A Botanist in Nepal Posts a Prickly Blue Poppy - Observation of the Week, 2/22/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Prickly Blue Poppy (Meconopsis horridula), seen in Nepal by @suresh_ghimire.

Professor Suresh Ghimire tells me he was born in the Tarai region of Nepal, and

The western Tarai region of Nepal at that time was densely forested, impenetrable and teeming with flora and fauna; but in the1970s, the then His Majesty’s Government of Nepal implemented a resettlement program for people coming from mountains. My father was one of the employees of the program in western Tarai, where we witnessed the pristine forests, the diversity of flora and fauna, and the ways how forests were later cleared for human settlement. I was also greatly inspired by my father who was very passionate about nature, particularly interested in birds and mammals. He was also a great storyteller who wrote poems portraying love and affections about nature.

Studying biology while at university, Suresh “studied plant population ecology and ethnoecology, with a dissertation on harvesting practices and conservation ecology of Himalayan medicinal plants” for his PhD and is currently a professor at the Central Department of Botany at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. He continues to collaborate with traditional Tibetan doctors, known as amchi, and recently published a book “documenting 570 species of medicinal plants used in Tibetan medicine (or Sowa Rigpa) practiced in Nepal.”

So fittingly, the plant documented in this week’s observation is used in traditional medicine, and was seen by Suresh way back in 1999. Working as a botanist for the People and Plants Initiative in collaboration with WWF Nepal and local communities, he studied medicinal plants and traditional ecological knowledge. “Out of about 300 medicinal plant species that we documented, Meconopsis horridula (locally known as ajak tserngön) was one of the most important,” he says, “highly preferred by the amchi for treating bone disorders, fractures, and also in lung and bile disorders.” 

This species is restricted to relatively high elevation in the area, mostly over 4300 m. We had to cross high passes in order to find its better population for ecological study. I discussed with amchi Tengyal Zangpo [above, with Suresh] and village head Chupur Baiji about the possibility of their participation in the field trip. In late June 1999, with their consent, we decided to cross one of the challenging mountain passes of this area, known as ‘Kagmara La’ (5115 m). This pass lies in a traditional trade route. After three days camping in and around the pass, we came across a very intact population in a steep rocky and scree slope, just within 200 m distance from the pass. We were so happy to find a good population of Meconopsis horridula for sampling. There were also other fascinating alpine species, with high medicinal value, including Saussurea gossipiphora and Nardostachys jatamansi. However, I had already exhausted my film and battery so I could take only a few pictures of these plants. Unfortunately, after a few years, Mr. Chupur Baiji who participated in our 1999 field trip slipped over on the ice near the slope where we took this photograph and died while crossing the pass. I'd like to pay tribute to him for his great help and support.

Prickly blue poppies range from Nepal into China and Myanmar, and according to Suresh they’re “particularly common to the north of the main Himalayan range and in rain-shadow areas. There has been concern in a few places in the northern districts of Nepal where it is occasionally harvested for trade across the northern border to feed the growing Tibetan medicinal industries. However, there is a lack of study to quantify this trade and about the status of its populations across the country.”

A member of iNat since 2019, Suresh (above) tells me

I found iNaturalist to be the best platform for sharing my observations to the world and learning those of others. It makes it easy to network with experts in different fields and may provide opportunities for future collaboration. I am particularly fascinated with plant observations from the Himalayan region shared in this platform, which give me the opportunity to learn about species that I had never seen before. I am also glad to help identify those I am very familiar with. In the course of my field studies, in the central and eastern Himalayas, I have accumulated thousands of plant photographs, many of which are not yet identified. I use iNaturalist not only to share those observations but also use it for future identification.

(Some quotes lightly edited for clarity. Photo of Suresh and Tengyal Zangpo by Chupur Baiji. Photo of Suresh by Bandana Awasthi. )

- You can read Suresh’s entire book about ethnobotany in Nepal for free on Resarch Gate, and also see his other research there as well.

- Check out other beautiful specimens of the genus Meconopsis on iNat!

Publicado el 23 de febrero de 2022 por tiwane tiwane


It was fascinating to see another species of Meconopsis, a genus admired by perennial gardeners for the extraordinary blue of the flowers.
Many thanks and best wishes to Suresh for the important work he is doing.

Publicado por rdebenham hace más de 2 años

Fascinating -- thank you Suresh!

Publicado por susanhewitt hace más de 2 años

It would be interesting to see what pollinators that this plant entices.

Publicado por papili01 hace más de 2 años

One would think that practitioners of traditional medicine would limit their harvests of these rare, and hard to get to alpine plants to ensure future needs. It is distressing to read about Tibetans over-harvesting in Nepal. Thanks for sharing this saga and this beautiful blue poppy from one of the harshest regions on earth.

Publicado por maryah hace más de 2 años

Congratulations @suresh_ghimire . This is thrilling, Firstly very well deserved. Secondly this is among my favourite flowers (rather Blue Meconopsis are).

Looking forward to more from you and also many thanks for all the plant id's.

Publicado por ram_k hace más de 2 años

What an amazing plant, and story!

Publicado por weecorbie hace más de 2 años

Thank you, everyone!

Publicado por suresh_ghimire hace más de 2 años

Wow, what a privilege it would be to explore there. Maybe one day! Great article. William

Publicado por williamwisephoto hace más de 2 años

Wonderful discovery!

Publicado por mothmaniac hace más de 2 años

Fantstic find, well narrated ...

Publicado por kishorenath hace más de 2 años

Such a great story of botanical exploration and scientific contributions in Nepal. Thank you for sharing your knowledge @suresh_ghimire

Publicado por elizabeth_byers hace más de 2 años

Thank you, Suresh! What a beautiful and interesting plant! I imagine it has evolved these prominent spines to protect itself against mountainous herbivores? I'm sure that's helping the plants survival. Let's hope that the poppy's populations begin to bounce back and that humans don't completely extirpate this plant.

Publicado por zitserm hace más de 2 años

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