ORNAMENTAL PLANTS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITATS
The Pamiro Alay mountain system extends from east to west and
includes some high peaks, high montane plateaus and glaciers, and
can be easily reached from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
Kukhistan corresponds to the part of Pamiro Alay closest to Dushanbe.
According to Kamelin (1979) the flora of Kukhistan consists of
2,000-2,100 species. The area is divided by three parallel Ranges
the Gissarskiy, the Zeravshanskiy and the Turkestanskiy and some
would include the Fan Mountains (Fanskie Gori). With its very
complicated orography, the area includes 12 peaks more than 5,000 m
(16,400 ft) high and spectacularly as many as 40 glaciers. The snow
line lies at 3,700-4,100 m (12,100-13,500 ft).
The road from Dushanbe to the Anzob Pass runs along the river
Varzob, the basin of which occupies the southern slope of the central
Gissarskiy Range, and the flora and vegetation are typical of the
subhumid areas of the western Pamiro Alay. The Varzob Gorge runs
from a north to south orientation. Tall grass semi-savannas and
"shibliak" (mountain hemi-xerophytic deciduos forests) are seen
immediately in the Dushanbe environs. These communities are also
characterized by small trees as well as ephemeral and ephemeroid
plants. Among the attractive perennials are Arnebia coerulea,
Eremurus comosus and Euphorbia franchetii. Dense stands
of giant reed Arundo donax, sugar reed Saccharum spontaneum,
and phragmitoid reed Phragmites australis distinguish the upper
terrace along the Varzob gorge. Christ's thorn Paliurus
spina-christi is a shrub here, and was once widely distributed but
is now rarely found. Communities of maple Acer pubescens, Bukhara
almond Amygdalus bucharica (=Prunus bucharica), Caucasian hackberry
Celtis caucasica and common jujube Zizyphus jujuba occur
along the narrower rocky part of the gorge above the Upper Varzob Lake.
The yellow-flowered anemone Anemone baissunensis, a small herb of
the barberry family Bongardia chrysogonum, the milky white-flowered
Rhinopetalum bucharicum (a close relative of the fritillary),
Gagea gageoides, Geranium charlesii, Juno vicaria [=Iris vicaria] and
Tulipa praestans all flower in spring in gorgeous display.
Chesneya hissarica, an attractive cliff plant of the pea family,
produces spectacular yellow flowers that interestly turn purple by the
end of their flowering. The oriental plane tree Platanus orientalis
is established in some places on the banks of the Varzob river, but rarely
does it produce seedlings.
The submontane part of the Varzob gorge is characterized by broad-leaved
forests and shrub formations, rich in roses. The sparse herbaceous cover
includes small, dense cushions of the endemic Dionysia involucrata
(primrose family) on cliffs, isolated patches of an inconspicuous bellflower
Campanula incanescens as well as the skullcap Scutellaria
hissarica and the showy sege Carex koshewnikowii.
The field station and museum of the Botanical Institute of the Tajikistan
Academy of Sciences is situated in the Kondara Gorge, which is ca. 10 km long
(6 miles). The station is devoted to the study of the the forest vegetation
of the Pamiro Alay. Mixed forests of common walnut Juglans regia,
apple Malus sieversii and maple Acer turkestanicum grow in the
bottom of the gorge. The herbaceous layer consists mainly of tall plants
such as Ligularia thomsonii, Eremurus robustus, Delphinium ovczinnikovii
and Cousinia pulchella, to mention a few. Scattered populations of a
Ostrowskia magnifica, over 1 m high with many white
or blue flowers 10-13 cm (4-5") in diameter, appear sporadically but
dramatically in the shade. The northern slopes of Kondara gorge are covered
with maple forests Acer turkestanicum that are sometimes replaced by
Cotoneaster hissaricus scrub and roses of Rosa kokanica
(=R. divina). Herbaceous communities are dominated by a giantic robust
perennial of the carrot family Prangos pabularia. Small almond trees
Amygdalis bucharica (=Prunus bucharica) as well as pistachio
Pistacia vera are scattered along the southern slopes of the gorge.
The herbaceous cover near the Kvak Pass includes tall mesophilous plants such
as Aegopodium tadshikorum, Heracleum lehmannianum, Ligularia thomsonii,
and Pyrethrum parthenifolium [=Tanacetum parthenifolium]. The brightly
scarlet-flowered Tulipa lanata and the brick red
T. praestans present a colorful display in spring. A giantic fritillary
Petilium eduardii [=Fritillaria eduardii], which is closely related to the crown
imperial Petilium imperiale [=Fritillaria imperialis] occurs
occasionally; the plants sometimes are as tall as 1 m (3 ft) in height with
as many as 20 large flowers.
Cushions of Dionysia involucrata, the endemic Oxytropis
siomensis, and a number of other rock-loving species grow in the valley
of the Sioma river. The yellow Gymnospermium alberti [=Leontice alberti]
comes into flower in early spring, and a dark blue-flowered Asyneuma
argutum appears in summer. The valley slopes are covered with dense
thickets of Rosa kokanica and the endemic wild pea
Lathyrus mulkak, which is a perennial vine to 1.5 m (5 ft) high with
bright pink of good size to 4 cm (1.5") across. Other attractive species include
the bright yellow-flowered Adonis turkestanica, yellow Onobrychis
saravshanica, and the pink-headed Cousinia pulchella. The road
toward the Anzob Pass runs through a cup-shaped depression, the slopes of
which nicely disply the tall semisavanna herbs Prangos pabularia and
Ferula kuhistanica both of the carrot family (Apiaceae). On
the bowl floor of Anzob depression one finds a pink primrose Primula
olgae, a plant only to 5-10 (2-4") cm high and closely related to
P. tournefortii of the sothern Transcaucasus, Iran, and Turkey.
The orchid Dactylorhiza umbrosa, which has long spikes with
violet-purple flowers and Swertia lactea, which has milky blooms
on stems up to 70 cm (2,2 ft), also occur here.
Tall-herb semisavanna is present up to an altitude of 3,150 m (10,330 ft).
The vegetational cover at the pass presents a conspicuous mosaic. The
cushion-like red-flowered dwarf shrub Onobrychis echidna and the
perennial thistles Cousinia franchetii and C. verticillaris
are common in the area. Typical components of the steppes are bluegrasses
(Poa relaxa and P. litvinoviana), cranesbills Geranium
regelii and G. himalayense, anemones Anemonastrum
protractum, edelweiss Leontopodium ochroleucum as well as a
larkspur Delphinium oreophilum. Other species common to these
areas include snow-in-summer or Dichodon cerastioides [=Cerastium
cerastioides] and an elecampane Inula rhizocephala, which has
a leafy rosette, practically no stem, but numerous white heads 3-4 cm
(1.2-1.5") in diameter. Some of the more attractive species that grow on
rocks at the upper limits of vegetation are Paraquilegia caespitosa,
with flowers resembling those of the pasque flower; the mat-forming
Draba cana [=D. lanceolata] and Allardia glabra [=Waldheimia
In early spring, southern Tajikistan is an ideal place to see many
bulbous plants of the genera Crocus, Gagea, Iris, Juno, Rhinopetalum,
Scilla, Tulipa, among others. In the eastern part of the Gissarskaya
Valley occur showy species belonging to Papaver, Anemone and
Scabiosa. Pistachio (Pistacia vera), which blooms in April,
is evident near the Vakhsh River. Amygdalus bucharica [=Prunus]
dominates the vegetational cover near the pass, where it grows along with
such attractive herbs as Eremurus olgae, Delphinium semibarbatum, Onosma
barsczewskii, Salvia sclarea and Scabiosa songarica. It should
be noted that Kukhistan is of great interest to both botanists and gardeners.
Here, botanists can find many endemic species, while horticultural
enthusiasts can find many prospective plants for cultivation and breeding.
Many potentially ornamental endemics are restricted to the Samarkand
Mountains and the basin of the Mogian River. They include the attractive
Acantholimon komarovii, Acanthophyllum saravschanicum, Eremostachys
mogianica, Eremurus chloranthus, Juno magnifica [=Iris magnifica], J.
maracandica [=Iris maracandica], J. parvula [=Iris parvula], Jurinea
maxima, Scutellaria picta and Tulipa affinis. Many of them have
been tested in botanical gardens in Central Asia, and they do well in
cultivation; however, they are practically unknown in horticulture.