Plant Life In India
Ecologically, India has numerous plant communities, many of which show local peculiarities, and which may grade from one to another at points of ecological transition. Five major communities can be recognised (Champion and Seth 1968).
Wet tropical forests prosper where there are year-long warm temperatures and wet conditions. This is the tropical 'jungle'- evergreen, with a tall forest canopy, many epiphytes, vines, palms and climbers. The forest is quite diverse, and usually without dominant tree species. Species from families such as theDipterocarpaceae, Guttiferae, Anacardiaceae, Sapotaceae, Miliaceae, Myrtaceae, and Lauraceae are common. The most significant tracts of wet tropical forest grow in the Western Ghats and in the north-eastern hills.
Dry tropical forest cloaks most of the Peninsula, where rainfall is moderate and highly seasonal, and where temperatures range from moderate to high. The vegetation is of lower stature, less lush, less species-rich, and has only a moderate assemblage of epiphytes, palms and vines. The canopy element is largely deciduous. During the wet season the habitat can appear tropical and lush, but during the height of the dry season it is brown and parched. Characteristic trees aresal, teak, sandalwood, acacia and other less well-known forms.
Montane subtropical forests occur at altitudes from 1000 to 1700 metres in the lower parts of the central and eastern Himalayas and also in the Western Ghats. With cool temperatures at higher altitudes, the precipitation that fall is more effectively retained by the habitat because of the lower rate of evapo-transpiration. This montane habitat is lush and diverse, but of smaller stature than the tropical wet habitat. It is floristically rich, and prominent plant families include myrtles laurels, and melastomes, among others.
At even higher altitudes, usually above 2000 metres, one finds the montane temperate forests. These forests are found in the highest altitudes of the Western Ghats and in the middle altitudes of the Himalayas. The forest cover is low, with a dense canopy of small thick leaves. The taxonomic composition of the southern examples include myrtles and laurels, and such genera as Meliosma, Eurya, Symplocos, Michelia and Ilex. The northern example comprises mostly oaks, magnolias and rhododendrons.
At high elevations (over 3000 m) in the Himalayas one encounters subalpine forests. An overwood dominated by conifers-mostly firs, but also pine and rhododendrons-is associated with a dense growth of small crooked dwarf trees and shrubs. Considerable herb growth occurs with ferns abounding. Bamboo can also form large thickets.
The north-west is very dry, and supports true desert conditions and correspondingly depauperatexerophilic vegetation, often sparse low scrub. Temperature ranges are extreme, with cold nights and very hot days. Here herbaceous vegetation is seasonally abundant in the form of many small flowering plants and grasses. One also encounters woody (often thorny) shrubs and small trees.