Marsyandi Valley – Nepal

During the last 2 weeks of June & the first week of July 2001, I visited the Marsyandi Valley in Central-Nepal, accompanied by Tim Roberts (English) and Jan Burgel (of Czech origin). Although the expedition was primarily meant to study the Saxifraga species, I would like to talk exclusively about the Androsaces in this valley.

The hike mainly followed the Marsyandi river; the valley is dominated by the mountain tops of the Annapurna chain that reach higher than 8000 meter. By the building explosion over the entire hiking route, you realise this is the second most visited trekking route in Nepal.

The hike starts in the village of Besi Sahar (823m) approximately 180 kilometres west of the capital of Kathmandu.

The first couple of days we walk through a subtropical climate, which slowly evolves into a subalpine environment. With Arisaema tortuosum, A. costatum and A. erubescens as the most striking plants. In the more humid places grew many different Gesneriaceae species, such as the Corallodiscus lanuginosus, Didymocarpus primulifolius and Chirita bifolia.

On the 5th day we finally discovered our first Androsace. We are now at an altitude of about 2750 meters. In the forests which mainly consist of Pinus wallichiana and Picea smithiana we found Androsace strigillosa. The plants were very thinly distributed, sometimes dozens of meters apart and mostly in a small groups of 2 or 3 plants. The upper sides of the petals were white and the under sides were pink-red. The flowers were standing on stems of about 20 to 25 cm high, that were mostly supported by surrounding plants, such as the Cotoneaster microphyllus. Apart from this species, in the zone we also found Anemone rivularis, Euphorbia wallichii, ferns and a Thalictrum species. The plants were mostly growing in dappled shade, where they received diffused daylight penetrating from between the trees.

The soil consists of fir needles containing lots of humus. This Androsace species is very widely spread throughout the Marsyandi Valley up to an altitude of about 4500 meters.

Slowly the track winds higher; at an altitude of about 3000 meters the first plant of the species Androsace robusta ssp. purpurea appeared, hanging over a rock. It was quite easy to determine this plant, as it keeps the same characteristics as the plants we cultivate. This very loose type of growth was most probably caused by poor light due to the surrounding plants.

The landscape slowly changes into an open and dryer environment. Finally we enter a territory where there has been virtually no rain for the last 3 years. Here we find Androsace robusta ssp. purpurea in a very compact form. It was a shame that there were only a few plants in bloom. From a distance the plants resemble a silver white carpet. This might be caused by the dry weather conditions in which these plants grow. The soil is very dry and sandy. The accompanying plants were among other things Anthemis species with grey leaves, Thymus linearis, Juniperis squamata and Potentilla fructicosa.

A short distance past the village of Hongde, we leave the Marsyandi Valley and follow the Sabche Khola river. In this sidevalley, along the flanks of the Annapurna IV, we hope to find the single known location of Saxifraga lowndesii. On our trip to the end of this valley we come across hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of plants of Androsace robusta ssp. purpurea. Most plants are blooming, and along with Rhododendron lepitodum they cause the slopes to have a red glow. It is an absolutely overwhelming sight. Although the upper part of this valley is a couple of hundred meters higher, the plants are less compact and greener. The length of the flower stems varies from between 2 and 6 cm. It caught my attention that the flower stems do not become shorter at these higher locations . The only difference that can be noticed is that the colour of the flowers change to a more blue-ish tinge at an altitude of about 4600 meters. Androsace robusta ssp. purpurea is also wide spread in the Marsyandi Valley up to a height of about 4750 meters. The plants are mostly to be found in dry, sunny places.
After leaving the Sabche Khola valley we again follow the Marsyandi river and come to a height of 4200 meters in a village where 4 different Androsace species grow within a couple of hundred meters of each other. Namely A. strigillosa, A. robusta ssp. purpurea, A. tapete and A. nortonii. There were a dozen plants of the A. tapete to be found in a mountain pasture.

The plants were being threatened by the building of a new hotel .

Although the plants had just finished blooming, you could see that they had made only a very small amount of growth. The soil was neutral, containing light particles of humus and sandy.

On a slope facing north–west we found thousands of the species A. nortonii. The colour of the flowers varied from deep pink to very light pink, almost white. The plants strongly resemble A. sarmentosa, but the leaves are very heavily covered with long, upstanding little hairs, especially near the sides of the leaves. The flower stems mostly measured between 4 and 8 cm in height. They grew in a quite humid meadow together with Rhododendron lepitodum and Cremanthodium arnicoides. A. nortonii is to be found up to about 4750 meters, but is less common in the other locations.

Nearby our base camp for the climb to Thorung La, at a height of 4600 meters, A. lehmannii grew in a mountain meadow with lots of humus. The gorgeous green cushions were no larger than 10 to 15 cm across. The white stemless flowers were grouped on a small part of the plant. The flowers were so close together that the corolla lobes were overlapping one another. The yellow eye of the flower changes colour into pink-red after pollination. Given the location of the plants, I suspect that the soil is nearly always quite moist. I only found A. lehmannii in this very limited area. At about the same altitude the first plants of the A. zambalensis appeared, but at an altitude of 5000 meters we found this species in large numbers.

During the climb from Thorung Pedi to Higher Pedi and towards Thorung La pass we found A. robusta ssp. purpurea, A. nortonii, A. zambalensis, A. delavayi and one single plant of the A. tapete.

A. zambalensis is to be found on the screes that are facing north-east. The rocks of the debris slopes were mixed with a light acid loam soil, containing large amount of small rocks. In the most sunny places these plants were very compact and beautifully in bloom.

We found A. zambalensis towards Thorung La (5200 meters). Most of the cushions had a diameter of between 10 and 20 cm. The rosettes of A. zambalensis are more robust than those of the A. delavayi and various flowerbuds are formed on each short flower stem.

At about 5000 meters we found a couple of plants of the A. delavayi amongst thousands of plants of A. zambalensis .

Most of these plants had not started to bloom or were still in bud.

A. delavayi forms smaller rosettes that are closer to one another. From the centre of the rosettes grow 1 (sometimes 2) stemless white flowers.

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