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Vol. 12(7), pp. 12-16The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJuly 2011

Peer-Reviewed Article
Effective Publication Date : 1-Jul-2011

Notes on Three Ethnobotanically Important Orchids From The Kullu and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh, NW Himalaya, India.

Jagdeep Verma1, Kranti Thakur2, V. K. Santwan3, and S. P. Vij4

1Department of Botany, Shoolini Institute of Life Sciences and Business Management, Solan - 173 212 (Himachal Pradesh)
2Department of Botany, Singhania University, Pacheri Bari - 333 515 (Rajsthan)
3Institute of Integrated Himalayan Studies, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla - 171 005 (Himachal Pradesh)
4Department of Botany, Panjab University, Chandigarh - 160 014
1Corresponding author's Email: verma.jd@gmail.com
(Note: unless otherwise noted, all figures are credited to first author)


The present communication deals with ethnobotanical importance of three orchids namely Aerides multiflora Roxb., Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo, and Gastrodia falconeri D. L. Jones & M. A. Clem. These species vary both in their habits as well as habitats, and brief taxonomic descriptions are provided for each of these to facilitate their identification. Notes are also provided on distribution, phenology, and threats to their natural populations in Kullu and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh, NW Himalaya.


Orchids, ethnobotanical importance, Himachal Pradesh, Himalaya.


Orchids constitute a botanically interesting assemblage of flowering plants (family Orchidaceae), and are well known for their floral complexities and dependence upon a suitable mycorrhizal association for germination in nature. Terrestrial habit is basic in this group but epiphytic mode of existence has been extensively utilized during species diversification; more than 70% of the 25000 orchid species currently known to science live in tree canopies (Gravendeel et al., 2004). Himachal Pradesh, an Indian state located in Northwestern (NW) part of Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), is rich in biodiversity because of varied climatic regimes ranging from subtropical to temperate to alpine prevailing here. More than seventy six orchid species representing different habits (terrestrial, epiphytic, lithophytic) occur in the state (Verma et al., 2009), and many of these are of ornamental and medicinal importance (Chauhan, 1990). This paper deals with three ethnobotanically important orchid species of Kullu (31°20' - 32°25' N latitude, 76°56' - 77°52' E longitude) and Mandi (31°13' - 32°04' N latitude, 76°37' - 77°23' E longitude) districts of the state (Balokhra, 2002). Interestingly, all these three orchids exhibit different life modes and occupy varied climatic zones; Aerides multiflora is an epiphytic in subtropical valleys, Dactylorhiza hatagirea is a terrestrial in alpine regions and Gastrodia falconeri is a leafless terrestrial (achlorophyllous) in temperate areas.

Fig. 1. Map of the Mandi and Kulu Districts of Himanchal Pradesh, NW Himalaya, India

The map (Fig. 1) shows localities supporting presently studied orchid species at Kullu and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh: A, Jogindernagar; B, Kandhapatan; C, Dharampur; D, Sarkaghat; E, Tihra; F, Sundernagar; G, Bandli Tibba; H, Pulga; I, Kothi; J, Rahla; K, Mahri; and L, Aut.


Ethnobotanical studies constituted a part of extensive taxonomical explorations conducted across the state of Himachal Pradesh during 2002-2010. Present results are based on direct interviewing of local inhabitants in the study area as well as that of people belonging to wandering shepherd tribes (gaddis and gujjers). Information regarding ethnobotanical importance, distribution, phenology and possible threats to populations / habitats was recorded on the field book and taxonomical identity of species confirmed using standard floras (Duthie, 1906; Deva and Naithani, 1986).

Results and Discussion

Three ethnobotanically important orchids namely Aerides multiflora Roxb., Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo, and Gastrodia falconeri D. L. Jones & M. A. Clem. are included under the scope of present report. In what follows, notes are provided on their ethnobotanical importance, morphology, distribution in the study area, phenology and possible threats to their natural populations.

1. Aerides multiflora Roxb., Coromandel 3: 68 (1820).

Fig. 2. Aerides multiflora Roxb. (epiphytic in subtropical valleys).

Epiphytic. Stem 5-7 cm long. Roots densely clustered. Leaves many, leathery-fleshy, carinate or conduplicate, often tinged with red, slightly tapering to the obliquely bifid apex. Inflorescence raceme, axillary, longer than the leaves. Flowers pinkish white, flushed with pink or purple, 1.5-2 cm across, inodorous. Sepals subequal, blunt. Petals slightly longer but narrower than sepals, oblong, blunt, with purple blotches. Lip longer than the sepals, adnate to the base of column, indistinctly 3-lobed, pointing forwards, margins denticulate. Column subcylindric, with indistinctly short foot. Pollinia 2, globular, yellowish. Fruit capsule, subclavate. (Fig. 2).

Fig. 3. Aerides multiflora Roxb. Photo: R. J. Ferry, plant of Dr. J. de Tomasi, L.I., New York. Digital copy of 35mm transparency #260676-1 (26 June, 1976).

Local Name: Bhangru

Distribution in study area: Kullu (Aut), Mandi (Dharampur, Jogindernagar, Kandhapatan, Sarkaghat, Sundernagar, Tihra), 700-1400 m.

Flowering: April-May.

Fruiting: June-August.

Ethnobotanical Importance: Leaves of this species are collected and shade dried. These are then ground to obtain fine powder. This powder is deep fried and mixed with sugar and water to obtain a sweet paste. The resultant preparation is consumed as general tonic and thought to behave as blood purifier.

Threats to Natural Populations: Loss of habitat both in case of host trees (clearance of forests for agriculture, developmental activities) as well as orchid species (use of host trees for fodder and edible flowers/ fruits, fuel wood, timber) is the key factor responsible for decline in natural populations of this epiphytic orchid.

2. Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo

Fig. 4. Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo. (a terrestrial orchid in alpine regions).

Terrestrial. Stem slender to robust, fistular, 25-45 cm, base sheathed. Tubers cream coloured, 3-5 lobed with long tips, some lobes dividing further. Roots clustered above tuber near stem base. Leaves 3-6, membranous. Inflorescence raceme, cylinderic, usually dense. Flowers purple or rose coloured, 8-10 mm across. Sepals subequal. Petals slightly shorter than sepals. Lip broader than long, almost flat, oval, usually spotted with dark purple, slightly 3-lobed. Column short. Pollinia 2. Fruit capsule, fusiform, erect, ribbed. (Fig. 4).

Local Name: Hathpanja, panja

Distribution in study area: Kullu (Marhi, Pulga, Rhala), 3000-4000 m.

Flowering: July-August.

Fruiting: August-September.

Ethnobotanical Importance: Palmate tubers of the species are important constituent of salep, a nutritious tonic useful in seminal debility, dysentery and chronic fevers. The tubers (fresh / dried) are also boiled in milk and consumed directly after adding desired quantity of sugar to it. This drink is said to act as aphrodisiac if consumed regularly.

Threats to Natural Populations: Unregulated commercial collections from the wild and loss of habitats are main threats.

3. Gastrodia falconeri D. L. Jones & M. A. Clem.

Fig. 5. Gastrodia falconeri. (an aclorophyllous terrestrial orchid of temperate regions).

Terrestrial leafless achlorophyllous herbs. Stem erect, stout, brownish, shining, 20-75 (-85) cm long. Root a large scaly tuber, oblong or ellipsoid, often annulated, 6-8 × 5-6 cm. Leaves absent. Inflorescence raceme, lax with many flowers. Flowers light red-brown tinged with yellow, sub-erect, perianth ca 13 mm long, 5-6 mm wide, ventricose, tubular. Sepals all equal, obtuse. Petals little shorter than the sepals, sub-orbicular. Lip longer than the sepals, adnate to the tube of perianth with a short sessile, ovate, obtuse blade, margins undulate, apex reflexed. Column thin and long, with winged sides. Pollinia 2, obovate, granulate. Fruit capsule, erect, ribbed. (Fig. 5).

Local Name: Ban Aaloo

Distribution in the study area: Kullu (Kothi), Mandi (below Bandli tibba), 2000-2700 m.

Flowering: July-August.

Fruiting: August-September.

Ethnobotanical Importance: The fresh tubers are roasted, peeled off and used as a vegetable. They are said to be sweeter in taste.

Threats to Natural Populations: Grazing and fodder collection practices affect normal seed set of the species.


Ethnobotanical importance of three orchids exhibiting varied habits and occupying diverse climatic zones is provided. Dactylorhiza hatagirea is one of the most important orchids having immense economic importance. Orchids are not allowed to be exported as per CITES regulations, but tubers for preparation of Salep (a nutritious drink) are still smuggled; the annual demand of the species Dactylorhiza hatagirea is nearly 19, 250 tons in some localities of NW Himalaya (Kala, 2004). Natural populations of all these species is, however on continuous decline and this calls for immediate and effective conservation measures.


Financial support to SPV from Ministry of Environment and Forests (Govt. of India) under AICOPTAX scheme is thankfully acknowledged.


Balokhra, J. M. 2002. The Wonderland Himachal Pradesh. H.G. Publications, New Delhi.

Chauhan, N. S. 1990. Medicinal orchids of Himachal Pradesh. J. Orchid Soc. India 4 (1, 2): 99-105.

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

Duthie J. F. 1906. The Orchids of North-Western Himalaya. Ann. Roy. Bot. Gard. Calcutta, 9 (2): 81-211.

Gravendeel, B., A. Smithson, F. J. Silk and A. Schuiteman. 2004. Epiphytism and pollinator specialization: Drivers for orchid diversity? Philos. Trans. Biol. Sci. R. Soc. Lond., 359 (1450): 1523-1535.

Kala, C. P. 2004. Assessment of species rarity. Curr. Sci., 86 (8), 1058-1059.

Verma, J., J. K. Sembi, K. Thakur, P. Pathak and S. P. Vij. 2009. Epiphytic orchids of Himachal Pradesh. J. Orchid Soc. India, 23 (1): 49-61.

Copyright © 2011 Jagdeep Verma, Kranti Thakur, V. K. Santwan, and S. P. Vij