The Flora and Vegetation of Nepal

Nepal is a Himalayan country, representing one of the world’s richest pockets in plant diversity. The presence of extreme ranges of altitude, climate and soil within a small geographical area has created a striking vertical zonation in natural vegetation and diversity in flora, with 75 vegetation types and 35 forest types. It is estimated that about 7000 species of flowering plants exist in Nepal. So far, ca. 6000 species of flowering plants and over 3,500 species of non-flowering plants have been enumerated from the country. About 5% of its flowering plants are endemic

  • Location: 26° 22' N to 30° 27' N Latitude, 80° 04’ E to 30° 27’ E Latitude
  • Size: Area: 147, 181 sq. Km. Length: 885 Km. (east to west), Width: Non-uniform, average width of 193 Km. (North to South)
  • Population: 21.84 million (1998)
  • Climate: Sub-tropical Monsoon regime. Ten bio-climatic zones from Tropical to Nival
  • Physiography: 80 percent complex mountains
  • Biomes: Paleoarctic and Indo-Malayan
  • Forest Cover: 37 percent (10 percent crown cover)
  • Forest Type: 35 Types
  • Vegetation Type: 75 types
  • Flowering Plants: 5833 species, 1496 genera and 213 families(2)
  • Non-Flowering Plants: Pteridophytes – 383 spp., Bryophytes – 853 species, Algae – 687 spp., Fungi – 1670 spp., Lichens – 471 spp.)
  • Endemic Species: 250 species of Flowering plants
  • Endangered Plants: CITES Appendix species: 13, HMG Protected species: 8
  • No. of Protected Area: 15 (11 National Parks, 3 Conservation Area, 1 Hunting Reserve), that covers percent of land area.


Nepal extends along the Himalayan range between the latitudes of 26 22’N and 30 27’N and longitudes of 80 04’E and 88 12’E. The country has an area of 147, 181 sq. km, with a length of about 885 km, and an average width of 193 km. Two-third of the area is occupied by hills and mountains which rises from the Terai, the northernmost part of Indo-Gangetic plain at about 60 m in the south to the crest of the Himalaya reaching over 8,000 m altitude in the north

Stainton (1972) recognises following six main geographical divisions in Nepal while describing the vegetation types: a) Terai, Bhabar, Dun valleys and outer foothills; b) the midland areas and southern sides of the main Himalayan ranges; c) the Humla-Jumla area in the north-west; d) dry river valleys; e) inner valleys; and f ) the arid zone with much of the character of the Tibetan plateau

For describing vegetation, Dobremez (1972) divided Nepal into six bio-climatic zones or belts with 11 subzones

  • a. Tropical belt (up to 1000 m altitude): Lower up to 500 m, and Upper 500-1000 m.
  • b. Subtropical belt (1000-2000 m): Lower, 1000-1500 m and Upper, 1500-2000 m.
  • c. Temperate belt (2000-3000 m): Collinean, 2000-2500 m and Montane, 2500-3000 m.
  • d. Sub-alpine belt (3000-4000 m): Lower, 3000-3500 m and Upper, 3500-4000 m.
  • e. Alpine belt (4000-5000 m): Lower, 4000-4500 m and Upper, 4500-5000 m.
  • f. Nival belt (above 5000 m).

Using floristic and phytogeographical data, Stearn (1960) divided Nepal into three regions: West (Kumaon frontier to 83 E longitude), Central (83 E to 86 30’E) and East (86 30’E to Sikkim frontier). Hara et al. (1978-1982) adopted this phytogeographical division of Nepal in the “An Enumeration of the Flowering Plants of Nepal, Vols. 1-3”.

Vegetation Types

Nepal is floristically influenced from six adjoining floristic regions, namely Central Asiatic in the north, Sino-Japanese in the north-east, south-east Asia Malaysian in the south-east, Indian in the south, Sudano-Zambian in the south-west, and Irano-Turranean in the west.

Tropical belt (below 1000 m altitude):

  • The vegetation is dominated mostly by Shorea robusta in association with Terminalia alata, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Adina cordifolia, Cassia fistula, Eugenia spp., and big lianas like Bauhinia vahlii, Milletia spp., etc.
  • About 1500 species of flowering plants, of which 29 are endemic, occur in this zone.
  • Phytogeographically this belt is related to the Indian and South-East Asia-Malaysian region

Sub-tropical belt (1000-2000 m altitude):

  • Schima wallichii-Castanopsis indica-Castanopsis tribuloides forest in the east and Pinus roxburghii forest in the west represent this belt. The major associates in the former are Engelhardtia spicata, Acer oblongum, Pyrus pashia, Eurya acuminata, Myrica esculenta, etc. In the latter the associates are Myrica esculenta, Lyonia ovalifolia, Quercus lanata, Q. incana, Rhododendron arboreum, etc.
  • The flora is represented by 2028 species of flowering plants including 50 endemic.
  • Phytogeographically the lower part of this belt is related to the Indian and South-East Asia-Malaysian region, while the upper one closely to the Sino-Japanese region

Temperate belt (2000-3000 m altitude):

  • This belt is characterised by evergreen oaks, rhododendrons, conifers, etc with deciduous maples and magnolias. The characteristic species in the broad-leaved forests of this belt are: Quercus semecarpifolia, Quercus lamellosa, Q. glauca, Daphniphyllum himalayense, Magnolia campbellii (in east and central Nepal), Quercus dilatata, Aesculus indica, Juglans regia (in west Nepal). Pinus wallichiana, Picea smithiana, Cedrus deodara, Abies pindrow and Tsuga dumosa are the common conifers in the needle-leaved forest. The associated tree species are Rhododendron arboreum, Lyonia ovalifolia, Carpinus viminea, Taxus baccata, Betula alnoides, etc.
  • Alnus nepalensis forest is common in mid-mountainous Himalayan ecosystem extending from 1300-2700 m. The species can quickly colonise in barren slopes newly exposed by landslides or erosion.
  • 1990 species are recorded from this belt including 113 endemic

    Sub-Alpine belt (3000-4000 m altitude):

    • Characteristic species: Abies spectabilis and Betula utilis. Associated species are Acer caudatum, A. pectinatum, Sorbus cuspidata, S. microphylla, S. foliolosa, etc.
    • This belt together with Alpine and Nival belts are related to the Central Asiatic region.
    • This belt houses 1645 species including 177 endemic species of flowering plants

      Alpine and Nival belts (3000-4000 m altitude):

    • The shrubby vegetation is usually dominated by rhododendron bushes. Other common shrubs include Potentilla fructicosa, Hippophe rhamnoides, Berberis spp., etc. The common low herbs are primroses, gentians, poppies, buttercups, etc. Loose scree vegetation is usually composed of cushions of Arenaria, Androsace, Waldhamia, etc.
    • The area above 5000 m is usually covered by permanent snow. However, hardy and extreme cold resistant plants are found in the sunny rock crevices. Stellaria decumbens and Parry lanuginosa have been recorded at an elevation of around 6100 m.
    • 1075 species of flowering plants with 190 species endemic are reported from this belt.


    • About 5833 taxa of flowering plants under 207 families and 1475 genera have been enumerated (Koba et al. 1994). The largest families are Asteraceae (111 genera, 400 species), Poaceae (113 genera, 350 species), Orchidaceae (90 genera, 315 species) and Fabaceae (90 genera, 300 species). Of the total flowering flora only 5% are endemic to Nepal and about 30% are endemic to the Himalaya.
    • Over 4064 species of non-flowering plants that include Algae, Fungi, Lichens, Bryophytes, and Pteridophytes have been enumerated

    Botanical Explorations

    Botanical heritage of Nepal, created by tremendous altitudinal range and unique geographical position, stood at a high level when collections of herbarium specimens were made during the beginning of the 19th century. Buchanan-Hamilton explored the country (the vicinities of Kathmandu Valley) for the first time in 1802-1803, followed by Wallich (1820-1821) and Hooker (1848). Botanical explorations were more extensive and intensive after Nepal opened her frontiers for foreign explorers and mountaineers during early 1950’s. As a result of hundreds of botanical expeditions throughout the country, plant specimens are being housed in a number of international herbaria in the UK, Japan, the USA, France, Switzerland, India and so on. The Herbarium of Natural History Museum (BM) consists of about 50,000 specimens and in Nepal itself the National Herbarium (KATH) houses over 150,000 specimens.

    Although the catalogue and enumeration of the flowering and non-flowering plants of Nepal have been published, it is now seriously felt that there is a need of a comprehensive flora of Nepal covering identification keys, description, representative illustrations, local names, uses and distribution pattern. A need is also realised to establish GIS-based electronic database and update directory of all plant specimens collected from Nepal. Several attempts have been made to launch the Flora of Nepal Project in national and international levels. Two international workshops on Flora of Nepal were held in Yokohama, Tokyo (September 3, 1993) and Kathmandu, Nepal (April 15-16, 1997) respectively to establish an international collaborative project. In this context, University of Tokyo, Natural History Museum London, HMG Nepal Department of Plant Resources, and Tribhuvan University are seriously planning to launch a collaborative project on Flora of Nepal in near future.



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