New plant species found in east Himalaya

5 April 2016

Se La, a pass at 4200 m close to the Bhutan border, is the only place where the little gem Rhodiola sedoides is yet known to grow.

The alpine vegetation of Arunachal Pradesh in East Himalaya is still poorly known. For those who manage to get access (and have the energy to climb), the area is an overwhelming botanical experience. A Swedish-Indian team has discovered several new species of flowering plants during recent expeditions. Three of them have already been published in scientific journals, and four are in pipeline.

-    Arunachal Pradesh is a botanist's wet dream, says Magnus Lidén, Department of Systematic Biology, Uppsala University.

Arunachal Pradesh is a difficult to access region between Bhutan, Burma, Tibet and the Assam plain. Special permission is required, as the area is politically sensitive. The roads stop (with a single exception) at 2000 meters altitude, then you have to climb the trackless and steep terrain to get above the tree line at 4,000 meters. Magnus and Pankaj Bharali (Rajiv Gandhi University, Doimukh) are among the few botanists who have set foot on its flowering alpine meadows. During their expedition last summer they took the opportunity to also visit Se La, close to the Bhutan border, the only place in Arunachal where you can reach above 4000 m by car.

-    Of the seven new species we have found so far, three belong to my own field of research (Corydalis and Silene), while four (of the genera Rhodiola, Swertia, Stellaria and Impatiens) have been confirmed by taxonomic specialists, says Magnus.

It is not that uncommon for new species of plants and animals to be discovered in the poorly investigated heights of the Eastern Himalayas. Recently a new trush was found in the same area by the Uppsala ornithologist Per Alström.

Magnus and Pankaj are planning a new expedition this autumn, again focusing on the easternmost mountains close to the Burma border. Torrential rains and landslides have, however, crossed their plans before.

The project was funded by the National Geographic Society.