Bhutan is known for its vast biodiversity rich in plant and animal species. The country is widely known for being carbon neutral while conservation has become challenge in many parts of the world. Often described as the last “Shangri-La” by most of the people, the country is unique in its conservation paradigm. Beside culture and tradition, environment is in the heart of policy maker and implementer. Jungles and forest, plants and animals, environment including essential elements like, soil, water and air are being well protected by the state through protected areas, territorial divisions and environment commission. Today, Bhutan has Five National Parks, Four Wildlife Sanctuary, one Strict Nature Reserve, 14 territorial divisions and environmental offices in every dzongkhag for protecting the environment. The serene, lush green beauty of environment providing fresh air to breath and clean water to drink is being backstopped with more than 5600vascular plants with 144 endemic plants (Facts and Figure, 2017). Though it may be the wish of many florists and tourist to see every beauty of plants in Bhutan yet it is enough if you know the seven important protected plant species in Bhutan.
- Meconopsis gakyidiana: Blue poppy
Inspired by the concept of Gross National Happiness, Meconopsis gakyidiana gets its new name after 84 years of naming as Meconopsis grandis. The flower is one of the 25 Meconopsis species found in Bhutan. It is only found in Merak and Sakteng, one of the coldest places in Bhutan. The flower is known as national flower of Bhutan since 1990s because it is not only unique but also a rare flower. The plant is given high importance by the state listing as a schedule I plant species of Bhutan. For international tourist visiting northern part of Bhutan especially Merak and Sakteng must take a chance to see the beauty of national flower of Bhutan.
2. Ophio cordyceps sinensis: Chinese caterpillar: Yar-tsa-Goen-bup
Regarded as medicinal mushroom throughout the history, Ophiocordyceps sinensis is an Ascomycetes medical fungus with a long and illustrious history (Winkler, 2008). In the west, it is known as Himalayn Viagra while Bhutanese call it as Yar-tsa Goen-bup. The history of Cordyceps dates back to 620 AD, it is alluded as magical creature whose existence is subjected to miraculous transformation from animal to plant in summer and then plant to animal in winter (Holliday and Cleaver, 2004). Before 2004, harvesting of Cordyceps was allowed only in Lunana (Tshitila, 2009). After a Royal Decree issued on 17th June, 2004, it has been harvested in the alpine region of the country becoming resource for Bhutanese traditional medicine for many years (Cannon, et.al, 2009). For Bhutanese living in alpine region, it is one of the money fetching resources. The plant is one of the totally protected plant list in Bhutan whereby it has been placed in schedule I of Bhutan’s Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations. Illegal taking of plant lead to fine of Nu 200 per piece and compensation at fair market value. For international tourist, it will be a happiness to taste the product as it is used to treat: respiratory infections like chronic bronchitis, coughs, cold and the flu, reproductive problems and the sexual dysfunction, kidney disorders, asthma, hepatitis, liver disorders and etc (Druksell).
3. Aquilaria agallocha: Eagle Wood/ Indian Aloe Wood
Being it one of the most expensive woods in the world, I think many of the people especially those towards central and south have much knowledge of the wood. Agarwood is known for its aroma and fragrance. It is extensively used in medicines, incense and oil production. Agar is known as a dark aromatic resin produced by Acquilaria trees when it is being infected by the mould (fungus) Phialophora parasitica. Though the tree can mature in 15 to 20 years but the production of valued fragrance is reported to take place at least 20 years. Unfortunately, the production of agar in huge quantity is a concern as it is becoming less available in forest due to forest degradation and fragmentation. It is critically endangered as per the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss. Bhutan took her role in protecting the tree from early 1980s with plantation in state and private land. Moreover, Forest and Nature Conservation rules and Acts has given priority by listing it in Schedule I as totally protected plant species beside its category as special class tree. Illegal taking of plant lead to fine of Nu 1000 per kilogram with compensation at fair market value. As reported by Kuensel in 2015, Bhutan has 23,098 number of agar-wood in 2010 of which 2443 are found in private lands.
4. Lloydia yunnanensis: Snow down Lily
It is another protected plants of Bhutan which is been given special importance by Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 and Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations, 2017. Illegal taking of plant lead to fine of Nu 5000 per kilogram for wet and Nu 10000 for dry plant with compensation at fair market value.
5. Taxus baccata: Himalayan Yew
Well, in my childhood days I used to see my parents opting for the wood “Kee Rang Shing” in making water containers. The tree which now I know is not other than Taxus baccata. Taxus baccata commonly known as Himalyan Yew is usually found scattered in Bhutan extending from Haa district in the west to Mongar in the east. Though it is a least concern in IUCN status yet it is being protected well in Bhutan categorizing as special class trees. The allotment of trees in standing basis has been banned in the country since 2004. Illegal taking of plant lead to fine of Nu 100 per cubic foot for log and 1000 per kilogram for leaf and bark.The tree is reported of having high demand from pharmaceutical companies and diseases threatening in other part of world. Interestingly, some clippings of Taxus baccata are being preserved in Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to maintain its DNA. Bhutan strives to conserve those species in nature restricting its allotment without special permit.
6.Panax pseudoginseng :Ginseng
It is another important and totally protected schedule I plant species of Bhutan. Commonly known as “cure all” plant, it has been used in medicine to relieve pain, swelling cholesterol, blood pressure and improve blood flow (RxList). Panax pseudoginseng is the king of traditional herbal medicine that helps to improve the overall health and restore body balance (Yim Tong et.al). The plant is popularly known as the elixir of life used to increase longevity, mental agility and check hypertension (Nayar &Sastry, 1990). Being it one important plant in medicine and its rareness in wild, the plant is listed as schedule I in Bhutan’s Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations, 2017. Moreover, illegal taking of the plant from wild amount to fine of Nu 5000/ kg for wet and Nu 10000/kg for dry with compensation at fair market value. Therefore, Panax pseudoginseng is given importance by the state.
7.Gentiana crassuloides: Pang-gen-Metog
It is another protected plant list in Bhutan. The Nature Conservation Acts, 1995 and Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations, 2017 has given special importance by listing it in schedule I. As per Forest Rules and Regulation 2017, illegal taking of plant from forest leads to fine of Nu 5000 per kilogram for wet and Nu 10000 for dry plants with compensation at fair market value. Gentiana plants are considered a large genus with more than 400 species. They have large and trumpet-shaped flowers. It falls under family Gentianaceae.