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Discover Bhutan’s National Tree: The Himalayan Cypress

Deep in the heart of the Himalayas lies the Kingdom of Bhutan, a country steeped in mysticism, adorned with resplendent monasteries, and home to diverse flora and fauna.

Among its most revered trees stands the Himalayan cypress, a symbol of resilience and simplicity. But did you know there’s more to this tree than meets the eye? Journey with us to uncover the tales and secrets of the majestic ‘Tsenden.’

Discover The Himalayan Cypress, the National Tree of Bhutan

The Himalayan Cypress (Cupressus torolusa) is a towering beauty, often reaching heights of 30 to 45 meters (around 98 to 148 feet). Its trunk, broad at the base and tapering towards the top, can span from 1 to 2 meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet) in diameter.

With a crown that’s typically conical when young and broadens with age, this tree is an unmistakable sight. Its leaves are slender, dark green, and arranged in a spiraling fashion. They emit a pleasant aroma when crushed.

The bark, rough and fibrous, peels off in longitudinal strips, revealing a reddish-brown underlayer. As for the tree’s reproductive attributes, the Himalayan cypress bears small, spherical cones, which turn from green to brown upon maturation.

Where Does the Himalayan Cypress Grow?

The Himalayan Cypress thrives in Bhutan’s temperate climate zones, predominantly found at elevations ranging from 1800 to 3500 meters. Its resilience is evident in its ability to grow on rugged terrains, from rocky slopes to the serene courtyards of monasteries.

Beyond Bhutan, its range extends to other parts of the Himalayas, including regions in India, Nepal, and Tibet. The ideal conditions for its growth include well-drained soils and areas receiving ample sunlight, although it can tolerate partial shade.

As the tree is adapted to higher elevations, it is resilient to cold temperatures and can withstand the region’s occasional snowfall.

Bhutan Himalayan Cypress Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Himalayan Cypress in the Ecosystem

The Himalayan Cypress is not just a symbol; it’s an integral part of Bhutan’s ecological fabric. Its dense foliage provides shelter to various bird species, including the Himalayan Monal and the Rufous-bellied Woodpecker. The cones, once matured and fallen, become a source of sustenance for some ground-foraging animals, particularly certain rodent species.

Furthermore, the ‘Tsenden’ plays a crucial role in preventing soil erosion. Given the country’s mountainous terrain, trees like the Himalayan Cypress hold the soil together with their intricate root systems, preventing landslides during heavy monsoons.

Additionally, the tree’s bark and leaves, rich in essential oils, have been known to exhibit antimicrobial properties, potentially benefiting surrounding plant life by reducing the spread of certain pathogens.

Why and When Did The Himalayan Cypress Become The National Tree of Bhutan?

The Himalayan Cypress was designated as Bhutan’s national tree not only for its prevalence but also for the deep cultural and spiritual significance it holds. Symbolizing bravery and simplicity, the ‘Tsenden’ resonates with the values and principles held dear by the Bhutanese.

Historically, the wood of the tree has been extensively used in the construction of religious structures, like monasteries and temples, showcasing its spiritual importance. Moreover, many local legends and folklore often mention the cypress, intertwining it with the very essence of Bhutanese culture.

While there hasn’t been any notable controversy regarding its designation as a national symbol, its widespread use in construction and for firewood has raised concerns among environmentalists.

With Bhutan’s commitment to conservation, efforts are in place to ensure that the utilization of the tree aligns with sustainable practices, balancing cultural significance with ecological responsibility.

Bhutan Himalayan Cypress close up

Where is the Himalayan Cypress Featured in Bhutan?

While the Himalayan Cypress itself isn’t directly depicted on national symbols like Bhutan’s flag or banknotes, its presence is strongly felt throughout the country. This is especially evident in the numerous religious and historical sites.

As you journey through Bhutan, you’ll find ancient monasteries and dzongs (fortresses) often surrounded by these towering trees, creating a serene and spiritual ambiance. Its wood has also been historically used in crafting religious artifacts, building structures, and even in traditional Bhutanese medicine.

Names of the Himalayan Cypress

The Himalayan Cypress is locally revered as ‘Tsenden’ in Bhutan. Scientifically, it goes by the name Cupressus torulosa.

In other regions, especially within its native range across the Himalayas, it might be referred to with slight linguistic variations or local dialects.

Interesting Facts About The Himalayan Cypress

  1. Resilience in Harsh Conditions: The Himalayan Cypress is known for its tenacity. It thrives in rugged terrains and can withstand the often harsh climatic conditions of the Himalayan region, making it a symbol of strength and endurance.
  2. Sacred Wood: The wood from ‘Tsenden’ is often used to make religious artifacts and even the choesham, the traditional wooden seat of the chief abbot of Bhutan.
  3. Traditional Medicine: Parts of the tree have been used in traditional Bhutanese medicine. The resin, in particular, is believed to have medicinal properties and is sometimes used as an ingredient in local remedies.
  4. Evergreen Nature: The Himalayan Cypress is an evergreen tree, which means it retains its leaves throughout the year, making it a constant, reassuring presence in the Bhutanese landscape.
  5. Cultural Significance: There are numerous festivals, songs, and dances in Bhutan that mention or pay tribute to the ‘Tsenden’, further cementing its deep-rooted importance in Bhutanese culture.
Bhutan Himalayan CypressSource: Wikimedia Commons

Other Beautiful Trees Found in Bhutan

  • Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana): Predominantly found at elevations between 2,400 and 3,600 meters, this evergreen conifer is easily recognizable due to its long slender needles and its blue-green hue. Its timber is a valuable resource in Bhutan.
  • Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis): Also known as Bhojpatra, the bark of this tree was historically used for writing scriptures and texts in ancient India. Its peeling white bark is a distinctive feature, and it can be found in the higher altitude regions of Bhutan.
  • Himalayan Alder (Alnus nepalensis): Found in moist areas along riverbanks and forests, this tree plays a crucial role in soil conservation and reforestation in Bhutan.
  • Rhododendron: Bhutan boasts more than 46 species of rhododendrons. Blooming in various shades from late winter to summer, these trees and shrubs add vibrant colors to Bhutan’s forests, especially in the Dochu La pass area.
  • Himalayan Oak (Quercus semecarpifolia): Commonly found in the cool temperate regions of Bhutan, these sturdy trees provide essential habitats for various fauna and are integral to the forest ecosystem.

What Is The National Flower of Bhutan?

Bhutan’s national flower is the Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis). This captivating flower, with its delicate blue petals, is native to the Himalayas. It grows at altitudes of 3,500 to 4,500 meters and blooms between June and July.

Due to its high-altitude habitat, it’s often associated with the mystique of the towering Himalayan peaks. The Blue Poppy symbolizes the purity, rarity, and beauty of Bhutan, and finding one in the wild is a memorable experience for many travelers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Himalayan Cypress the same as the common cypress we see elsewhere?

No, the Himalayan Cypress (Cupressus torulosa) is a different species native to the Himalayan region and has unique characteristics adapted to its environment.

Why is the Himalayan Cypress so prevalent around religious sites in Bhutan?

The tree symbolizes bravery and simplicity, values that resonate deeply with Bhutanese spiritual beliefs. Its wood is also traditionally used in religious artifacts and structures.

How tall can a Himalayan Cypress grow?

The tree can grow up to 45 meters (approximately 148 feet) in height, making it one of the towering trees in the region.

Is Bhutan the only country where the Himalayan Cypress is found?

No, the Himalayan Cypress is native to the entire Himalayan range, which spans several countries. However, its significance as a national tree is unique to Bhutan.

Apart from the Blue Poppy, does Bhutan have other national symbols related to nature?

Yes, Bhutan deeply values its natural heritage. The country’s national animal is the Takin, a unique goat-antelope native to the eastern Himalayas, and the national bird is the Raven, which holds cultural and religious significance in Bhutanese folklore.

Other National Symbols of Bhutan

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