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Flora of Nepal

Nepal lies at the heart of the Himalaya. Bounded by the cold, arid Tibetan Plateau to the north, and the hot, humid Indian plains to the south, Nepal is famous for its Salix sikkimensis cultural diversity, spectacular mountain scenery and abundant wildlife. Eight of the world’s ten highest peaks are found within its borders, including the highest point on earth, Sagarmatha, 8,848 m (Mount Everest, 29,028 ft). The mountain ranges rise sharply from the lowlands, and within 100 km it is possible to find an amazing diversity of plants from the mighty trees of the lowland jungles only 60m above sea level to stunted alpines battling with the harsh environments of the frozen mountains.

The high mountains, deep river valleys and lowland plains combine with the effects of the summer monsoon and dry winters to form a bewildering array of habitats in a relatively Coelogyne cristata small country: Nepal is smaller than the UK, and barely larger than the ‘boot' of Italy. Existing checklists record some 6500 species of flowering plants and ferns for Nepal (about 4 times as many the UK), 300 of which are endemic to (only found in) Nepal, and it is estimated that over 7000 species will be recorded in Nepal when the poorly known regions are explored and the flora fully documented. Nepal’s importance to world conservation is further highlighted by the international recognition of the Himalayan Region as one of the World’s top 20 hottest global biodiversity hotspots: a region of which Nepal is a major component.

Since ancient times, the people of Nepal have depended upon plants and plant products are a mainstay of everyday life. Today, almost 90% of Nepalese rely on subsistence agriculture, with plants performing a vital role as arable crops, fodder, fruit and vegetables, fuel, building materials and medicines. Like most of the Himalaya, much of Nepal has been greatly modified by man over Field pressing of botanical specimens the last four to five thousand years and little of the original forest remains. Conservation is a high priority for Government of Nepal, and a network of protected and conservation areas has been successfully developed covering about 16% of the land. However, the formulation and implementation of successful conservation measures depends upon accurate and well-communicated information on plant diversity. Floras (a comprehensive account of all the plants found within a country) provide this fundamental knowledge, but, unlike surrounding countries, Nepal does not have a Flora. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) heads an international consortium of partners committed to producing this Flora. The other partners are: Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST - formally RONAST); Department of Plant Resources, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal (DPR); Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University (CDB-TU); The University of Tokyo, Japan (TI); and the Natural History Museum, London (BM).

Current activities are focussed towards the production of the first volume of the Flora of Nepal and capacity building projects in Nepal (e.g. Darwin Initiative project) aimed at strengthening the institutional and human resources so that the Nepalese can fully engage in the production of the Flora.