberies between 1,200 and 3,600 metres 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
Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum), photographed in the Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In former days, alp lilies constituted a genus of their own, Lloydia, but have now been moved to the genus Gagea. The commonest Himalayan species, Gagea longiscapa, very much resembles the European Snowdon lily (G. serotina), but has larger brown spots in the throat. It is found in alpine grasslands, between 3,600 and 5,000 metres altitude, from Kashmir east to Bhutan.

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Himalayan alp lily (Gagea longiscapa), observed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where it is quite common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The beautiful Fritillaria cirrhosa, which also belongs to the lily family, is the commonest of two species of this genus in the Himalaya, growing 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 is from. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Woodfordia fruticosa, of the loosestrife family (Lythraceae), is a very widespread shrub with pretty orange flowers, found from Pakistan east to Myanmar, and also in most warmer areas of Asia, Australia, Africa, and Madagascar. In the Himalaya, it is common in subtropical valleys up to an altitude of c. 1800 metres. 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)

 

 

With its low growth and thick leaf rosette, Pycnoplinthopsis bhutanica, of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), 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 metres altitude, from central Nepal 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)

 

 

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, an epiphytic basket fern of the polypody family (Polypodiaceae), has a wide distribution, from the Himalaya eastwards to China, and thence south 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 e.g. 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, Gleichenia gigantea, which belongs to the family Gleicheniaceae, a group often called forked ferns.

 

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

 

Nepal 2008
Young plants (‘fiddleheads’) of Gleichenia gigantea, 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, later turning green. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

There is much controversion concerning the number of wallflower species (Erysimum) in the Himalaya, and also around their identity. Erysimum benthamii, with orange or yellow flowers, is common in open areas, fallow fields, and along trails, found in a wide altitudinal range between 1,600 and 4,100 metres, distributed from Himachal Pradesh eastwards to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

In Nepal, Schima wallichii, of the tea family (Theaceae), 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 south 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)

 

 

In subtropical valleys of the Himalaya, herbs of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae) are conspicuous, comprising at least 28 genera. A species of bush violet, Barleria cristata, is quite common up to 2,000 metres altitude, from Pakistan east to Myanmar, and also in Tropical Asia.

 

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

 

 

Viburnum is a huge genus, comprising 150-175 species of shrubs or small trees, native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with a few species in montane areas of North Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. In the past, the genus was lumped with elderberries (Sambucus) in the family Sambucaceae, and was then moved to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). Recent DNA studies have shown that both of these genera belong to the moschatel family (Adoxaceae).

 

Viburnum erubescens is the commonest among eight species of this genus, growing in temperate areas of the Himalaya. It is found from Uttarakhand to south-western China, growing between 1,500 and 3,000 metres 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)

 

 

The large-flowered viburnum (Viburnum grandiflorum), which is distributed between 2,700 and 3,700 metres, from Pakistan to east to south-eastern Tibet, is quite common in temperate forests of the western Himalaya. This species is among the few high-altitude Himalayan trees, which bloom in winter and early spring.

 

Uttarakhand 2008
The inflorescence of this large-flowered viburnum (Viburnum grandiflorum) 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)

 

 

In autumn, several Viburnum species display large clusters of scarlet berries, some of which are edible. Viburnum mullaha is quite common between 1,500 and 4,000 metres altitude, growing at forest edges and in open areas, from Pakistan east 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)

 

 

 

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

 

Nepal 2000
Everest 2010a
Platystemma violoides (top) and Didymocarpus oblongus both grow on shady rocks between 1,000 and 3,000 metres altitude. The former was photographed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal, the latter in Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009
The pretty Chirita urticifolia grows in humid forests up to an altitude of c. 2,400 metres, from western Nepal eastwards to south-western China. This picture was taken below the Burlung Bhanjyang Pass, Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
Aeschynanthus is a genus of epiphytes with gorgeous flowers, growing on trees or rocks. This picture shows A. sikkimensis, observed near Chiruwa, Tamur Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rhynchoglossum obliquum has a very wide distribution, found from Uttarakhand to south-western China, and thence south to montane areas in South India and Southeast Asia. It differs from most other species in the family by flowering in the autumn.

 

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

 

 

 

The Himalayan birch (Betula utilis) is easily identified by its reddish bark, which peels off in large flakes. This tree is extremely common at high altitudes, from Afghanistan east 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, while the foliage was chopped for fodder.

 

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

 

 

Flowers of the genus Arisaema, of the arum family (Araceae), 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 up to one metre long. 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, e.g. 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.

 

Nepal 1991
Arisaema nepenthoides is often called cobra plant, referring to the spathe of this species, which resembles the spread-out hood of a cobra. – Tadapani, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Everest 2010
The thread-like tip of the spadix of Arisaema costatum is quite grotesque, growing to a length of up to one metre and often lying on the ground. – Surkhe, Solu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Everest 2010
The thick, purplish, velvety spadix of Arisaema tortuosum points 7-12 cm upwards, looking rather like an old man, pointing with his walking stick. – Lukla, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Annapurna 2007
In the Annapurna area, central Nepal, the leaves of Arisaema utile are much utilized for making gundruk (see text above). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Nepal 2013
Arisaema erubescens is easily recognized by its 7 to 14 radiating, narrow leaflets, and the brown- and white-striped spathe. – Choplong, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Nepal 1991a
Nepal 1991a
My companion Lars Nørgaard Hansen, seated near two specimens of Arisaema griffithii, which can be identified by its very short flower stalk and the curled-up spathe. – Makalu-Barun National Park, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Nordindien 1982
The fruit of Arisaema species is a cluster of berries, resembling a maize cob. In this picture, from the village of Lata, Uttarakhand, a butterfly is sitting on the cob. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Species of barberry (Berberis) are 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 is common in open areas, from Pakistan eastwards to eastern Nepal, at altitudes between 1,500 and 3,000 metres. Its edible berries are a pretty blue, turning black when ripe, with a grey-white bloom. In Pakistan, an extract from root and stems is used as a tonic and as an eye lotion.

 

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

 

 

Nepalese mahonia (Mahonia napaulensis) is another member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae), which is very common in the eastern half of the Himalaya, from 1,400 to 2,900 metres altitude. When flowering, this species is gorgeous, displaying numerous large clusters of bright yellow flowers. Its blue berries are eaten raw or pickled, while bark and fruit are used medicinally.

 

Nepal 2013
The blue berries of Nepalese mahonia (Mahonia napaulensis) are edible, eaten 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)

 

 

Almost all members of the cranesbill family (Geraniaceae), in the Himalaya comprising c. 18 species of cranesbill (Geranium) and two species of storksbill (Erodium), have reddish, pink, or violet flowers. The Himalayan cranesbill (Geranium himalayaense) is quite similar to the Eurasian meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), which also grows in the Himalaya, but as a rule it is a larger plant, with petals up to 3 cm long, versus 2 cm in meadow cranesbill. This species is found from Afghanistan eastwards to central Nepal, growing between 2,100 and 4,400 metres altitude.

 

Nepal 2009
The majority of Himalayan flowers bloom during the monsoon, from mid June to late September. This picture shows the rear side of a flower of Himalayan cranesbill (Geranium himalayaense), dotted with raindrops from a recent downpour, photographed at Cholang Pati, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Crescent-leaved sundew (Drosera peltata) is found in montane areas, from the western parts of the Himalaya to Southeast Asia and Australia. Sundews 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. – Read more about sundew and other flesh-eating plants elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Carnivorous plants.

 

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

 

 

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 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

Counting c. 880 genera and more than 22,000 species, orchids (Orchidaceae) 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.

 

Epiphytic orchids of the genera Coelogyne and Dendrobium, comprising 12 and c. 26 species, respectively, are very common in subtropical and lower temperate regions of the Himalaya, the majority flowering between March and May.

 

Annapurna 2007
Nepal 2008
Annapurna 2007
Three common epiphytic orchid species, from above Coelogyne nitida, C. cristata, and Dendrobium amoenum, all photographed in the lower temperate zone along the Modi Khola River, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lady’s slippers (Cypripedium) are 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.

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
The white-flowered Cypripedium cordigerum is fairly common in forests and shrubberies, from Pakistan east to Bhutan, between 2,100 and 4,000 metres altitude. – Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Cypripedium himalaicum, likewise photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. This red- or brown-flowered species is also quite common, found between 3,000 and 4,300 metres, from Uttarakhand east to south-eastern Tibet. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Calanthe tricarinata is one of the most common ground-dwelling orchids in Himalayan oak forests, growing between 1,500 and 3,200 metres altitude, from Pakistan east to Thailand and China. 12 species of this pretty genus are found in the Himalaya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2009
Satyrium nepalense has a very wide altitudinal distribution in the Himalaya, growing in grassy areas and forest edges between 600 and 4,600 metres. In this photograph, several specimens grow among numerous pearly everlastings (Anaphalis) in a lush meadow at Magingoth, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Rolwaling 2004
The lovely Spathoglottis ixioides mostly grows on moss-covered rocks or humid forest banks. It is distributed from central Nepal east to Arunachal Pradesh, between 2,000 and 3,500 metres altitude. This one was photographed in the Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Lahaul-Ladakh 2014
Chinese ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes sinensis) is easily identified by its red flowers, arranged in a spiral up the stem. This species has a very wide distribution, from North and Central Asia, southwards through Southeast Asia and Indonesia to Australia and New Zealand. In the Himalaya, it is rather common up to an altitude of c. 4,500 metres. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2002
Pleione orchids, four of which are found in the Himalaya, mostly grow on moss-covered tree trunks, including toppled ones. Pleione hookeriana, shown here, is very common on oaks and conifers between 2,000 and 3,700 metres altitude. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Pieris are a genus of beautiful shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae), native to central and eastern Asia, eastern North America, and Cuba. While American species are known as andromedas or fetterbushes, Asian species are merely called pieris after their generic name, which is derived from the Greek Pieria – home of the Muses.

 

Himalayan pieris (Pieris formosa) is very common in eroded areas or fallow fields between 1,500 and 3,000 metres altitude, from central Nepal east to China and northern Vietnam. It is a highly toxic plant, which is avoided by grazing animals.

 

Sydasien 1980
In April-May, Himalayan pieris (Pieris formosa) 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)

 

 

Deutzia is a genus of shrubs with pretty and fragrant flowers, belonging to the hydrangea family (Hydrangeaceae). Three species occur in the Himalaya, growing at forest edges and in open areas between 1,100 and 3,500 metres altitude.

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Deutzia staminea is widely distributed, growing in shrubberies and on open slopes, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. In Nepal, juice of its root is used for fever, and the flowers are offered to gods by Tamang people. This picture is from Lower Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Annapurna 2007
Deutzia hookeriana, which has larger leaves than D. staminea, occurs between Nepal and south-western China. This gorgeous specimen was photographed in the Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Everest 2010
Whereas the other two Deutzia species have white flowers, those of D. bhutanensis are purplish. It has a more restricted distribution, found from central Nepal to Bhutan, between 2,100 and 2,700 m. – Phakding, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Peonies (Paeonia) is a genus with gorgeous flowers, forming a family of their own, Paeoniaceae. The number of species of these plants is disputed, but is probably around 33, with numbers varying from 25 to 40, depending on authority. They are native to Temperate Eurasia and western North America. Due to their showy flowers, many species are cultivated as ornamentals.

 

Uttarakhand 2008
Only one species of peony, Paeonia emodi, is found in the Himalaya. This plant, which has large, white flowers, grows in the lower temperate zone, from Afghanistan eastwards to western Nepal and extreme south-western Tibet. This picture is from Sangam Chatti, Lower Asi Ganga Valley, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Nepal 2013
Agapetes serpens is a small, epiphytic shrub, belonging to the heath family (Ericaceae). It also comes in a form with white flowers. This genus has five members in the Himalaya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Hairy bergenia (Bergenia ciliata) is quite common on rock faces, 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 (Bergenia ciliata), 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)

 

 

Members of the genus Erythrina, of the pea family (Fabaceae), are called coral trees due to the wonderful coral-red flowers of many species. In March-April, Erythrina stricta, which is very common at lower altitudes in the Himalaya, displays a profusion of flowers, in which various bird species feed, e.g. Asian black bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus), red-whiskered bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus), and ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri).

 

Nepal 1998
Nepal 1998
In March-April, Erythrina stricta displays a profusion of flowers, here at the village of Tatopani, Lower Kali Gandaki Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The morina family (Morinaceae) is closely related to the scabious family (Dipsacaceae) and was formerly included in it. The three Morina species mentioned here all grow in open areas at high altitudes, between 3,000 and 4,500 metres, from Kashmir east to Bhutan, M. longifolia also in south-eastern Tibet and south-western China.

 

Nepal 2009
The handsome Morina longifolia is the tallest of the Morina species, growing to a height of c. 1 m. It is very common in abandoned fields in the Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Nepal 1987
Morina polyphylla is a rather thistle-like plant, whose root is foul-smelling. This species, as well as M. longifolia, is furnished with spines as a means of defence against grazing animals. – Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Everest 2010a
Morina nepalensis is a low plant, only about 15 cm tall, but with rather large, pretty flowers. Instead of spines, the leaf margins have long, stiff hairs. – Dole, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Black hellebore (Picrorhiza kurrooa) is a strange plant of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), with 3-centimetre-long stamens projecting from its tiny flowers. It has a restricted distribution, from Pakistan east to Uttarakhand, growing between 3,300 and 4,300 metres 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 (Picrorhiza kurrooa), encountered in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

In the Himalaya, there are no less than c. 45 species of bramble, or raspberry (Rubus), of the rose family (Rosaceae). Most Himalayan species are large, rambling, prickly shrubs, while 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 metres, 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 east 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, delicious, slightly sour fruits.

 

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 ginger family (Zingiberaceae) 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 metres, from Uttarakhand east 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 these growing in humid, open areas. Two species, presented below, are both common in Nepal.

 

Everest 2010a
The gregarious Roscoea alpina is found at high altitudes, between 2,400 and 4,000 metres, from Pakistan east to Myanmar. This picture is from Surkhe, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Everest 2010a
Roscoea capitata is restricted to central Nepal and adjacent areas of southern Tibet, between 1,200 and 2,600 metres altitude. – 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 metres 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 (shown above), is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Altogether, c. 17 species of the genus Anemone are encountered in the Himalaya, the vast majority having white flowers, a few red, yellow, or blue. The tall Anemone tetrasepala grows on rocky slopes between 2,100 and 3,600 metres altitude from Afghanistan east to Himachal Pradesh and extreme south-western Tibet, whereas A. obtusiloba is found at altitudes between 2,100 and 4,300 metres, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. The latter species is very common in Nepal, where juice of its root used for eye trouble. It comes in three colour morphs, blue, white, and yellow. The yellow form, however, is only found in Kashmir.

 

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)

 

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

 

 

 

Cremanthodium is a genus of the composite family (Asteraceae) with beautiful yellow flowers, comprising altogether about 69 species, restricted to China and the Himalaya, with 13 species in the Himalaya.

 

Nepal 2009-1
Nepal 2009
Cremanthodium oblongatum (top) and C. reniforme, both photographed in the Gosainkund area, central Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The morning-glory, or bindweed, family (Convolvulaceae) contains c. 55 genera, comprising more than 1,650 species, most of which are herbaceous vines, but also 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 more pictures of members of this family are found elsewhere on this website, see Plants: The morning-glory family.

 

Flowers of blue morning-glory (Ipomoea nil) are various shades of blue, with a white funnel. This species, which is also called ivy-leaved or Japanese morning-glory, can 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 (Ipomoea nil), entwining a species of mugwort (Artemisia), was encountered in the Lower Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Eight species of the genus Dinetus, formerly included in the genus Porana, also belong to the morning-glory family. Dinetus are purely Asian plants, distributed from Pakistan eastwards across India and Nepal to China, and thence south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines.

 

The snow creeper (Dinetus racemosus) has about the same distribution as the genus, in the Himalaya 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 (Dinetus racemosus), climbing up a stem of an aibika (Abelmoschus manihot), Sarangkot, Pokhara, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Dinetus grandiflorus, formerly Porana grandiflora, is sometimes called Tibetan moth vine. This plant is found from Nepal east to Bhutan and extreme south-eastern Tibet, growing between 1,900 and 2,500 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

 

Common names of Gaultheria species include wintergreen and mountain tea. They are a widespread genus of shrubs and dwarf shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae). Worldwide, this genus contains about 135 species, native to Asia, Australia, and the Americas. 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. – Seven species occur in the Himalaya.

 

Fragrant wintergreen (Gaultheria fragrantissima) is a very common evergreen shrub, which, in April-May, displays large clusters of pretty, white, fragrant flowers. This species grows in forests and shrubberies between 2,700 and 4,700 metres, from Pakistan east to south-western China. It is widely utilized in folk medicine, juice of unripe fruits being used for stomach ache, while 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 destilled to make alcohol.

 

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

 

 

In autumn, Gaultheria trichophylla is easily recognized by its sky-blue, almost luminous berries, which are edible. This dwarf shrub 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
Gaultheria trichophylla is easily recognized by its sky-blue, almost luminous berries. – Gopte, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The stonecrop, or orpine family, Crassulaceae, which includes stonecrops (Sedum) and roseroots (Rhodiola), among other genera, are characterized by plants with succulent leaves – an adaptation to growing in dry areas with little water. This family, which includes c. 35 genera with about 1,400 species, is found worldwide, with the greatest diversity in the Northern Hemisphere and in southern Africa.

 

Stonecrops (Sedum) are 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.

 

Himachal 2009
Sedum oreades, here photographed below the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh, is found in rocky areas between 3,000 and 5,200 metres altitude, from Pakistan eastwards to south-western China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

There are about 20 species of roseroots (Rhodiola) in the Himalaya. In the past, they were lumped with stonecrops in the genus Sedum, but they 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.

 

Nepal 2002
Rhodiola bupleuroides is named after its inflorescence, which looks a bit like that of certain species of hare’s ear (Bupleurum), of the carrot family (Apiaceae). It grows in dry alpine valleys, in this case in the Upper Langtang Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Nepal 2000
This picture shows Rhodiola amabilis, growing among mani stones (stone slabs with engraved Buddhist mantras), near the village of Thangshyap, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. – Read more about mani stones and Buddhism elsewhere on this website, see Religion: Buddhism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

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 east 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 found elsewhere on this website, see: In praise of the colour yellow.

 

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

 

 

Smartweed, pinkweed, knotweed, bistort, knotgrass – plants of the genus Polygonum has many popular names. It is a huge genus, 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 metres. Formerly, they were divided into several genera, besides Polygonum e.g. Bistorta, Persicaria, and Aconogonum. Today, however, most authorities place them in a single genus, Polygonum. Four species are presented below.

 

Alpine knotgrass (Polygonum alpinum, previously often called Aconogonum alpinum) is an erect herb, growing to 2 metres tall, with numerous much-branched clusters of terminal inflorescences, to 30 cm long, with countless tiny flowers. This species, which grows in shrubberies, on open slopes, and along streamsides, is distributed from central Europe eastwards to Central Asia, in the Himalaya east to Himachal Pradesh. Its stems are edible when cooked.

 

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

 

 

Polygonum affine, also called Bistorta affinis, is a creeping, mat-forming, densely tufted plant with erect cylindric spikes, to 7.5 cm long, of pink or purplish-red flowers, borne on stalks to 25 cm high. It is quite common on open slopes and in rocky areas at high altitudes, from Afghanistan east to Myanmar and Tibet. Its rhizome is used for brewing tea, and also taken for stomach disorders.

 

Himachal 2009
Polygonum affine is very common on the Rohtang La Pass, Himachal Pradesh, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Polygonum amplexicaule, formerly Bistorta amplexicaulis, is an erect herb to 1 metre tall, 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. This species has a wide altitudinal as well as geographical range, found between 1,500 and 4,800 m, from Afghanistan east to China. Its rhizome is used 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, also called Persicaria capitata, has a very wide altitudinal, as well as geographical range, from the Indian Subcontinent Pakistan to the Far East and Southeast Asia, found between 600 and 3,500 metres altitude. This prostrate, tufted herb, which grows 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 terminal globular, pink heads, to 1.3 cm across.

 

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

 

 

 

Balsams (Impatiens) are a large genus of plants with attractive flowers of a unique structure, having 3 or 5 sepals, of which the lower one is greatly enlarged to form a pouch with a spur, while the other 2 or 4 are small and greenish. There are 5 petals, of which the upper one is often helmet-like, while 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 sulcata, also called I. gigantea, is a large species, growing to 3 metres tall. Its flower colour is very variable, being pink, bright red, or purple. This species is widespread and common, growing in a variety of habitats, such as forests, shrubberies, and cultivated areas. It is distributed from Kashmir east to Bhutan, between 1,800 and 4,000 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

Impatiens bicornuta grows in shrubberies and along streams at altitudes between 1,900 and 3,000 m, from Uttarakhand east 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 plant 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 is 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 east to Sikkim, growing in forests between 2,500 and 3,600 metres 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)

 

 

 

Indigofera heterantha, of the pea family (Fabaceae), is one among 16 members of this genus in the Himalaya. This species is widely distributed, from Afghanistan east to Bhutan and southern Tibet, and also in Sri Lanka and parts of East Africa. 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)

 

 

Rock-jasmines (Androsace) are closely related to primroses (Primula), but can be told from that genus by their very short corolla-tube (a tube, formed by the petals). This genus contains about a hundred species, distributed across cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with no less than 73 occurring in China. These plants are also ubiquitous in the Himalaya, with c. 23 species, most of which grow at high altitudes.

 

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)

 

 

Iris is a genus of wonderful plants, comprising 250-300 species worldwide, with c. 13 species in the Himalaya. They are named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, presumably because of the colourful flowers of many of the species. As they are poisonous, they are avoided by grazing animals, often forming large growths in high-altitude meadows and grazing grounds.

 

Nepal 2002
The commonest iris in the Himalaya is Iris kemaonensis, which often forms large growths, as 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)

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Iris milesii is confined to the western Himalaya, growing between 1,600 and 2,700 metres altitude, from Kashmir east to Uttarakhand. The preferred habitat of this species is open coniferous forests. It is easily identified by its long, scimitar-shaped leaves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

St. Paul’s wort (Sigesbeckia orientalis) is a plant of the composite family (Asteraceae) with numerous sticky glands on its bracts. It 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 Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné (1707-1778), the famous Swedish botanist.

Later, however, Siegesbeck 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.)

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

 

Himachal 2009
St. Paul’s wort (Sigesbeckia orientalis), Solang Nallah Valley, near Manali, Himachal Pradesh. This species has a very wide distribution, 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 2,700 metres. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Altogether c. 13 species of Aster, a huge genus of composites, comprising c. 152 species worldwide, are found in the Himalaya. The ray-florets of most species of these attractive plants are bluish or lilac, whereas the disk-florets are various shades of yellow. Two species, both growing on alpine slopes between c. 3,000 and 4,500 metres altitude, are presented here. Aster falconeri is found from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal. In local folk medicine, juice of its root is applied to wounds. Aster himalaicus is distributed from central Nepal east to south-western China.

 

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

 

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

 

 

The black juniper (Juniperus indica) is a high-altitude conifer, growing between 2,100 and 5,200 metres, from Pakistan east 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 elsewhere on this website, see Plants: Ancient and giant trees.

 

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

 

 

The genus Ribes, which includes currants and gooseberries, contains about 150 species, native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. To most authorities, this genus constitutes a separate family, Grossulariaceae, while others include it in the family Saxifragaceae. Eleven species are found in the Himalaya.

 

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

 

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

 

 

The gentian family (Gentianaceae) is a worldwide family, comprising c. 87 genera with c. 1,650 species, mostly herbs. The flowers of a majority of the species within the c. 18 genera, found in the Himalaya, 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. 635 species, or c. 360 species, if you acknowledge the authorities, such as the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group System, APG IV, which split out c. 250 species of dwarf gentians (Gentianella), with hairs or lobes in the throat, and no scales, or lobules, between the corolla-lobes, and c. 23 species of fringed gentians (Gentianopsis), with ciliate margins to the petals.

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

The name gentian derives 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). Read more about this species elsewhere on this website, see Traditional medicine: Gentiana lutea.

 

As its specific name implies, Gentiana ornata is a beautiful plant. It is very common at high altitudes between 3,400 and 5,500 metres, from central Nepal east to south-eastern Tibet. This species blooms in the 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 depressa is much like G. ornata, but its lobules (the slightly smaller lobes between the petal lobes proper) are white, and the corolla is greenish-white inside.

 

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

 

 

Almost all Himalayan gentians bloom late in the summer or in autumn, but a few flower in spring, including Gentiana pedicellata, a tiny, often mat-forming plant, which is very common on grazing grounds and in forest clearings at altitudes from 750 to 3,800 metres. 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)

 

 

Dwarf gentians, of the genus Gentianella, can be told from other gentians by their flowers, which have lobes or tufts of hair in the throat, and no scales, or lobules, between the corolla-lobes. G. moorcroftiana is distributed in the western parts of the Himalaya, from Pakistan east to central Nepal. 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)

 

 

The spurred gentian (Halenia elliptica) is easily identified by its four spurs, projecting backwards. This species, which grows in Central and western Asia, eastwards to China and Myanmar, is quite common in meadows and at forest edges, between 1,800 and 4,500 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

Felwort, or columbo (Swertia), is a large genus of the gentian family, comprising c. 150 species worldwide, of which c. 28 occur in the Himalaya, the majority of which grow in humid places. Many species have small, but very ornate flowers, often with beautiful, intricate patterns.

 

Swertia paniculata 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 metres altitude, from Pakistan east to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

As its specific name indicates, the leaves of heart-leaved felwort (Swertia cordata) are heart-shaped. This species is widely distributed, from Pakistan east to south-western China, growing on grassy slopes between 1,700 and 4,000 m.

 

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

 

 

The flowers of Swertia ciliata 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 east 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)

 

 

Narrow-leaved felwort (Swertia angustifolia) is 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 metres, from Pakistan east to China and northern Vietnam.

 

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

 

 

Compared with other species of felwort, Swertia racemosa has rather dull, bell-shaped flowers, white with purplish markings. 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 metres altitude, Langshisha, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Three Himalayan species of Smilacina, which were formerly included in the large lily family (Liliaceae), are now regarded as false lilies-of-the-valley (Maianthemum), which, together with e.g. species of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), are now members of the family Ruscaceae. – Maianthemum purpureum is rather common in forests, 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)

 

 

Campions (Silene) are a huge genus in the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae), comprising c. 600 species worldwide, of which c. 40 occur in the Himalaya. Several campion species have strongly inflated calyx, including Silene gonosperma, which is quite common in stony areas and grasslands, from Pakistan east to south-western China, and in Central Asia, found at altitudes between 3,000 and 5,500 m, and S. setisperma, which is distributed from Pakistan eastwards to eastern Nepal, between 3,400 and 4,700 metres altitude.

 

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

 

Rolwaling 2004
Silene setisperma, photographed in the Rolwaling Valley, eastern Nepal, together with the blue-flowered Microula sikkimensis, of the forget-me-not family (Boraginaceae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yellow star-grass (Hypoxis), also called star lily or African potato, is a genus of the family Hypoxidaceae with a very wide distribution, occurring in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, with the greatest concentration in southern Africa. Certain species are important in traditional African medicine. One species, the tiny Hypoxis aurea, 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)

 

 

Two species of white-heather (Cassiope), of the heath family (Ericaceae), are found in the Himalaya, growing at high altitudes. The pretty C. fastigiata is found from Pakistan east to Bhutan and southern Tibet, growing among rocks and in open areas between 2,800 and 5,000 metres altitude.

 

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

 

 

Saxifragaceae is a worldwide family, containing about 80 genera with c. 1,200 species. By far the largest genus is Saxifraga with around 450 species, distributed 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 are found. Besides the two species below, S. andersonii is presented at the beginning of this page, and two other species are mentioned elsewhere on this website, see Mountain plants: Plants of Ladakh.

 

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 metres altitude.

 

Rolwaling 2004
Saxifraga brunonis is easily identified by its numerous red runners. This one was 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 metres, commonest at lower altitudes. The geographical distribution is from Uttarakhand east to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

Four species of columbine (Aquilegia), of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), are found in the Himalaya, all growing in the western half of the mountain chain. These plants are characterized by the peculiar shape of their flowers, with five spurs on the inner petals, pointing backwards. A. pubiflora and A. fragrans are both quite common from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal, growing in forests, shrubberies and grasslands at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 m.

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
The flowers of Aquilegia pubiflora are various shades of purple. – Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

Himachal Pradesh 2007
Aquilegia fragrans has white or cream-coloured flowers. This one was also photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Cardamine violacea is one among c. 13 Himalayan species of bittercress, of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). It is a stout herb, growing to one metre tall, with gorgeous, dark purple flowers. It is found in humid forests and meadows between 1,800 and 4,000 metres 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)

 

 

Larkspurs (Delphinium) are a genus in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), identified by their irregular flowers with 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, some of them very hard to identify. Three species are presented here.

 

Delphinium kamaonense is easily identified by its inflorescences, which have few, large, dark-blue flowers, to 4 cm across, and by its smooth stem. It is common between 3,000 and 4,300 metres altitude, from Uttarakhand east to south-western China. In Nepal, a decoction of the plant is applied to scabies.

 

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)

 

 

Delphinium denudatum is similar to D. kamaonense, but is a taller plant, to 90 cm, with smaller, often paler blue flowers, to 2.5 cm across. It grows in open forests and grassy areas between 1,500 and 2,700 metres, distributed from Pakistan east to central Nepal.

 

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

 

 

Delphinium glaciale has very pale blue, hairy flowers. It grows on open slopes at altitudes between 3,300 and 6,000 metres, from central Nepal east to Bhutan and southern Tibet.

 

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

 

 

 

Of the two Himalayan species of larch (Larix), the Nepalese larch (L. himalaica) is restricted to a small area in northern central Nepal and adjacent southern Tibet, whereas the east Himalayan larch (L. griffithii) is found from eastern Nepal eastwards to south-eastern Tibet. They are both handsome trees, growing to 20 metres tall, 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
In the upper picture, new foliage is appearing on Larix griffithii trees, while the lower one shows unripe cones. This species is very common in the Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal, where these pictures were taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Seven species of glorybower (Clerodendrum), of the mint family (Lamiaceae), are encountered in the Himalaya, for the major part restricted to the foothills or lower, subtropical valleys. Clerodendrum infortunatum has a wide distribution, found in the entire Indian Subcontinent and in Southeast Asia. It is a very important plant in Ayurvedic medicine, its root and bark 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, while juice of the plant is applied to snake bites and scorpion stings. In Nepal, the leaves are used as a potherb. The specific name infortunatum was given by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, or 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)

 

 

Groundsels, or ragworts (Senecio), is a huge, yellow-flowered genus of the composite family (Asteraceae), comprising c. 1,200 species worldwide, of which c. 22 are found in the Himalaya. Three species are presented below.

 

Senecio graciliflorus is common from Kashmir east to south-western China and Malaysia, growing at forest margins and along riverbanks, between 2,000 and 4,100 metres 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 cappa is another very common plant, growing in open areas between 1,300 and 3,300 metres altitude, from Uttarakhand east 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)

 

 

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

 

Nepal 2009a
Senecio scandens, hanging down from a bank near Chame, Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

 

Geum elatum is a large-flowered species of avens, of the rose family (Rosaceae), growing to 50 cm tall. It is very common in alpine meadows at altitudes between 2,700 and 4,400 metres, distributed from Pakistan east 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 a species of cinquefoil, Potentilla argyrophylla, are also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

The Himalayan rock-cress (Crucihimalaya himalaica, formerly Arabidopsis himalaica), of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), is common in rocky areas and on grazing grounds between 2,400 and 4,300 metres altitude, from Afghanistan east 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 (Crucihimalaya himalaica), Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)

 

 

Yam (Dioscorea) is a huge genus of climbers, comprising c. 613 species, 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).

 

Nepalese yam (Dioscorea deltoidea) is widely distributed in montane areas, from Afghanistan east to south-western China, and thence south 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, e.g. asthma and arthritis, and also as a contraceptive.

 

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

 

 

Meadow-rue (Thalictrum) is a genus within the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), distributed in most of the Northern Hemisphere, and also in southern Africa and South America, being most common in temperate regions. There is great controversy concerning the number of species, accounts varying between 120 and 200, of which c. 20 are distributed in the Himalaya. The name meadow-rue stems from the similarity of the leaves of these plants to those of the genuine rues (genus Ruta), being divided two or three times.

 

Thalictrum cultratum is a tall plant, to 1.2 metres high, having several branched inflorescences with numerous tiny, greenish-white flowers, whose stamens are purple with yellow tips. This species is very common in shrubberies and grasslands, and on open slopes, between 1,700 and 4,200 metres altitude, from Pakistan east to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

Wulfeniopsis amherstiana, formerly included in the genus Wulfenia, is a small plant of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), with bluish flowers in a long, one-sided spike. It grows on shady rocks between 1,500 and 3,000 metres altitude, from Afghanistan east 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)

 

 

Thistles, of the genera Carduus and Cirsium, comprising 350-400 species worldwide, are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, where c. 9 species are found. One of the commonest is Cirsium wallichii, an extremely variable plant, which grows to almost 3 metres tall, 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 east 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)

 

 

Indian dyer’s madder (Rubia manjith), of the bedstraw family (Rubiaceae), climbs over other plants with the help of hooked prickles on the underside of its leaves. The stems are green or yellowish, the tiny flowers 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 (Rubia manjith), 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)

 

 

Lampwick plants (Phlomis), of the mint family (Lamiaceae), constitute a genus with more than 100 species, native from southern Europe across the Middle East to Central Asia and China. Infloresences 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.

Eight species of this genus occur in the Himalaya, the commonest one being Phlomis bracteosa – 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 metres, from Afghanistan east to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

Begonia is a huge genus, comprising more than 1,400 species worldwide, 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 can be 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, while 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)

 

 

As opposed to the above species, Begonia rubella 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 east to Sikkim. In Nepal, leaf-stalk and stems of this species are also pickled.

 

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

 

 

 

Sage (Salvia) are attractive plants of the mint family (Lamiaceae) – a huge genus, comprising c. 1,000 species worldwide, of which many are cultivated as ornamentals. Eleven species are found in the Himalaya, some with blue, others with yellow flowers.

 

Salvia lanata has pale-blue flowers, arranged in whorls up the stem. This beautiful plant is found in open areas between 1,500 and 3,000 metres altitude in the western Himalaya, from Pakistan eastwards to western Nepal. 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)

 

 

Due to its sticky, glandular hairs, Salvia nubicola was formerly called S. glutinosa, derived from the Latin gluten (‘glue’). This plant, which grows in open areas between 2,100 and 4,300 metres altitude, is easily identified by its spear-formed leaf-base and the yellow flowers. It 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. Medicinally, juice of the root is given for fever.

 

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

 

 

 

Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are a genus of c. 180 species of shrubs or climbers of the family Caprifoliaceae, native to the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name was given in honour of German botanist Adam Lonicer (1528-1586), while 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. Around 25 species are found in the Himalaya, shrubs as well as climbers. Besides the two species presented below, pictures of other Central Asian species are found elsewhere on this website, see Mountain plants: Plants of Ladakh. – You may also read about the invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), see Nature: Invasive species.

 

Lonicera rupicola 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 east to south-western China.

 

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

 

 

Lonicera quinquelocularis is 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 metres altitude, from Afghanistan east to China.

 

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

 

 

(Uploaded September 2018)

 

(Revised continuously)