ORNAMENTAL PLANTS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITATS
Central Asia in the sense of this book is the "Soviet Middle Asia"
of the FSU, of Hollis and Brummitt (1992) and Russian geographical maps.
It lies between the Siberian Altay mountains in the northeast and the
Caspian sea to the west. The region includes the republics of Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan (or Turkmenia), Uzbekistan and southern Kazakstan.
Two great rivers, the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya, the "Oxus" and the
"Yaksart" or "Jaxartes" in the ancient tongues, flow through this region
of where civilization arose. These rivers played important roles as trade
routes from India via the Caspian and Black seas to Europe. The ancient
provinces of Sogdiana (Tajikistan) and Bactrya (southern Turkmenistan) were
known both in the East and the West.
Central Asia extends 1,300 km (800 miles) from north to south and 2,400
km (1,500 miles) from west to east. It consists of the Turanian Lowlands
that gradually rise in the southeastern part to high mountain borders.
Central Asia is very impressive in its dimensions and contrasts. It has
the largest deserts in the FSU with the Karakum (about 390,000 sq km or
150,580 sq miles) in Turkmenistan and the Kyzylkum (about 300,000 sq km or
115,830 sq mi) in Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. It also has the highest
mountains in the FSU: Tien Shan and Pamiro Alay. The name Pamiro Alay is
used in Russian literature for the mountain system south of the Ferganskaya
Valley (Ferganskaya Dolina) and the Tarum depression. The Pamiro Alay
includes numerous high plateaus that range from 3,700-5,000 m (12,149-16,404
ft), and it is fitting that Pamir means in the Tajik language "roof of the
world." These mountain systems have extraordinary peaks and ranges, with
heights well exceeding European and American mountains. Thus the Pobeda
peak in the Tien Shan reaches 7,443 m (24,420 ft) and the Kommunizma peak
in the Pamiro Alay is 7,495 m (26,589 ft). The longest continental glacier
in the world is the Fedchenko glacier, which at 80 km (49.7 mi) long, and
15 km (9.3 mi) wide, is situated in the Pamiro Alay. The climate of Central
Asia is predominantly dry, but the presence of mountain ranges with various
orientations causes marked environmental differences that influence the
flora. Floristically, Central Asia belongs to the Irano-Turanian Region,
the richest parts of which are the Armeno-Turanian and Turkestanian Provinces
(Takhtajan, 1986). It is a transitional area between the montane vegetation
to the west and related to the Caucasian flora, to the east related to
Himalayan flora. Kamelin (1990) recognizes seven types of montane terrain
within this region: extra arid hill country, arid hill country, arid and
semi-arid submontane country, subarid mountains, humid mountains, high
mountains, and high mountain plateaus.
Central Asia has so far yielded a relatively small number of ornamental
species to world gardening, although it is reported to have 8,000 species
of vascular plants (Kamelin, 1990). There are more than 60 endemic genera
and numerous endemic species that include a large number of potentially
ornamental herbs and woody plants, mostly shrubs. Although these attractive
plants can be found in diverse vegetation types and habitats, the majority
grow in the mountains. The foothills and lower montane zones support various
types of desert vegetation and here most species grow in spring as ephemerals
(annuals) or ephemeroids (perennials). Deciduous shrubby thickets or sparse
forests characterize mountain slopes and consist of juniper (Juniperus)
and various steppe formations, together with tall plants of the carrot family
(Apiaceae). Deciduous forests include maple (Acer), apple
(Malus), common walnut (Juglans regia) and form isolated stands.
Coniferous forests, dominated by Schrenk's spruce Picea schrenkiana and
fir Abies semenovii, are even less common. The high-altitude vegetation
consists of meadows, steppes and cushion subshrub communities. As a whole, the
flora of Central Asia is of great interest as a potential source of new woody
and herbaceous plants.