Rhododendron in Nepal is known as Gurans; it is indigenous to the High Himalayas, and is also the national flower of Nepal.
Indo-Burma and South Central China are considered biodiversity hotspots—that is, areas of high animal and plant diversity, but with high rates of habitat destruction. One group of plants (called a genus) is native to this region, so is especially diverse there: the Rhododendron. This is genus of flowering shrubs and trees with large showy flowers. It’s a common garden plant around the world. There are approximately 1,000 species (and many, many more hybrids) and about half of these species can be seen while trekking in the Himalayas of Tibet (Xizang), Nepal, and Bhutan.
It is particularly stunning to trek at high elevation through a blooming rhododendron forest: the gnarled branches covered in moss topped with shiny evergreen leaves and large, showy flowers is truly a sight you’ll not easily forget. If you’d like to see Rhododendrons in bloom in their natural habitat, you must plan your visit for early in the season. Many Rhododendron species bloom from March through early May (depending on the species and the weather that year). If possible, try to coincide your visit with those dates.
In this region, the different Rhododendron species really vary, so you may see tall trees boasting large white flowers, purple flowered shrubs, or tiny plants creeping along the ground with large red flowers. To see Rhododendron in the wild, you’ll likely need to plan treks above 1,500 metres, as rhododendrons grow at high elevation.
Some common species that you may see on a trek in Nepal, Tibet, or Bhutan include rhododendron arboreum, rhododendron campanulatum, rhododendron campylocarpum, rhododendron falconeri, rhododendron grande, rhododendron forrestii, and many more. Rhododendron arboreum, the national flower of Nepal, is an impressive tree species that grows to be approximately 20 metres tall, and has brilliant red flowers. Also keep a lookout for frequent bird visitors that may go for a snack of nectar or floral tissue, making it also a great species for avid birders to trek amidst. Rhododendron campanulatum has purple, white, or blue flowers held together in a bundle (called a truss) and grows to approximately 5 metres tall. One of my favorite species, rhododendron forrestii, grows at very high elevations, forms little mounds and doesn’t grow larger than 30 centimetres tall. In contrast to its small size and tiny leaves, it has large, bright red flowers that really are magnificent.
If you are interested in identifying species of Rhododendron during your trek, I highly recommend Pocket Guide to Rhododendron Species by McQuire and Robinson. It is clearly written and has stunning photographs of each species.
Eastern or Southern Tibet, near the border shared with Yunnan Province, also allows for the possibility to see charismatic rhododendron species. In Bhutan, the Druk Path and Genty Trek provide opportunities to see rugged terrain and gnarled rhododendron forests.
Other interesting botanical species that you may see during your visit include Himalayan spruce, tiny gentians, pedicularis (broomrape), and, if you trek high enough, you may encounter snow lotus (saussurea), a valuable and endangered medicinal plant. Trekking through Nepal, Bhutan, or Tibet provides the perfect opportunity to enjoy unique flora found nowhere else in the world.
Inspired to see the flowering rhododendron? Have a look at trips Royal Mountain Travel can offer in Bhutan and Nepal: