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Flora And Fauna Of Jammu And Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir is a mystifying land. It is a picturesque collage of various elements of nature that makes it an ideal tourist destination. The northern frontier of the state is fortified with the majestic mountains of the Himalaya Range. These ranges and their snow capped peaks complete a picturesque landscape that includes crystal clear streams and lush green vegetation. Jammu and Kashmir is not a homogeneous land. It is marked by undulating topography and varied soil types that lead to the growth of diverse plants. These in turn, support numerous life forms to constitute an ecological pyramid.

In terms of climate, Jammu and Kashmir is unique. The vast distribution of topographical features is a cause of this fact. The controlling factor of the climate is the Himalayas. Except the dry plateaus of Ladakh, the state receives ample amounts of rainfall. The land is crisscrossed by perennial streams of fresh water. The streams water the land and sustain the lives of the people that inhabit the land. Winter season sees extensive precipitation in terms of snowfall. In the winter, the snow resembles a vast sheet of white blanket covering the valleys.

Culture and human settlements have also been altered by the pattern of the climatic variations of the region. Three socio-cultural regions have been established in the state. Each region has a set of distinct cultural patterns that coexist in harmony under the umbrella of Jammu and Kashmir. The Easternmost region of Ladakh is is the stronghold of predominantly Tibetan culture. The southern state is the foothills of the Himalayas that are the home of tribes such as the Dogras that migrated centuries ago. The northernmost region outlines the beautiful valley of Kashmir and its majestic beauty. Each of these regions contributes heavily to make Jammu and Kashmir an epitome of cross-cultural harmony.

The scenic beauty of Jammu and Kashmir is enchanting, to say the least. The combination of nature, heritage and history make the state an enchanting land. Among many other traits that distinguish the land of Jammu & Kashmir, the flora and fauna of the state is one of prime importance. It is home to a bewildering variety of animals that inhabit the mountainous terrain. The flora that grow on the rich soil supports the variety of fauna found in the area. The flora has a defining impact on the lives of the people as well and is extremely beneficial for maintaining their cultural heritage.

The flora of Jammu and Kashmir includes broad-leaved trees as well as conifers. Shrubs and herbs of immense anthropogenic importance sprout in the fertile reaches of the valleys. Trees such as rhododendron constitute the thick forests high in the hills. The floral type varies with variation of the elevation. The forests are inhabited by organisms from every member of the animal family. Mammals such as leopards and bears are found in numbers in the state. Even the barren land of Ladakh has a distinct set of animals equipped to thrive in the cold inhospitable zones. Besides, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects form an intrinsic part of the landscape that has no parallels on earth.

The Flora

Describing the flora of Jammu and Kashmir is like trying to catalogue a library that has an extensive collection of books. Many of the species have not even been documented properly. Nevertheless, it should suffice to say that the state possess a rich diversity of flora. An estimate puts the total number of plant species in the state at over 3000. These are unevenly distributed throughout the three regions of the state. For example, the dry frontiers of Ladakh have about 880 species, most of them able to withstand extreme climatic conditions. In Jammu, the number is over 500 species of plants. These estimations are inadequate since they include only certain groups of plants. The inventory is inadequate in the strictest sense and is continuously being updated to include lesser studied forms.

The flora of the state have a high degree of endemism. Some of the families of plants that are found here are found nowhere else. The plants that are found in Jammu and Kashmir are a majorly important part of the people that inhabit the state. The forests are the source of fodder, food, honey and other such commodities that lend a lot to the identity of the locals. Several plants with medicinal properties have been identified in the region. Many of these plants are used by locals as rudimentary medicines. The forests cover over 20% of the geographical area of the state constituting a vast reserve of natural wealth.

Phyto Geography and Vegetation Types

Throughout the geological history, the region has seen an evolutionary sequence of plants forms colonizing and thriving under different sets of conditions. The continuous influence of the climate and geomorphologic features on the flora and fauna of the state persists to this day.

Jammu and Kashmir has three distinct regions of floral pattern:

Alpine Desert Vegetation of Ladakh

Ladakh is a cold desert and extreme conditions are prevalent throughout the year. The plant groups that have successfully survived the barren landscape are evolved to minimize water loss. Typically, they grow in the vicinity of moist stream channels.

Temperate vegetation of Kashmir: The foothills of the Karakoram ranges were once covered with a luxuriant canopy of thick forests occupying the valleys and plains. Unfortunately, human settlements have wiped out many stretches of forests for cultivation of food crops. Still, the few remaining patches of forests give us a glimpse of the richness the state possesses. The valleys are marked by swampy, linear patches of forests delineated on the south by the Pir Panjal range.

Subtropical Vegetation of Jammu

Jammu is situated at a much lower elevation than the rest of Jammu and Kashmir. At this altitude, the climate supports dry and deciduous forests. The monsoon season witnesses widespread inundation of the low lying areas that become breeding grounds for numerous aquatic plants.

Aquatic Vegetation

The rugged mountainous terrain of the Pir Panjal range is situated at altitudes above 4000 meters.  At such an elevation, the lakes of the Kashmir valley do not have appropriate conditions to sustain major plant life. Below the snow line, the lakes are teeming with aquatic life. These lakes show zonation which is a regular feature. The core of such water bodies harbour plants that are submerged under the water. Only some parts of the plant, such as the flowers or the fruits float above the surface. The buffer or intermediate floral varieties are found in the shallower parts that have floating leaves. The outermost zone of plants is found along the fringes of the lakes with the majority of the plant body standing above the water level. Some free floating varieties are found here, as well.

Many lakes in Kashmir have floating islands that are artificially created and used for cultivation of crops.

Threatened Plants

The rich flora of Jammu and Kashmir has been subjected to degradation, and many of the species stands on the brink of extinction. The reasons for this are a subject of intense debate.

The extinction of species can be ascribed to two controlling factors; those that are controlled by natural processes and those created by human activities. In the past, natural processes led to the decline of countless species, culminating in major extinction events. The evolution of the earth has seen numerous extinction events. These events have their cause root in various climatic factors and changes in the atmosphere of the earth. In the past, the various extinction events occurred over a long time, allowing other species to colonize and substitute their place.

The current rates of extinction are alarming because of its sheer magnitude and speed. Throughout the globe, the natural world has been mutilated and destroyed to enable human requirements to be fulfilled. The burgeoning growth of the population has put immense pressure on land resources and forests. The destruction of forests has a cascading effect, which in due course of time threatens entire ecosystems and the population which depend on it.

Jammu and Kashmir’s floral collection are important for sustaining the culture and traditional continuity of the people. Many of the plants found here have medicinal value, a property that has increased relevance in our combat against deadly diseases. Jammu and Kashmir is an important portion of India’s biodiversity. The areas of Kashmir, and the slopes of the Himalaya have been identified as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’, among 26 such identified localities in India. The increasing rate of deforestation has destabilized the foothills

The Fauna

Jammu and Kashmir is divided into three different parts namely Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. Each of these regions has separate sets of fauna in response to the different conditions prevalent in each of the regions. The state boasts of an impressive 16% of the total faunal species in India. Birds are the primary contributor to this high diversity of chordate species. Apart from birds, the state has a high diversity of many other forms of organisms such as mammals and reptiles, and lesser-known animals such as fishes, amphibians and an infinite number of insects. The state is strategically positioned at the confluence of major climatic zones that account for the high diversity. This factor lends high endemic character to the organisms that are found in the state.

The diversity of avian species is remarkable. The 358 species of birds that have been recorded in the state can be catalogued into 179 genera and 16 orders. Many of these birds are migratory and navigate treacherous journeys to reach the promising land. The waters of the state provide habitat for 44 species of fish, categorized into 14 genera. Amphibians, such as frogs have been placed under 14 genera. The insect collection is infinite, with many of the species yet to be discovered.

Mammals are represented by 75 species. These species themselves are subdivided into subspecies, represented by 54 genera further classified into 21 families. Among the mammals, it is the carnivores that occupy a chunk of the total mammals.

The abundance of faunal riches Jammu and Kashmir possess is enviable. The state is the last refuge for many threatened animals and the state is doing the needful to prolong their survival.

The protected areas of the region, its national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have been established. These provide a safe haven for these species for visitors to see and appreciate the rich natural heritage the state possess.

Dachigam National Park

Dachigam National Park is located just 20 kilometers from the state capital Srinagar. It houses a broad range of flora due to the great differences in the elevation. The high relief feature of the park forms the core of the high diversity in the distribution pattern of the organisms. The high relief is able to accommodate various types of vegetations from conifers to broad-leaved forests. The park presents scenic views of the disturbed natural landscape. The 141 square kilometers has been planned to incorporate surrounding areas into its perimeter. The forest is the natural habitat of one the famous Kashmiri stag or Hangul. Besides, other animals such as musk deer, leopards, snow leopards and Himalayan bears can be found in this preserve. Numerous species of birds such as the Monal, Sparrows and Bulbuls can be spotted in this serene surrounding. Dachigam National Park has remarkable accommodation facilities. It even has a guest house inside the limits of the park to provide for a wild holiday experience. The spring season is ideal for a visit to the park.

Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary

Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the outskirts of Jammu town. The elevation of the wildlife sanctuary varies between 400 to 600 meters. The reserve is known for its species of deer such as the Nilgai and other mammals. Being close to Jammu town, it is a favorite getaway for tourists visiting the area. In terms of area, Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary occupies 31 square kilometers. However, the small size can be deceptive while considering the immense interests it possesses for wildlife enthusiasts.

Gulmarg Biosphere

Throughout the world, Gulmarg Biosphere reserve is known for its population of the musk deer. The nature reserve consists of almost 180 square kilometers of a mixed variety of forests providing refuge for some of the rarest species. The vegetation found here is of alpine type with conifers being the dominating plant type. Besides, shrubs and herbs such as Heterantha cover much of the forest floor. Apart from the musk deer, the animal population in Gulmarg is represented by Hangul and bears, along with jungle cats and leopards. The park has two varieties of bears, the brown bear and the black bear. The park boasts of bird species such as the Monal and the Griffon vulture. The ideal time for visiting the park is winter.

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