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Positive Impacts of COVID-19 On Himalayan Flora – The Kamals Of The Mountains

COVID-19 affected human life relentlessly and caused catastrophes in every sector of human life – travel, medicine, hospitality, etc. But it showed positive effects on the environment, particularly the flora and fauna. And this includes the wildflowers growing at higher altitudes in the Himalayas, particularly the Brahma Kamal and other kamals of the Saussurea family.

Environmental effect

Low levels of pollution have been reported from all over the Himalayas because of no tourism activity as well as low local movement due to the lockdowns. This has caused the vegetation and flora of the mountains to change their patterns of existence. Flowers have been reported to be blooming off-season, even after the monsoons.

Flowers like Brahma kamal, a rare flower of the thistle tribe of plants, native to the Himalayas, grow at elevations between 4,000 – 5,000 meters. Recently it has been spotted blooming at lower altitudes of 3000 meters in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, and also in other parts of the state.

Team Exablogs spoke to a few local residents of village Wan, Uttarakhand, and also to a local conversationalist, Brijeshwar Singh, who were unanimous in their views, that absence of tourist activity during lockdown helped in reducing the pollution, and this helped the flowers to expand their territory as well as season.

The Kamals of the mountains

The Kamals of the mountains with a common generic name Saussurea, belong to the Cynareae tribe and are known as the thistles of the dicotyledonous family Asteraceae. Varieties of flowers under the genus Saussurea include Brahma Kamal, Saw-wort or Snow Lotus, Fen Kamal, etc., and are native to the Himalayas. They bloom during mid-monsoon months amongst the rocks and grasses of alpine meadows, and sides of lakes and streams. These plants are extremely rare and are famous for their beautiful flowers as well as their usage in traditional and Tibetan medicine. All these species found in cold mountain environments are restricted to high mountain ranges and are habituated to strong winds, intense cold, and perpetual snow.

Brahmakamal (Saussurea Obvallata)

Locally known as Kon, Kapfu, or Vansembruu, Brahma Kamal is the holiest member of the family and is the state flower of Uttarakhand. It blooms during mid-monsoon (July-August). Flower heads are purple. Brahma Kamal, a perennial growing to 0.3 meters (1 ft.) is a helpful medicine to treat fevers, bone aches, intestinal ailments, coughs, and colds.

Also known as the Lotus of Brahma, this flower is considered the king of Himalayan flowers and is named after Lord Brahma – the Hindu god of creation. The flower is sacred to the locals and finds mention in the Puranas. Associated with the birth of the Hindu god, Ganesha, it also finds mention in epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Brahma Kamal is a prized offering during pujas in the holy shrines of the state like Kedarnath, Badrinath, and Tunganath.

The rare flower, also known as the Golden Lotus provides spiritual happiness to the person who is fortunate to see it. It is not easy to see the flower as it blooms in the late evening and withers quickly.

Kasturi Kamal (Saussurea gossypiphora) grows at an elevation of 4300–5600 meters and is believed to guard against evil spirits. The flower has a strong fragrance similar to that of a Kasturi deer. Hence the oil extracted from the roots of the plant is used in high-grade perfumes, and in the preparation of hair oil.

Kasturi Kamal plant looks like a woolly snowball. The stem is stout, and is 10–20 cm long with linear leaves. The flower heads like disc florets compactly clustered at the top of the stem bloom between July– September.

The plant of Phen Kamal (Saussurea simpsoniana) looks like that of a Kasturi Kamal but can be distinguished by their purple flower-heads exposed outside the wool. The flowering season is July–October in drier areas at an altitude of 4400–5600 m. The roots of Phen Kamal are used as an insecticide for woolen fabrics, and in the manufacture of incense.

Other forms of the flowers of this family are also seen and the Grass-leaved Saw-wort or Ghoogee (Saussurea obvallata graminifolia) and Snow Lotus (Saussurea tridactyla) flower during August–October.

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