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    The Abundant Flora and Fauna of Sikkim

    Come unveil Sikkim’s natural splendor as we explore its depths, from the warm grasslands on the Indian plains to the cold, windswept roof of the world.

    In this blog post, we will explore the flora and fauna of Sikkim and highlight some of its unique plant and animal inhabitants that call this Himalayan state their home.

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    Lush Forests Blanketing the Slopes

    Lush Forests Blanketing the Slopes

    A majority of Sikkim is mountainous terrain, with elevations ranging from 300 meters to over 8,500 meters at the higher Himalayan peaks. Due to the elevation differences and rainfall variation, Sikkim’s Flora and Fauna are stratified into distinct ecological zones.

    Tropical semi-evergreen and evergreen broadleaf forests blanket the sub-tropical slopes between 1,000 to 2,000 meters. These dense forests contain some of most precious flora and fauna of Sikkim, including many rare orchids, rhododendrons and medicinal plants, as well as exotic birds and elusive mammals. Tall trees like Sal, Teak, Duabanga, and Terminalia form the canopy, festooned with vines, ferns, and epiphytes. The understory contains lush palms and a variety of woody shrubs and tree saplings.

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    Higher up between 2,000 to 3,500 meters, tropical mountain forests transition to Temperate Broadleaf and Conifer forests. Majestic trees like Magnolia, Alder, Birch, Maple, and Oak dominate this zone, interspersed with groves of stately Deodar Cedars and soaring Hemlock and Spruce. Temperate forests give way to sub-alpine Rhododendron scrub and, ultimately, Alpine meadows above 4,500 meters consisting of low herbs and shrubs. This gradual change in vegetation with changes in altitude makes Sikkim’s Flora and Fauna truly remarkable.

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    Orchids Galore!

    Orchids Galore!

    If Sikkim had to name a floral mascot, orchids would undoubtedly be the top contender. Out of India’s recorded 1,256 orchid species, over 550 species are found in Sikkim alone, earning it the fitting title “Orchid Paradise of the Himalayas.” In fact, a new species of orchid has been described from the flora and fauna of Sikkim as recently as 2006, showing that more discoveries await keen-eyed botanists exploring Sikkim’s Flora and Fauna riches.

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    The tropical forests of Sikkim, with high humidity and abundant epiphytic growth, provide ideal conditions for orchids to thrive. Orchids in a dizzying variety of shapes, sizes, and colors adorn tree trunks, branches, and forest floors across the state. Their graceful sprays of flowers and vivid colors add a touch of glamor to the verdant forests of flora and fauna of Sikkim. Some spectacular orchids found here are the Queen of Sikkim Vanda coerulea (the state flower), the vibrantly orange Vanda cristata, the multi-hued Papilionanthe teres, and the primordial-looking Bulbophyllum echinolabium.

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    Primulas Painting the Alpine Slopes

    Primulas Painting the Alpine Slopes

    Another signature flower in the high-altitude flora and fauna of Sikkim is Primulas. Above 3,500 meters, from late spring to summer, hillsides explode into color with countless Primula blooming amidst the scrub and meadows. Primulas display a stunning range of hues, from bright red and hot pink to purple, orange, yellow, and white, with contrasting eyes. Some species, like Primula sikkimensis and Primula alpicola, are Sikkim endemics found nowhere else in the world. Local herders consider the appearance of Primulas as a welcome signal to move their livestock to the grazing pastures of the higher hills.

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    Magnolias and Rhododendrons Galore

    Magnolias and Rhododendrons Galore

    The magnificent Magnolia campbellii, commonly known as “Ghora champ” in Nepali, is Sikkim’s most famous flowering tree. Their huge cup-shaped blooms, ranging from white to deep fuchsia pink, are considered the largest flowers in the entire plant kingdom. In April-May, when they are in full bloom, Ghora champs are truly a jaw-dropping spectacle, with their colossal flowers carpeting forests understories across Sikkim. Visitors flock from all over to see these rare, majestic flowering trees as the crowning highlight of spring.

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    After the Magnolia blooms fade away, from May to July, Sikkim’s temperate zone ignites into colorful explosions of blooming Rhododendrons. Out of the over 1000 Rhododendron species found worldwide, around 40 percent of them are found in Sikkim alone. The brilliant crimson, hot pink, white, and purple rhododendron blooms illuminate every inch of the hillsides, decorating forests and dwarfing houses under their massive floral abundance of flora and fauna of Sikkim. Their vibrant colors and sheer number make it undoubtedly one of the most vibrant floral displays in the entire Indian Subcontinent.

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    Pheasant’s Paradise

    Pheasant’s Paradise

    With its optimal blend of mixed habitats and elevation ranges, Sikkim offers ideal ecological conditions for pheasants to thrive. Out of the 50-plus pheasant species found globally, over 30 percent of the species are found in Sikkim, truly making it a “Pheasant’s Paradise.” Birdlife International has declared Sikkim an “Endemic Bird Area” with several threatened pheasants and bird species found nowhere else in the magnificent flora and fauna of Sikkim.

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    Colorful long-tailed pheasants like the Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, and Satyr Tragopan are some exotic birds inhabiting Sikkim’s forests. Male Himalayan monals and blood pheasants have an iridescent rainbow-like sheen on their black contour feathers, making them shine against the forest backdrop when they spread their feathered cloaks. The Satyr Tragopan, with its crimson red face wattles, is equally visually striking. Trekkers may catch a glimpse of these dazzling birds foraging on the forest floor or see them swiftly crossing mountain paths if they are lucky.

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    Apart from pheasants, other unique birds found here are the vivid Crimson-browed Finch, Grandala (Himalayan blue-fronted redstart), the rare Bugun Liocichla, and the Blackish-breasted Babbler discovered less than a decade ago. Spotting these threatened species involves serious bird-watching skills and loads of luck! With over 550 recorded bird species, Sikkim is truly an ornithologist’s paradise waiting to be explored within its skies.

    Prime Butterfly Habitat

    Prime Butterfly Habitat

    Owing to its location, climate, and elevation range, Sikkim has a prime butterfly habitat, allowing a remarkable number of butterfly species to exist here. Currently, 690 butterfly species have been recorded in this region, which is around one-fourth of the butterfly species found in the entire Indian subcontinent. But experts estimate at least 200 more species may be awaiting discovery in the flora and fauna of Sikkim as new species are still being described even today.

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    This incredible butterfly diversity includes exotic swallowtails, majestic bird wings, colorful sailers, oak blues, and tiny gems like the Tiny Grass Blue butterflies, which are some of the smallest in India. While most Himalayan butterflies prefer tropical valleys and temperate broadleaf forests, some high-altitude species like the Dark Blue Tiger and Bhutan Glory thrive above 10,000 feet amongst Sikkim’s alpine scrub and meadows. Tracking this sheer variety of butterflies fluttering across habitats from lush jungle streams to icy mountain slopes offers an exciting challenge to lepidopterists.

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    Precious High-Altitude Wetlands

    Precious High-Altitude Wetlands

    Perched amongst Sikkim’s lofty peaks and ridges lies its astonishing wealth of high-altitude wetlands. Over 220 lakes and glacial wetlands dot its mountainous terrain above 3500 meters, dominated by sacred peaks like Kanchenjunga and holy lakes like Gurudongmar and Khecheopalri. Despite their remoteness and extreme conditions, these wetlands sustain remarkable biodiversity specially adapted for the harsh alpine climate.

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    These wetlands provide critical habitat for rare wildlife like the Black-necked Crane. Considered sacred in Buddhist mythology, these striking cranes migrate all the way from Tibet and winter in the remote Zemathang plateau wetlands nestled under the Pauhunri peak of flora and fauna of Sikkim. Other endangered avifauna dependent on high-altitude lakes are Ferruginous ducks, Ruddy Shelducks, and the solitary Brown Dipper with its whistling call and bobbing tail. Apart from cranes and waterfowl, rare species like the Himalayan Salamander and Alpine Toad dwell in wetland pockets surrounded by dwarf Rhododendron scrub.

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