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Sikkim, is an ecological hotspot. Many species of plants and trees call it home. One among them is the Rhododendron, which is also the State Tree of Sikkim. Close to 50 natural species in the genus (group) Rhododendron can be found in India today. Rhododendron is also the state flower of Uttarakhand, and Kashmir.

Rhododendrons are inhabitants of high altitude environment and according to various estimates, around 98% of the Indian species are found in the Himalayan region, among which 72% are found in Sikkim alone.

Rhododendron flower. Image source: Wikipedia

Rhododendrons display diversity in size, shape, and color. Some varieties grow no more than a few inches high, whereas some grow to trees more than 100 feet tall. Leaf size ranges from less than a quarter inch to over three feet long and they appear in round, or elliptical shape. Rhododendron flowers can be white, blue, purple, yellow, pink, red, or various mixtures of these colors.

March, April, and May are the peak months for flowering.

Rhododendron flower. Image Source: www.uconn.edu

Rhododendron flower. Image Source: http://www.uconn.edu

Similar to our other flora and fauna, Rhododendrons are also experiencing the impact of the shrinking green cover. Major threats to rhododendrons are deforestation and unsustainable extraction for firewood and incense. It is estimated that nearly a quarter of the rhododendron species in the Himalayan region is endangered.

Conservation efforts for rhododendrons are in progress. Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary in Northern Sikkim known for its abundance of Rhododendron trees has been declared as a protected area. Starting April 25, it hosts the International Rhododendron Festival 2010, which draws tourists who come to view the magnificent display of rhododendron flowers. Festival ends on May 11. Barsey (Varsey) Rhododendron Sanctuary, is another sanctuary in Sikkim known for its rhododendron trees and flowers.

While the splendor of Rhododendron flowers is enjoyed by all, given the threats to various species, it is important to educate the locals in sustainable practices.