Nepal Orchids

nepal logo




Nepal’s geographical location, its mountainous terrain and topography, contribute to the occurrence of a rich biological diversity. Western Himalayas and eastern Himalayas merge here, thereby providing a wide and diverse range of habitats for the luxuriant growth of plants including orchids.  Nepal is home to more than 388 species of native orchids belonging to 102 genera, of which 12 are endemic to Nepal.  In Nepal the greatest abundance and diversity of orchids has been recorded between 700 - 2500 m elevation and in wet mountain forest on the north and east facing slopes. However, there are species such as Galearis spathulata, G. stracheyi, Cypripedium cordigerum, Herminium duthiei, H. josephii, Spathoglottis ixioides, Satyrium nepalense which have been reported from 4000 m altitude in the Himalayas. With regards to the study of orchids, many parts of Nepal remain as yet poorly explored. Careful surveys may reveal many new additions to the orchid flora of Nepal.

People in Nepal use orchids for ornamental, medicinal and edible purposes. Many of the same species of orchids have been used for multiple purposes leading to the decline of their populations at an alarming rate. Orchids are mostly collected from the wild using non-sustainable, destructive, methods such as collecting the entire plant, rhizome, tuber, roots and other reproductive parts such as fruit and seeds. Furthermore, low regeneration rates and loss of habitat add to the serious threat to orchid populations.

The orchids of Nepal are under considerable threat from continued (a) habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation and (b) illegal collection and trade and consumption. Detailed study of commercially important species, hybrid production and international market potential is still necessary to promote Nepalese orchids. Collection and sale of wild orchids from the orchid rich area of Nepal is rooted in the activities of local people in Nepal, providing huge amounts of such orchids to local traders from China and India where large companies need their raw materials for different traditional medicines.  Due to the recent trend of using traditional medicine in western countries the demand is increasing.  96 species of orchids have been reported to have medicinal value in Nepal.  Many of these orchids have been used by the native people of Nepal for treating different diseases such as general debility like stomach ache, bone fracture, colds, wound healing, general weakness and to cure various other diseases. They have been used either alone or in combination with other plants and other supplements. Some of the important species of medicinal value are Acampe papilliosa, Arundina graminifolia, Bulbophyllum umbellatum, Brachycorythis obcordata, Calanthe masuca, Coelogyne species, Cymbidium aloifolium, Cyperipedium cordigerum, Cyperipedium himalaicum, Dactylorhyza hatagirea, Dendrobium species. Eulophia nuda,Epimerantha macraei, Herminium monorchis, Otochilus porrectus, Pholidota imbricata. and Vanda species. Dactylorhyza hatagirea which is regarded as the one of the most important medicinal plants of high altitude.
Conservation measures
Rapid depletion from the wild requires urgent conservation measures. Conservation of orchids is an important issue that should be seriously considered by both government and the private sector in partnership with research institutions, non-government organization and community growers. Because of their small population size and restricted distribution, intensive care and habitat management is highly recommended for their in situ  conservation.

Ex situ conservation
Our institution is involved in ex situ conservation of some of the Nepalese orchids using tissue culture. There are ample opportunities for economic gain for the country if endogenous species are carefully selected and propagated in vitro for the commercial trade. Similarly, seed banks will play an increasing role in orchid conservation in the future. However, limited resources and facilities and market opportunity have put constraints in proper conservation and propagation.

In vitro study on orchids
We have started germplasm conservation of some threatened/medicinal orchids. Various  culture techniques have applied for the mass scale propagation and germplasm conservation. Successes have been achieved in selected orchids such as Aerides odorata, Coelogyne cristata, C. fuscescens, C. ovalis, Cymbidium aloifolium, C. devonianum, C. elegens, C. iridioides, Dendrobium densiflorum, D. primulinum, Phaius tankarvillea, Pholidota  articulata, Thunia alba and Vanda tesselata through immature seed culture, protocorm culture, micropropagation using different explants and through synthetic seed production.  More species are being studied for their propagation as well as photochemical contents.  The present laboratory carries some facilities for conducting tissue culture research in CDB, TU Nepal. Upgrading of existing facilities will ensure large scale propagation and conservation. 

Domestication participation of community based organization
People in Nepal are using orchids for medicinal, ornamental and even for edible purposes. Local people as well as a few private nurseries in Katmandu are cultivating a small number of endogenous and imported hybrid species. A few nurseries and some orchid enthusiasts are cultivating some of the wild orchids of Nepal.  Mostly the commercial breeders are cultivating and using cut flowers of imported orchid hybrids in Nepal. It is equally important to extend the breeding of new indigenous species such as of Aerides, Calanthe, Coelogyne, Phaius, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Vanda, and Dactylorhiza  that have commercial and medicinal potential. In Nepal, cultivation of orchids could be one of the effective ways of income generation if the indigenous species with medicinal properties are carefully selected having export potential. This will be one of the best alternatives for the more sustainable use of wild orchids. Tissue culture technique could be the most appropriate alternative for the species restoration programme of threatened species and their propagation on a mass scale. Moreover novel compounds can be synthesized in vitro which can be used as an alternative to minimize the destruction of the wealth of wild orchids in Nepal.

Photos: Top left to right; Coelogyne nitida, Bijaya Pant looking at orchids in Nepal, Coelogyne ovalis. Bottom left; Dendrobium fimbriatum Hook and Explaining orchid culture to students.


Nepal Orchids