Did you know that Nepal is among the places with highest biodiversity in the world? Existing records list around 6000 species of flowering plants (about 4 times as many the UK), and it is estimated there are many more yet to discover. Nearly 250 of the recorded species are believed to be endemic to Nepal, which means they can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Everyone would probably expect these numbers from a country with rainforests, but who would have thought that in between rough mountains and rocks you can find so many different species of plants!
If you look at Nepal on a map you can see that it is quite a small country, smaller than the UK, and very narrow. The distance from North to South border equals the distance from Edinburgh to Fort William. Within that distance, however, you can find all altitudes from 70 metres to 8850 metres – the highest point on earth. The climate is hot and humid in the southeast, dry and cold in the northwest, with the most diverse habitats in between. Nepal builds a link between different botanical areas: the western Himalaya, with Asiatic and Mediterranean elements, the eastern Himalaya with Sino-Japanese elements, tropical species from India and the lowland plains and central Asiatic species from the Tibetan plateau. The mountains provide barriers for weather and invasive species and are sheltered habitats in which the plants can further evolve.
The history of botanical exploration in Nepal started in 1802 when Francis Buchanan Hamilton, a Scottish physician collected plants from Kathmandu valley. He was responsible for the earliest Nepalese plants to be grown at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh when he arranged for seed to be sent back to Edinburgh. RBGE’s records show that the last of these, a Rhododendron arboreum died in the 1960s. Until the 1950s plant collection in Nepal was limited to the Kathmandu valley, only in the last 60 years collection in other areas of the country has started.
Up to today Scotland has strong links to Nepal: RBGE is internationally recognised for its expertise and specialist collections from the Himalaya and one of the most important places for research on Nepalese flora! Currently they are working on the project “Flora of Nepal”, trying to collect and publish the first volume of a Flora of Nepal and capacity building projects in Nepal aimed at strengthening the institutional and human resources so that the Nepalese can fully engage in the production of the Flora.
Now how would you like to see those unique species, the huge diversity with your own eyes? Get into the right mood during the free RBGE event “Flora of Nepal” on 9. March from 1:30-3pm, and then contact us to book your trip to Nepal, a paradise for botanists! But not only that: Nepal also boasts a great diversity of birds and insects, so don’t forget your binoculars and magnifying glasses!