Himachal: Rhododendron blooms early again, shifting baseline raises concern
For the second consecutive year, Himachal’s state tree Rhododendron which is locally called Buransh, has bloomed early than usual time; the change in the flowering pattern of trees has elicited concern from scientists over the sensitivity and response of plants to change in temperature and precipitation patterns in the warming mountains.
For the second consecutive year, Himachal’s state tree Rhododendron which is locally called Buransh, has bloomed early than usual time. The change in the flowering pattern of trees has elicited concerns from scientists over the sensitivity and response of plants to change in temperature and precipitation patterns in the warming mountains.
Concerned over changing flowering patterns and shifting baseline of trees, the Himachal Pradesh forest department will now undertake scientific studies along with the Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI) to study the effect of climate change on all the species of Rhododendron. The sudden spurt of warmth is a concern and the changing flowering pattern can threaten the existence of these beautiful trees, scientists observe.
Four species of Rhododendron found in Himachal
There are four species of Rhododendron found in Himachal Pradesh including arboretum (tree form), R campanulatum (tall shrubby form), R anthopogon (small shrubby form) and R lepidotum (small shrubby form). R arboreum, which bears red-coloured flowers, has a broad range of altitudinal distribution and can be observed from 1,000 metres up to 3,200 metres across the sub temperate and temperate regions of the state. The other three species are usually limited in their altitudinal range of 2,800 to 4,000 metres and are confined to the high altitude transitional zones and higher alpine moorlands.
“The changing phenomenon in the flowering pattern of the rhododendron requires deeper study. This can threaten the existence of these beautiful trees” says forest minister Rakesh Pathania. “This year too, the flower trees have bloomed earlier than its usual time in April,” he said.
Besides the changing flowering pattern, scientists are concerned about the shifting of the baseline of the rhododendron. “Rhododendron is getting rare and shifting its altitude due to variation in rainfall pattern and rise in temperature. This is the time to conserve and save this rare, beautiful flower,” says Suresh Attri, principal scientific officer in the state government’s department of science, technology and environment.
Rhododendrons and climate change
Experts working on climate change in the region have shared the concern. “The pink variety is not visible in the lower altitudes anymore and the red can be found in Kullu through the Prasher valley route in Mandi. Due to rise in mercury, species and ecosystems are likely to shift from lower to higher altitudes and latitudes. However, the upward movement of alpine species near the mountain peaks is likely to be restricted by the lack of space and soil. Some of the important alpine species of Himalayas that may face immediate extinction include the brown oak and a number of Rhododendron species. We are seeking co-operation from the Himalayan Forest Research Institute in Shimla to study the changing blooming pattern of rhododendron, “ says Ajay Srivastava, principal chief conservator of forest.
Warmer winter, sunny spring leads to early blooming
Rhododendron arboreum needs a temperature of 15-20°C to bloom. It is the average temperature in April in the middle and higher reaches of the Himalayas. Rhododendrons are found in the forest areas in Taradevi surrounding Shimla and in Jakhu hills in Shimla and also along with the forest patches in Summer hill and Annandale. Generally, the rhododendron peaks flower after Holi.