Among the most beautiful Himalayan trees are the rhododendrons, of which the greatest concentration occurs in the eastern Himalayas. About 110 species are found wild in India, of which only four occur in the western Himalayas. Several rhododendron species are widely cultivated for their brilliant and variously coloured flowers and evergreen foliage. Many hybrids are produced and have been extensively cultivated in Europe and America. Of these, Rhododendron arboreum Sm. is perhaps the most widely distributed and is the national flower of Nepal, locally called 'Lali gurans'. It is also called 'tree-rose'. It can reach 2-4 m in girth and 14 m in height, and is seen at an altitude of 1,200 to 2,000 m from Kashmir to Bhutan and Assam. The flowers vary in colour from red to pink, spotted to white. The under-surface of the leaf also varies in pigmentation from silvery to brown.
It grows in well-drained soil and is said to be averse to calcereous ground. The full beauty of the Himalayas cannot be experienced until one has seen the rhododendrons, wreathed in colour, festooning the mountain ranges.
In this region, one cannot fail to notice the richness of orchids perched on trunks and branches of tress, beckoning visitors with their enchanting flowers. But the very beauty of their flowers has been their undoing. Flower lovers and commercial poachers have robbed this region of most of the showy orchids, necessitating a ban on the collection of these plants from the wild. At higher altitudes, we noticed that the trees become stunted and scarce near the snow-line, beyond which the mountains are covered with permanent snow. To reach here, one passes through the temperate coniferous forests of pine, deodar, spruce, fir, cypress and yew.
Beyond these forests lies a fairyland of alpine meadows. When the snow begins to melt in May-June, alpine plants begin to unfurl and are in full bloom in July and August. These meadows provide grazing grounds for sheep and cattle during these months. This is a fascinating region for flower lovers. We have the Himalayan poppies, anemones, primroses, paeonies, monkshood and meadow rue, buttercups and black peas, spurges and columbine, salvia and saxifrage, thistle and heather, thyme and mentha, balsam and gentian, campanula and chrysanthemum, orchids and lilies, and many other. In fact, there are several fairly extensive areas where, at times, it is almost impossible to step without crushing some of the lovely flowers carpeting the ground. The sudden outburst of bird-song, the herdsman's flute caressingly and hauntingly playing love songs, the tinkling of cow bells or pealing of temple bells and their reverberations, the scent-laden invigorating air, are experiences that linger in the mind longer that the passing joys of everyday life.
Title: 100 Himalayan Flowers
Author: Asvin Mehata
Printed by: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd. Ahmedabad