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Vol. 13(6), pp. 11-15The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalJune 2012

Peer-Reviewed Article
Effective Publication Date : 3-Jun-2012

The Snow orchid (Diplomeris hirsuta (Lindl.) Lindl.) is in distress in the Western Himalaya of India

Jeewan Singh Jalal*

*Botanical Survey of India, Western Regional Centre
7 Koregaon Road, Pune- 411 001
Email: jeewansinghjalal@rediffmail.com
(all photos by author)

Fig. 1. Habit of the Snow Orchid, Diplomeris hirsuta (Lindl.) Lindl.(1835).

The Snow Orchid, botanically called Diplomeris hirsuta, has its name derived from the Greek, where diplo means two and merus means part, which apparently refers to the divided stigma. Hirsuta is a Latin word which means 'hairy', from which the English word 'hirsute' is derived. The leaves, the stem and the back of the flowers are covered with coarse, silvery white hairs (Fig. 1). David Don in his Prodromus Florae Nepalensis established the genus Diplomeris in 1825. The genus comprises three species, which occur in India, Nepal and China. Diplomeris hirsuta was reported for the first time from Dogaon near Nainital by C.M. Arora (1975) 36 years ago, and this was the only known locality of Diplomeris in the western Himalaya. This locality was very close to the national highway No. 87. During the survey of the orchid flora of the Kumaon Himalayas by Pangtey et al. in 1991, this species was again recollected from the same locality but the habitat was found to be in a very vulnerable condition. Unfortunately the state government took a decision in 1996 to widen the national highway No. 87 and the rocks where the species were growing have been destroyed and the only remaining population of the species vanished from this area. The local botanists and naturalists believed that this species had completely disappeared from this locality.

Fig. 2. General and specific location of the Snow Orchid.

In August 2008 the author found a small population of Diplomeris on a wet rock close to a stream bank. Only ca. 110 individuals of this species live on this rock. This species is confined to fragile sandstone in the foothills of this area. The particular site (Dogaon) is situated in the outer hill ranges on the Kathgodam-Nainital road (Fig. 2). The climate of this area is subtropical. The mean annual temperature in summer ranges from 10.6° C to 26.7° C and in winter it varies from 2.8° C to 15.6° C. Rainfall begins in early June and continues up to the end of September. The average annual rainfall of the place varies between 175- 300 cm. The forest type of this area is mainly tropical moist deciduous to miscellaneous deciduous forests and the upper part has chir-pine (Pinus roxburghii Sarg.) forest. Common tree species are Shorea robusta Roxb. ex Gaertn. f., Terminalia alata Heyne ex Roth., Toona ciliata M. Roem., Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels, etc. Common shrubs are Carissa opaca Stapf ex Haines, Rhus parviflora Roxb. ex DC., Woodfordia fruticosa (L.) Kurz., Indigofera cassioides Rottler ex DC., Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng., Rubus ellipticus Smith., and Berberis asiatica Roxb. ex DC. A notable feature of the area is the prevalence of the climber Bauhinia vahlii Wight & Arnott.

In 2010, the author undertook a small survey in this area to investigate the current population status and the plant's suitable habitat, the area being explored systematically. The field survey was commenced in June 2010. A total of 20 belts transects of 10 x 2 m length were laid in the different localities of the site. In each transect, the following parameters were collected: orchid species; associated species; presence or absence mosses/bryophytes; slope; aspect; and canopy cover. Every possible approachable wet rock having more or less a habitat matching that of the mother site was searched. Regular field visits were made to the snow orchid site and every month photographs were also taken of the mother site. To understand the physical parameters of the sandstone rocks, adequate samples were collected from the mother site. The samples were brought to the laboratory to analyse certain parameters viz, pH, NPK, and carbon.

Fig. 3. The Snow Orchid site: 03 June and 03 July, 2010.

Fig. 4. The Snow Orchid site: 02 August and 30 August, 2010.

During this systematic survey I could not find any new localities for the snow orchid outside of the initial site (mother site). Other than the snow orchid, 14 terrestrial orchid species were encountered during this survey, viz., Brachycorthis obcordata (Buch. ex D. Don.) Summerh, Epipactis helleborne (L.) Crantz., Habenaria pectinata (J.E. Smith) D. Don, Habenaria pubescens Lindl., Herminium laceum (Thunb. ex Sw.)Vuijk., Herminium monophyllum (D. Don) Hunt & Summerh, Liparis deflexa Hook. f., Nervilia gammieana (Hook.f.) Schltr., Nervilia crociformis (Zoll. & Mor.) Seidenf., Pecteilis gigantea (J.E.Sm.) Rafin., Peristylis affinis (D.Don.) Seidenf., Peristylis constrictus (Lindl.) Lindl., and Satyrium nepalense D. Don. The snow orchid site was monitored in the beginning of June and every month photographs of the site were taken to appreciate the changes. Before the beginning of the monsoon, the site was very dry without any herbaceous layers (Fig. 3) (Fig. 4). In the surrounding parts, the invasive species Eupatorium adenophorum, Eupatorium odoratum, Lantana camara, and Parthenium hysterophorus were seen. From time to time at each visit, I tried to remove the invasive plants from the habitat.

In the beginning of July the small rocks were covered with small herbaceous plants and by the end of that month the site was covered with lush green herbaceous plants. The tiny leaves of the snow orchids were also seen associated with bryophytes. The plants took one month to become mature and at the end of August a flowering bud could be seen on a couple of snow orchids. It took almost a week to see the snow orchid flowers in full bloom. A detailed list of associated species and the physical parameters of the sandstone rock are provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Characteristic features of the Snow Orchid Site

Name of SiteAltitudeAssociated SpeciesPhysico Parameters
Sand rock size
180 x 120 cm
1100 m Liverworts
Riccia himalyansis
Plagiochasma appendiculatum
Tectaria caudunata
Microsorum membranaceum
Dryopteris cochleata
Bergenia ciliata
Eupatorium adenophorum
Gerbera gossypiana
Didymocarpus pedicellata
Argostemma sarmentosum
Argostemma veticillatum
pH 6.6
N (%) 0.05
P (%) 0.0006
K (%) 0.0024

Geologically this zone is prone to erosion and landslides. These natural disasters could wipe out natural populations of rare species, making them extremely vulnerable. To conserve the wild population of this species it is urgent to protect the habitat and rehabilitate other suitable nearby areas.


Arora, C. M. (1975). New records of some orchids from Western Himalaya. Bull. Bot. Surv. India 14: 173-175.

Don, D. 1825. Prodromus Florae Nepalensis. London : J. Gale.

Pangtey, Y. P. S., S. S. Samant and G. S. Rawat (1991). Orchids of Kumaon Himalaya. Bishan Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehradun.

Pradhan GM. 1974 Diplomeris hirsuta. Amer. Orchid Soc. Bull. 43. (6): 520-522, 524 (1974).

Pradhan UC. 1974 Diplomeris hirsuta (Lindl.) Lindl. - a survey. Amer. Orchid Soc. Bull. 43. (6): 525-528 (1974).


I am thankful to the Director of the Botanical Survey of India for providing facilities during the writing of the article.

Copyright © 2012 Jeewan Singh Jalal