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Vol. 10(2), pp. 12-16The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalFebruary 2009

Peer-Reviewed Article
Effective Publication Date : 1-Feb-2009

Conservation of a Rare Lady's Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium cordigerum D. Don) in Uttarakhand, Western Himalaya

Jeewan Singh Jalal* , Pankaj Kumar, and G. S. Rawat

Wildlife Institute of India
Post Box- 18, Chandrabani, Dehradun-248001, India
*email: jeewansinghjalal@rediffmail.com

(All photos and tables are credited to Dr. Jalal.)

Cypripedium is a beautiful word that was first referred by Linnaeus in 1737. The name Cypripedium was born out of the land of Cyprus where the Goddess of love from Greek mythological Aphrodite was born. The other word he used was pedilum which means shoe or slipper. The credit goes to Conrad Gesner for being the first to describe the slipper orchid (Cribb, 1997). The genus Cypripedium consists of some 50 species found in the northern temperate region of Asia, Europe and North America, reaching as far south as Honduras, Guatemala and part of tropical Himalayas.

Fig. 1. Hilltops in Nagtibba (3,000 meters).

Cypripedium is differentiated from other genera in the Orchidaceae by the two fertile anthers and a slipper shaped lip or labellum. Six species of Cypripedium are distributed across the Indian Himalayas (Fig. 1). They are mainly distributed in Uttarakhand (Kumaun and Garhwal), Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. Three species of Cypripedium, viz. Cypripedium cordigerum, Cypripedium himalacium and Cypripedium elegans, are found in the state of Uttarakhand (Jalal, 2005). They grow in a wide range of habitats from coniferous and mixed deciduous woodlands to alpine meadows. The beautiful Cypripedium cordigerum grows at an altitude of 2200 to 3200m in the Himalayas of Uttarakhand. This species once reported to be abundant in the North-western Himalayas, has now become rare and close to extinction due the ever shrinking natural habitats. In Uttarakhand, there are very few localities where this species is known . Nagtibba in the outer Himalayan range of Uttarakhand state of India, is one of the potential sites for the beautiful lady's slipper orchid (Jalal, 2007).

Fig. 2. A cluster of Cypripedium cordigerum.

Cypripedium cordigerum is a terrestrial herb. It generally grows in small colonies and is rarely found individually (Fig. 2). The rhizome is short and robust, growing in the uppermost soil layer. The rhizome grows annually with a growth bud at one end and dies off at the other end. The height of the plant is variable ranging from 25 to 65 cm, with glandular-hairy stem, especially on upper part, with several sheaths at base, sheaths with 2-5 leaves above. The leaves are often elliptic or broadly elliptic, and margin sparsely ciliate. It bears a terminal flower, rarely two. Floral bract is leaf like, elliptic with acuminate apex. The ovary is densely glandular or hairy. The flower is 7-10 cm in diameter, usually with pale green to pale yellowish green sepals and petals and white labellum. The staminodes are often yellow and red spotted. The lip is generally oblong, white and slipper shaped (Deva and H.B.Naithani, 1986).

Fig. 3. Location map of Nagtibba.

As per our preparation, we have visited Nagtibba (Fig. 3) in the month of June, 2007, which is the best flowering time of Cypripedium cordigerum. Nagtibba is located to the east of Mussoorie and falls in the Tehri district of Uttarakhand state (Lat. 30° 35' 15.27'' N and 78° 78' 21.26'' E Long.). Nagtibba is almost 12 km beyond the road head. The hilltops are at an altitude of 3048 m and offer an excellent view of the mountain peaks in all directions.

The temperate climate of Nagtibba generally supports the vegetation of Oak and Rhododendron forests. The area is surrounded by dominant oak species, Quercus floribunda locally known as Moru and few scattered trees of Rhododendron arboreum which is locally called Burash. We selected two local boys from the nearby village of Nagtibba as team members and a base camp was setup at the altitude 2000m. The approximate area of the hill top was 6 sq km. The entire hill top was intensively searched. We used forest trail and hill ridges. In each trail, Cypripedium cordigerum was counted and habitat parameters, viz, slope, aspect, litter depth, canopy, associate species, altitude and soil moisture were recorded. Adequate soil samples (n=17) were brought to the laboratory to analyze the other parameters viz, pH, N, P, K, organic carbon and soil texture.

During our survey, we reported 468 individuals. The maximum species were found in the northern aspect often under the shade of Viburnum cotinifolium. Main associate species were Viburnum cotinifolium (Shrub), Viburnum foetens (Shrub), Podophyllum hexandrum (Medicinal herb), Fragaria daltoniana (Herb), Anemone rivularis (Herb), Galium asperuloides (Herb), Rosa macrophylla (Shrub), Quercus floribunda (Evergreen tree), Quercus semecarpifolia (Evergreen tree), Aruncus dioecus (Herb), Seneio altus (Herb), Pimpinella denticulate (Herb), Ranuncolous hirtellus (Herb) and Lyonia ovalifolia (Tree). Based on our soil parameters and other variables the ideal condition for Cypripedium cordigerum in Nagtibba is given on table 1.

Table 1. Microhabitat condition of Cypripedium cordigerum.

S. No.VariablesAverageRange
1Litter Depth (cm)2.61-5
2Canopy (%)26.15-65
3Altitude (m)2794.42600-3000
4Soil Moisture (%)25.522-31
5Sand (%)48.146.8-65.5
6Silt (%)17.614-20.9
7Clay (%)7.94.1-16
8N (Mg/kg)0.500.307-1.053
9P (mg/kg)542.9408-773
10K (mg/kg)3539.82971-3808
11OC (%)3.42.3-3.7
12pH6.25.6-7.1

During the field work, three additional parameters were also recorded, viz, lopping of trees, grazing pressure and number of cattle grazing. Like other orchid species, Cypripedium cordigerum is sensitive to the environment that requires a specific niche in the environment and is typically associated with a specific set of habitat conditions, such as associating mycorrhizal fungi, nutrient availability and sunlight. Destruction of the protective canopy of the oak forests has adversely affected the physicochemical variables of the soil and microclimatic conditions. If changes take place in the habitat, a certain given population may perish.

Fig. 4. A Gujjar Family.

In our study, it was observed that the major threats to the species population in its natural habitats have been largely due to anthropogenic pressures. The Gujjar community is the main factor responsible for the destruction of these natural habitats of this rare orchid in Nagtibba. Gujjars are a forest dwelling semi-nomadic, pastoralist indigenous community, residing in the forests in the foothills of the Himalayas (Fig. 4). They migrate from the lowland plains in the winter to the upper reaches of the Himalayas during the summer.

The Gujjars practice a forest-based form of animal husbandry and produce good quality milk and dairy products, which are sold in the towns around the forest. They own a large herd of cattle and they use this forest land in Nagtibba for grazing them. These cattle were often found to be feasting upon young flowering buds and sometimes the whole plants. More than a hundred plants of this species were found to be growing near a Gujjar's hut. This shows that these Gujjars are extensively using this land rich in Cypripedium cordigerum, which has resulted in the depletion of the population of this orchid at Nagtibba. Besides this, the local shepherds also stay on the hill top and contribute to the destruction of habitat. Cutting wood, lopping the oaks for cattle, and goats are the major threats to this plant.

Fig. 5. A local villager having a close view of C. cordigerum.

For conservation awareness a meeting was conducted with all the local shepherds and the Gujjars (Fig. 5). Simple talks were delivered and a field tour was conducted in and around the Nagtibba area. During this exercise, we trained two local youths about the importance of this species. With the help of both of them we convinced other local villagers. We located number of patches of Cypripedium cordigerum and showed them to the Gujjars, so that they would be able to identify them independently and protect it in the future.

Being lower on the population graph of Cypripedium cordigerum in the state, this beautiful lady's slipper orchid has been officially classified as rare in the Red Data Book of Indian Plants (Nayar and Sastry, 1987) and only very few areas in the state are left where this plant is found. Thus there is an urgent need for the conservation of this rare orchid in its natural habitat. In this regard, the government should take immediate action to shift the Gujjars to other areas, and a population monitoring program should be undertaken by the state forest department and other organizations.

Acknowledgments

We are thankful to the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India for providing us with facilities and encouragement. Many thanks are due Mr. Gajendra Rawat and Dr. Sumit Dokiya for their help during the field work. However, the maximum gratitude has been reserved for the San Diego County Orchid Society (SDCOS)-USA without whose support and financial help this work might have never reached this stage.

References

Cribb, P. 1997. The Genus Cypripedium. Timber Press, Inc. Portland, Oregon.

Deva, S. and H. B. Naithani. 1986. The Orchid Flora of North-West Himalaya. New Delhi.

Nayar, M. P. and A. R. K. Sastry. 1987-1990. Red Data Book of Indian Plants. Vol. I, II, & III. Calcutta.

Jalal, J. S. 2005. Systematics, Phytogeography and Habitat Ecology of Orchids in Uttaranchal. Ph.D. Thesis, Kumaun University, Nainital.

_______. 2007. Orchids of Uttaranchal: A Plea for Conservation. MIOS Journ. 8(10): 11-14.

Copyright © 2009 Jeewan Singh Jalal* , Pankaj Kumar, and G. S. Rawat