The flora of the Himalayas varies with climate, rainfall, altitude, and soils and includes elements from tropical Indochina, temperate East Asia, the Palaearctic region, the Deccan Plateau and the low-lying areas along with the support of mixed evergreen forests. Although most of these semi-evergreen forests have long since been converted into human uses, vestigial patches appear mostly in small protected areas. The alluvial grasslands and savannas along the foothill valleys are among the tallest in the world. Characteristic species in these highly productive grasslands include Saccharum spontaneum, Phragmitis kharka, Arundo donax, Imperata cylin-drica, Erianthus ravennae, Andropogon spp., and Aristida ascensionis. The lower hill slopes above 1,000 m are cooler and less drought-stressed. These areas are dominated by subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests. The eastern Himalayas' temperate forests are dominated by evergreen broadleaf trees and mixed conifers (e.g., Quercus, Lauraceae, Tsuga, Taxus) in the lower reaches and winter-deciduous broadleaf species (e.g., Acer, Betula, Magnolia) in the upper reaches. The drier, south-facing slopes support extensive stands of arboreal Rhododendron species that may co-occur with oak (Quercus semecarpifolia) or other ericaceous species such as Lyonia ovalifolia. These temperate forests support a rich epiphytic community, consisting of a variety of dicots, orchids, ferns, and mosses. Bamboo (Arundinaria spp.) is dominant in the unexploited places. especially where it provides early-successional ground cover following fire. Subalpine conifer forests begin from about 3,000 m and extend to 4,000 m. In the eastern Himalayas, Tsuga, Picea, or Larix dominate these forests between 3,000 and 3,500 m and Abies dominates above 3,500 m. Junipers are widespread along the timberline and may form dwarf krum-moltz formations above 4,700 m. The dry slopes and inner valleys support Pinus and Cupressus on basic limestone soils. Above the tree line, the vegetation is a moist alpine scrub community of dense juniper and Rhododendron shrubberies that extend to about 4,500 m. From 4,500 to 4,700 m, the vegetation consists of alpine meadows with a diverse assemblage of alpine herbs and smaller-stature woody shrubs, such as a variety of dwarf Rhododendrons, and numerous alpine herbs such as Potentilla, Ranunculus, and the alpine Saussure species. Periglacial and subnival communities occur in the high alpine areas above 4,700 m, where the short growing
season, high winds, and unstable soils allow only specialized plants to survive. Some of the common genera found here are Androsace, Arenaria, Saxífraga, Meconopsis, and Primula (Fig. 1.4).
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