Flora and Fauna

:: Flora ::

The glory of Sikkim is its breathtaking array of flowers. Sikkims geographical positioning has gifted it a repository of over 5000 species of flowering plants. Forests of magnolia, blue poppies, primulas, gentians and geraniums create a spell-binding floral spectacle. Orchids, gladioli, poppies, azaleas and camellias add to the heady collection. Its great variety of rhododendron ranges from shrubs at ground level to towering specimens that set the terrain ablaze in a riot of colours.

The first study of the flora of Sikkim was undertaken by Sir Joseph Hooker, the noted English botanist. Hooker traveled to the interiors of Sikkim, including remote mountain regions in 1848-49. His expedition resulted in amazing new discovery of numerous plant and animal life in the area. He published the Rhododendrons of Sikkim in 1849 while his record of his travels in Sikkim published as Himalayan Journals is the most comprehensive guide to the botanical splendour of the region.

Hooker divided Sikkim into three botanical zones, the tropical from almost sea level height to around 5000 ft, the temperate from 5000 feet to 13000 feet, and the alpine from 13000 feet upwards.

The tropical vegetation, mostly along the banks and valleys of the rivers Tista, Rangit and their tributaries, consists mostly of figs, laurels, sal trees, ferns and a variety of bamboo. The temperate zone has oak, chestnut, maple, birch, alder, magnolia and silver fir, at the higher regions, while the lower alpine zone has juniper, cypresses and rhododendrons.

Sikkim has a rich heritage of different kinds of flowers. While these include poppies, gentians and primulas, the real treasures are the orchids and rhododendrons. Available in different colours and shapes they are found abundant in the region. Of the 5000 species of orchids known in the world, 600 can be found in the lower reaches of Sikkim alone, along with 30 species of rhododendron.

Sikkim Orchid

:: Orchids ::

Orchids are found in Sikkim, mostly in the tropical regions up to 7000 feet elevations but some species inhabit altitudes of 10000 feet and above. Sikkims orchids belong to two categories: epiphyte and terrestial; the epiphytes are better known and more numerous. The popular epiphytal orchids in Sikkim belong to the genus Dendrobium, Cymbidium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Caelogyne, Arachnanthe or Saccolabium. Of these the Dendrobium Nobile has been adopted by the state as its official flower.

Sikkim Rhododendron :: Rhododendrons ::

Found in super abundance and in a riot of colours, the rhododendron is in its full glory in Sikkim. Growing mostly in sub-alpine and alpine regions they cover complete hillsides in a blaze of beauty. The route to Dzongri, the Singalila trail and the Yumthang valley in North Sikkim are covered with rhododendron shrubs and trees. Around 30 species of rhododendron are found in Sikkim in different sizes and shapes. While the Rhododendron grande is over 10 m tall, the Rhododendron nivale grows barely a few inches above the ground. Rhododendron niveum has been declared as the State Tree of Sikkim.

:: Fauna ::

The dense forests of Sikkim are home to a variety of animals. The Musk Deer, the munjak or the Barking Deer roam the jungles in the upper temperate zone while the Himalayan Black Bear is found in forests of the lower valleys to around 12,000 feet.

Also found here is the Red Panda, belonging to the raccoon family, the Red Goral, a horned animal closely related to the Serow, the Blue Sheep or bharal, the Shapi, belonging to the Himalayan Tahr family and the elusive Snow Leopard, an almost mythical animal, found in the arid cold alpine region. Another animal found mostly in the alpine zone is the Yak. These animals are domesticated and reared in North Sikkim and provide useful service. They are used mainly as beasts of burden over mountain terrain and can survive even sub-zero temperatures.  

Sikkim is rich in avifauna too and is considered to be a birdwatchers paradise. Its avian population extends to almost 550 species. The avifauna of Sikkim is comprised of the Impeyan pheasant, the crimson horned pheasant, the snow partridge, the snow cock, the lammergeyer and griffon vultures, as well as golden eagles, quail, plovers, woodcock, sandpipers, pigeons, Old World flycatchers, babblers and robins.

Sikkim also has a rich diversity of arthropods, much of which remains unexplored even today. The best studied group remains the butterflies, with 50 per cent of the 1,400 butterfly species recorded in the Indian sub-continent found in the state. These include the endangered Kaiser-i-hind, Yellow Gorgon and the Bhutan Glory amongst others.

:: Blood Pheasant ::

Blood PheasantThe Blood Pheasant is the state bird of Sikkim. The only species in genus Ithaginis of the Pheasant family, it has 15 different subspecies. It is so named because the males have vivid red coloring on the feathers of the breast, throat and forehead. Females are more uniformly colored with duller shades of reddish brown. Both males and females have a distinct ring of bare skin around the eye that is crimson colored, in addition to red feet. Subspecies are determined by varying amounts of red and black feathers. The habitat most preferred by Blood Pheasants is coniferous or mixed forests and scrub areas right at the snowline. The pheasants move their range depending on the seasons and during the summer is found at higher elevations. Populations move to lower elevations as the snow increases in the fall and winter.

:: Red Panda ::

Red PandaThe State Animal of Sikkim is the Red Panda. This species belongs to the raccoon family and lives mostly on tree tops. It is found in altitudes ranging from 6000 to 12000 feet. The red panda is bright chestnut in colour, has a triangular face with a dark stripe covering the cheeks to the chin, sharp pointed ears and a bushy ringed tail. It is never more than 2 feet in length and usually moves around in families.

Red Pandas are excellent climbers and forage largely in trees. It is specialized as a bamboo feeder with strong, curved and sharp semi-retractile claws standing inward for firm grasping to facilitate substantial movement on narrow tree branches and seizing leaves and fruit. The Red Panda does little more than eat and sleep due to its low-calorie diet. Bamboo shoots are more easily digested than leaves and exhibited the highest digestibility in the summer and autumn, intermediate in the spring, and low in the winter.

:: Blue Sheep ::

Blue Sheep Blue Sheep also know as Baharal, occupy one of the highest ecological niches in the world. The Green Lake basin and also the area around the Doukia Pass. There are only a very few such animal and it is high on the endangered list.