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Orchids distribution and their present status in Nepal

Ritika Prasai
Ritika Prasai

800px-Orchid_Phalaenopsis_hybridWild orchids in Nepal are popularly known by the vernacular name Sungava or Sunakhari, which refers to their shiny yellow pseudo bulbs. A total of 494 species of orchids (456 species, 30 varieties, 6 subspecies and 2 forma: these species fall under 104 genus ) have been reported from Nepal, including 12 endemic species (Vaidya et al 2000, Shrestha 2000, Rajbhandari and Bhattarai 2001 Acharya 2009). Orchids are well known not only for their ornamental value but also for their herbal medicinal value. It is believed that Chinese were the first to cultivate, describe and use orchids as early as 200 BC. The dried seed pods of orchids of one orchid genus Vanilla are commercially important as flavoring in baking, for perfume manufacture, and aromatehrapy whereas the underground tubers of some genus of orchids can be also used as food. Out of the 494 species of orchids found in Nepal, 90 species are used for the medicinal value. These species have now been enlisted in Appendix-II in Convention of International Trade in Endangered species of Wild Flora and Fauna where international trade of these species is strictly controlled and monitored.

Panchase Protected Forest Area is the only place in Nepal that shelters questionably viable population of these species. About 113 species of orchids have been reported there including the two endemic species (Panisea panchasenensis and Eria pokharensia) and 35 species with high commercial value. Historically these species were a popular species with the local people both for community plantations and private planting, especially in the east and in the region around Pokhara. However, survival in plantations has not been good due to rare physiographic and geographic conditions (Vaidya et al 2000, Rajbhandari 2001, Mileville and Shrestha 2004, Acharya 2009).Due to inaccessibility of modern health care facilities, about 80% of the population of the country still depends on a wide range of locally available medicinal plants for their basic primary healthcare ( Vaidya et al 2000, IUCN 2004, Acharya 2011) . By 2004, over 590 studies related to ethno botany in Nepal had been published and most of these studies lack detailed knowledge on local therapeutic uses of Nepalese orchids or describe very few cases only. In contrast to many other plant families, a comprehensive and detailed study of medicinal orchids in Nepal is still lacking. At present, it is difficult to come up with alternative, more sustainable methods to exploit wild Nepalese orchids.

Orchid species cultivation and their  commercial trade without overexploiting them can be a good source to uplift the economic condition of people but high utilization among the consumer group, illegal export (poaching) etc is decreasing the total population of these rare species of plant in the country at an alarming rate.There is wide gap between the demand and supply of the medicinal orchids in the country which explores a good source of job opportunity for the people living around the region where these species grow and bloom well. Except in marine environments and in the habitats with extreme cold throughout the year, the varieties of these speceis have been recorded in most parts of Nepal from 100 to 4800m (Rajbhandari and Bhattarai 2001 Acharya 2009) with Panchase being the kingdom of these species.

Intensive care, habitat management can definitely result in increasing their  number in the country making it even more rich in biodiversity. In Nepal, these species have been used as a blood purifier, tonic, healing of deep cut and wounds, curing diarrhoea and malaria,  plant paste is applied in dislocated bones, etc.(KP Acharya 2009). Though our country doesn’t possess the facility of manufacturing the some  other medicines from these orchid species, controlled  international trade of these species is in our hand which can strengthen the country’s economy along with upliftment of livelihood of people. Ornamental value of these species can be also utilized commercially for the economic benefit.

Due to lack of detailed ecological study of these species, their potential role in economic purpose has not been fully investigated yet. Therefore, there is a need for detailed ecological study on distribution and abundance of the medicinal species in potential orchids habitat in Nepal. Thus, detail habitat ecology is essential to address specific habitat requirement of orchid species in Nepal. An intense exploration of these different orchid species in relation to their habitat, distribution and use is necessary. By investigating physical (temperature, soil quality, rainfall) and biological( flora habitat), and physiographic ( altitude, latitude) parameters of the forest ecology on the basis of their distribution and habitat use, status of habitat components of different orchid species should be identified and possible influence of climate change(rainfall and temperature) should  also be documented and hence conditions needed to conserve and maintain high biological diversity and distribution in the forest areas where these species survive well should also be enhanced.

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