Thousands of pilgrims from Nepal and India visit a garden in Siraha in eastern Nepal on the first day of the Nepali New Year (around the second week of April) to catch a glimpse of a special flower.
According to folklore, the pale purple flowers, which bloom hanging from trees in the garden known as the Salahesh Fulbari, represent a garland that local folk hero Salahesh received from his beloved. Botanists have identified the flower as an orchid species (Dendrobium aphyllum) found from Nepal to Southern China and peninsular Malaysia.
“We know from anecdotes from Nepal and elsewhere that the number of orchid species is declining at an alarming rate,” says Jacob Phelps, co-chair of the Global Trade Program, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Orchid Specialist Group.
According to a policy brief prepared by the Kathmandu-based NGO Greenhood Nepal, which is spearheading a project focused on illegal trade and sustainable use of medicinal orchids in Nepal, the decline in their numbers has been attributed to unsustainable harvesting and international trade of the plants used in Ayurvedic as well as traditional Chinese medicine.
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