[ Home ] [ Articles ]

Vol. 13(4), pp. 2-20The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalApril 2012

Peer-Reviewed Article
Effective Publication Date : 1-Apr-2012

Terrestrial and Semi Saprophytic Orchid Species Diversity of Darjeeling Himalaya of West Bengal, India

Rajendra Yonzone,1* D. Lama,1 R. B. Bhujel,2 Khyanjeet Gogoi,3 and Samuel Rai4

1 Department of Botany, St. Joseph's College, P.O. North Point, District Darjeeling, W. B., India 734104
2 Taxonomy & Ethnobiology Research Laboratory, Cluny Women's College, P.O. Kalimpong, District Darjeeling, W. B., India 734301
3 Disa Bordoloi Nagar, Talap, Tinsukia, Assam, India 786156
4 Darjeeling Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya, P.O. Kalimpong, District Darjeeling, W. B., India 734301
* Corresponding author E-mail: ryonzone99@gmail.com


The present paper reports the occurrence of 94 terrestrial and semi saprophytic orchid species diversity that belongs to 35 genera. Of them, 17 species with 6 genera are semi saprophytic and the rest 77 species with 29 genera are terrestrial. Among them, 15 medicinally important terrestrial species found in the regions. This attempt is the first step to correct taxonomic identification to work out currently accepted botanical names with voucher specimen numbers, habitat, altitudinal range, phenology and locality of terrestrial and semi saprophytic orchid species occurring in Darjeeling Himalaya of India. The extent of over exploitation of orchid species has been to satisfy individuals who have illegally taken the entire orchid wealth of the region. Orchids with commercial value in national and international markets were the first to be exploited.

Key Words

Terrestrial and Semi Saprophytic Orchid species; Diversity; Medicinal uses; Darjeeling Himalaya.


Orchids belong to the highly evolved Family Orchidaceae,the largest and most advanced botanical family of higher plants. They comprise one of the most significant components of rich and diversified floristic wealth of India. Darjeeling Himalaya, due to its congenial climatic conditions and topographical variation, is rich in terrestrial orchid diversity. In India, orchids form 9% of our flora (Bose and Bhattacharya, 1999). It is estimated that at about 25,000-35,000 species with 800-1000 genera are distributed throughout the world. About 1300 species with 140 genera of orchid species are found in India with the temperate Himalayas as their natural home (Yonzone and Kamran, 2008).

Fig. 1. Location of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India.

Fig. 2. Expanded area of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India.

Darjeeling is the northernmost district of West Bengal. The district is subdivided into four Sub-Divisions viz., Darjeeling sadar; Kalimpong, Kurseong, and Siliguri (Fig. 1) (Fig. 2). The region lies between 26° 31' and 27° 31' north latitude and between 87° 59' and 88° 53' east longitude in the eastern Himalayan region of India. It is bordered by Sikkim in the north, Terai and Dooars in the south, Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west.

Fig. 3. A High elevation forest at Sandakphu (Summer Season). (This area is the highest elevation of the Darjeeling District and border areas with Nepal). Digital photo; Photo: R. Yonzone.

The district has two topographical features. Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong form the hill areas whereas Siliguri is stationed at the foothill in a vast stretch of the plains. The shape of the district is triangular. The total area of the triangular shaped district is 3254.7 sq km. which is 3.68 percent of the total areas of West Bengal state. The hilly region covers 2320 sq. km. and the remaining 934.7 sq. km of the area falls in the Terai and plains. The altitudinal variations of the district range from 150m at Siliguri to 3636m at Sandakphu-Phalut (Fig. 3) with a sharp physiographic contrast between the plain and the mountainous regions. The present investigation deals with diversity resources of terrestrial and semi saprophytic orchid species available in Darjeeling Himalaya of West Bengal, India.

Materials and Methods

An intensive field survey was conducted during the years 2007-2011 covering all the seasons of the year in the entire Darjeeling district including the forest areas, floral nurseries, and farms of as low as Siliguri which is located at 150m to as high as Sandakphu-Phalut located at 3636m of entire Darjeeling district of West Bengal. All the terrestrial and saprophytic orchid species found were recorded in the field note book with their necessary information. Authors have done photographs and sketched some orchid species from floral nurseries of the region and visited the Orchid Germplasm Collection and Conservation Centre of National Research Centre for Orchids, ICAR, Pakyong, East Sikkim and Darjeeling.

The orchid specimens were collected without uprooting and disturbing the plants in nature. Normally, 2-3 specimens of each species in flowering or fruiting stage were collected and life form photographs were prepared. The specimens so collected were processed, preserved, and mounted on herbarium sheets using the routine herbarium techniques as recommended by (Jain & Rao, 1977); and described, properly identified, and authenticated with the help of Flora of British India (Hooker, 1872-1897); The Orchids of the Sikkim Himalaya (King & Pantling, 1898); Orchids of the North-Western Himalaya (Duthie, 1906); Classification of the Orchid Family (Dressler, 1974); Indian Orchids Guide to Identification and Culture Vol. I. Pradhan, 1976 and Vol. II, 1979); Orchids of Arunachal Pradesh (Hedge, 1984); Orchids of India (Bose & Bhattacharjee, 1999); Orchid Flora of Arunachal Pradesh (Chowdhery, 1998); The Orchids of Sikkim and North East Himalaya (Lucksom, 2007); The Flora of Bhutan (Pearce & Cribb, 2002) and from the herbarium of Department of Botany, North Bengal University, Siliguri; Central National Herbarium (CAL), Botanical Survey of India, Sibpur, Howrah and Sikkim Circle, BSI, (Gangtok). For ecological status, nested quadrate sampling method as suggested by (Philips, 1959) with plot of 5m x 5m quadrates for terrestrial species was laid down diagonally in the field.

All the identified orchid species have been documented following Bentham and Hooker's system of classification (1862-1883). Finally, all the voucher specimens were deposited in the Herbarium of Department of Botany, St. Joseph's College, North Point, Darjeeling and Taxonomy and Ethnobiology Research Laboratory, Cluny Women's College, Kalimpong. All the plant specimens are arranged alphabetically as per their altitude-wise distribution in the area with botanical names, voucher specimen numbers, habitat, and phenology.

Results and Discussions

During recent field studies in the Darjeeling Himalaya of West Bengal, as much as 35 genera with 94 terrestrial and semi-saprophytic orchid species were recorded. Of these, 17 species with 6 genera are semi-saprophytic and 77 species with 29 genera are terrestrial. The studied species are listed in (Table 1) with their botanical names with reference to the voucher specimens, their habitat, locality of their availability within Darjeeling, altitude range where they are found, and phenology.

The total numbers of recorded species of each genus are 5 Calanthe species, 7 Goodyera spp., 5 Habenaria spp., 5 Herminium spp., 8 Liparis spp., 5 Malaxis spp., 2 Nephelaphyllum spp., 3 Nervilia spp., 4 Odontochilus spp., 5 Paphiopedilum spp., 8 Peristylus spp., 3 Phaius spp., 8 Platanthera spp., 2 Satyrium spp., 4 Zeuxine spp. and the rest Acanthephippium striatum, Ania penangiana, Anoetochilus brevilabris, Anthogonium gracile, Arundina graminifolia, Cheirostylis pabongensis, Chrysoglossum ornatum, Crepidium maximowiczianum, Cymbidium lancifolium, Didymoplexis pallens, Diplomeris hirsuta, Eulophia spectabilis, Geudorum densiflorum, Gymnadenia orchidis, Herpysma longicaulis, Mischobulbum megalanthum, Rhomboda lanceolata, Tainia minor, Tipularia josephi and Spiranthes sinensis possess single species distribution in the region. Five Paphiopedilum species:Paphiopedilum villosum, P. venustum, P. hirsutissimum, P. insigne and P. fairrieanum are found in the planted condition in Pine View and Holumba floral Nurseries of Kalimpong. Terrestrial orchid species like Goodyera procera are frequently found in marshy habitats throughout Darjeeling Himalayan regions.

Fig. 4. Wildlife Monitoring Building, Neora Valley National Park Protected Area - Kalimpong. (The Neora Valley is the main source for drinking water for the city of Kalimpong.) Digital photo; Photo: R. Yonzone.

The rich diversity and resources of orchid species of Darjeeling Himalaya are victimized by local traders and businessmen whose practice has been to collect all plants, leaving effectively nothing in the natural habitats. This over-exploitation of orchids is done to satisfy the demand for plants for various uses by individuals willing to rape the environment for the money-return as they attempt to satisfy that demand. The orchid species having commercial value in both national and international markets were the first to be exploited. Fortunately, plants remain at different elevations in remote villages and forests, and these can be utilized in breeding purposes for creation of more species and hybrids (Fig. 4). These germplasms are part of the wealth remaining within the ecosystem and now there is a need to ensure their protection, retention, and proliferation in their natural habitats.

Some terrestrial orchid species are known for their medicinal usage worldwide, especially in indigenous herbal medicine and the pharmaceutical industries. Whole plants and plant parts are used against various ailments. In the present investigation, 15 terrestrial orchid species of medicinal importance are found in the Darjeeling Himalayan regions. Edible and medicinal uses of these species are noted in detail below.

Edible and Medicinal Uses:


Orchids being high value crops with fascinating and showy flowers are always sought after by orchid enthusiasts, researchers and traders. The best way of protecting the remaining orchid resources is to convince people of the importance of their wealth. In India, there is a good law for the protection of such valuable plant species, but law enforcement cannot protect these plants available in remote areas and in remote forests. Thus, the best route to their protection is for people living in far-flung areas to be convinced about the importance of such plants. The greedy nurserymen of the locality cannot even enter these areas to earn money at the expense of these valuable national resources. With the initiation of local self governance in Darjeeling now a concrete step can be taken to save whatever is left with us after random destruction of floristic wealth of this region during the region of a previous government that took little interest in safeguarding natural wealth, but instead, encouraged the handful of businessmen/nurserymen to plunder this region.

It is observed that the luxuriant growth and diversity of the orchid species in the undisturbed sites of the study area and the meager development in distressed sites clearly indicates the change in the microclimatic conditions in habitat by anthropogenic activities. Therefore, it is necessary to conserve the diversity of these wild orchid species to retain their sustainable utilization both for floriculture trade and herbal medicine as well as save them from extinction in natural habitats.

Fig. 5. #7 in Table 1. Calanthe brevicornu; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 6. #16 in Table 1. Diplomeris hirsuta; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 7. #39 in Table 1. Liparis cordifolia; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 8. #53 in Table 1. Nephelaphyllum pulchrum var. sikkimensis Hook.f. (1890); Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 9. #67 in Table 1. Peristylus constrictus; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 10. #68 in Table 1. Peristylus goodyeroides; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 11. #74 in Table 1. Phaius flavus; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 12. #75 in Table 1. Phaius mishmensis; Photo: R. Yonzone.

Fig. 13. #86 in Table 1. Satyrium nepalense var. ciliatum; Photo: R. Yonzone.


Authors are thankful to the University Grants Commission, New Delhi for awarding the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for Ph.D (Botany) on research entitled "Studies on the Orchid Flora of Darjeeling Himalaya".


Bose, T. K. and Bhattacharjee, S. K. 1999. Orchids of India. (Revised edition). Naya Prakash, Calcutta.

Chowdhery, H. J. 1998. Orchid Flora of Arunachal Pradesh. Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehra Dun, India.

Dash, P. K, Sahoo, S. and Bal, S. 2008. Ethnobotanical studies on Orchids of Niyamgiri hill ranges, Orissa, India. Ethnobotanical Leaflets. 12 70-78.

Deb, C. R, Deb, M. S, Jamir, N. S. and I, Temjensansangba. 2009. Orchids in indigenous system of medicine in Nagaland, India. Pleione. 3 209-211.

Dressler, R. 1974. Classification of the Orchid Family. In Proceedings of the 7th World Orchid Conference: pp 59-78. Medellin, Colombia.

Duthie, J. F. 1906. The Orchids of the North-Western Himalaya. In Annals of the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta 9.

Gurung, B. 2002. the Medicinal Plants of the Sikkim Himalaya. Jasmine Bejoy Gurung, Maples, Chakung, West Sikkim, India.

Hedge, S. N. 1984. Orchids of Arunachal Pradesh. Forest Dept., Itanagar.

Hooker, J. D. 1888-1890. The Flora of British India. Vol. 5 and 6. L. Reeve & Co. London.

Kataki, S. K. 1986. Orchids of Meghalaya. Forest Dept., Shillong, Meghalaya.

King, G. and Pantling, R. 1898. The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalaya. Ann. Roy. Bot. Gard. Calcutta 8.

Jain, S. K. and Rao, R. R. 1977. A Handbook of Field and Herbarium Technique. Today & Tomorrow Publication, New Delhi.

Lucksom, S. Z. 2007. The Orchids of Sikkim and North East Himalaya: Development Area, Jiwan Thing Marg, Gangtok, East Sikkim.

Medhi, R. P. and Chakrabarti, S. 2009. Traditional Knowledge of NE people on Conservation of Wild Orchids. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge. 8 11-16.

Pearce, N. R. and Cribb, P. J. 2002. Flora of Bhutan. The Orchids of Bhutan. Vol. 3, part 3. Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.

Pradhan, U. C. 1976 Indian Orchids Guide to Identification and Culture, Vol. I. Kalimpong, India: Premulaceae Books.

________., 1979. Indian Orchids Guide to Identification and Culture, Vol. II. Premulaceae Books, Kalimpong, India.

Rai, L. K. and Sharma, E. 1994. Medicinal plants of the Sikkim Himalaya: status, usage and potential. Bishen Singh Mahendrapal Singh, Dehra Dun.

Rai, S. K. 2002. Studies on the Ethnobotany of Darjeeling Himalaya. Ph. D. Thesis, University of North Bengal, Raja Rammohanpur, Darjeeling.

Rai, U. 2010. Population study of eight threatened medicinal plants of the Darjiling and Sikkim Himalayas. Pleione. 4 256-262.

Singh, A. and Duggal, Sanjiv. 2009. Medicinal Orchids - An Overview, Ethnobotanical Leaflets. 13 399-412.

Sood, S. K. 2006. Orchidaceae and Mankind. Deep Publications, New Delhi.

Srivastava R. C. and Mainera, A. K. 1994. A note on Dactylorhiza hatagirea (D. Don) Soo: An important Medicinal Orchid of Sikkim. Nat. Acad. Science. Let. 17 129-130.

Yonzone R., Lama, D. and Bhujel, R. B. 2011. Medicinal Orchids of the Himalayan region. Pleione. 5 652-275.

________., Lama, D. Bhujel, R. B. and Rai, Samuel. 2012. Orchid species Diversity of Darjeeling Himalaya of India. Int. J. of Pharm. & Life Sci. (IJPLS) 3(3) 1533 - 1550.

Copyright © 2012 Rajendra Yonzone, D. Lama, R. B. Bhujel, Khyanjeet Gogoi, and Samuel Rai