With climatic conditions ranging from the torrid to the arctic, India, is indeed one of the few countries in the world that possesses such a rich and varied vegetation. The distinct vegetative regions in India are:
The Western Himalayan region extends from Kashmir to Kumaon. This temperate zone abounds in dense forests of conifers and several other species of broad-leaved temperate trees. The most prominent species are Deodar, Blue pine, Spruce Juniper and Silver Fir. The alpine zone extends from 4,750 metres to the higher reaches of the Himalayas. The states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh are literally the fruits baskets of India; their produce range from apples,cherries, strawberries, pears and peaches to walnuts, pinenuts, almonds, apricots and more. The rare, priceless saffron is also grown in the Kashmir valley.
The eastern Himalayan region extends from Sikkim and northernmost parts of West Bengal. This zone has forests of Oaks, Laurels, Maples, Rhododendrons, Alder, Birch, Junipers and Dwarf Willows. Sikkim is a haven for highly colourful orchids. The hill slopes in and around Darjeeling in the northern part of West Bengal are extensively utilized for the cultivation of tea.
The Tropical vegetation of north-east India (comprising Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya and lower regions of Arunachal Pradesh) typically occurs up to the heights of 900 m. It embraces evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forests, moist deciduous monsoon forests, swamps and grasslands.
Tropical evergreen rain forests are found in the Assam valley, (there is a profusion of the tropical grapefruit here) and the lower reaches of the Naga Hills, Mizoram, and Manipur Meghalaya. The hill slopes of Assam are abundantly used for tea cultivation. The Assam region, watered by the Brahmaputra and the Surma rivers are draped in evergreen forests, thick bamboo groves and clumps of tall grasses besides a wide range of orchids. The natural elevation in this part of the country makes it suitable for the cultivation of numerous fruits: Cherries, Plums, Squashes, Oranges and Pineapples. Rosewood, Mahogany and Ebony trees also abound in the area.
The Indo-Gangetic plains stretching from eastern Rajasthan through Uttar Pradesh to Bihar and West Bengal are mostly cultivable land. The major crops here include rice, jute, wheat sugarcane, Bajra (pearl millets) Jowar (sorghum), maize, mustard / rye and an unlimited range of vegetables. The commonest trees dotting the plains include fruit trees such as Mango, Jackfruit, Jamun (Java Plum), Guava, Fig, Mulberry, Plantain / banana, Loquats, Litchies, bael (Wood apple) Palmyra palm, and flowering ones such as Palash (Flame of the forest), Neeli Gulmohar (Jacaranda), semu (Silk cottonl), chhatim (Devil Tree), Amaltas (Cassia Fistula), Neem and Gulmohar (Royal Poinciana / Peacock Flower), There are yet a few other highly useful plant species such as Jhau (Thuja) Banyan and Peepal (Ficus religious) to name a few.
The combination of a warm climate and adequate moisture leads to a profusion of aromatic and flowering plants, many of which are endemic: Marigold, Chrysanthemum, Rose, Jasmine, Rajanigandha (Tuberose), Champa, Bel, Juhi, Siuli / Shefali, and Shoe Flower (Hibiscus).
Land plants like Coconut, and aquatic ones like Lotus, Water Lily, Water Hyacinth and Water Chestnut thrive well near wetlands and water bodies (rivers, pools, ponds, lakes etc) and places receiving heavy rainfall.
The Sundarbans in West Bengal is the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems. The typical littoral (related to the seacoast or banks of a river, lake or estuary. An area between high and low water marks) forests of Sundarbans comprises mangrove trees adopted to the peculiar estuarine condition of high salinity, lack of soil erosion and daily inundation by high tides.
The Desert Region
In the Thar desert lying to the west of the country, the trees are short and stout, stunted by the scorching sun and the lack of moisture. The commonest plants growing in this region are Guar (Cyamposis Tetragonolobus), Babul, Reunjha and Keekar (varieties of Acacia); numerous species of cacti, Khejra (Prosopis spicigera), Kanju (Holoptelia integrifolia) Ak (Calotropis gigantea), and Khajur (Date Palm).
The Deccan Plateau, comprising the entire table land of the Indian peninsula (encompassing Maharashtra, the four southern states, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in central India. Its eastern part, the Chhotanagpur Plateau comprises parts of Jharkhand & Bihar) supports a variety of vegetation - from scrub jungles to mixed deciduous forests. The major plant species found here include Teak (its highly durable wood is extensively used for building purposes), Sal, Mahua (its flowers tree are used for preparing a local brew), Seesam, hartaki (Myrobalan) and Arjun.
Interestingly, the black soil (which is spread over the entire Deccan Plateau and its offshoots) of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh makes these regions ideal for cotton cultivation.The elevation of the Plateau is also conducive to orange cultivation which is carried out in the Nagpur region of Maharashtra.The highly coveted Sandalwood is an evergreen tree which generally grows in the dry, deciduous forests of the Deccan Plateau. It grows almost exclusively in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
The Malabar region covers the excessively humid belt of mountain country parallel to the west coast of the Peninsula. Besides being rich in evergreen forests, this region produces several major commercial crops - coconut, betelnut (supari), pepper, coffee, rubber and cashewnut.
The Western Ghats cover only 5% of India's land surface, but are home to more than about 4,000 of the country's plant species of which 1800 are endemic. The monsoon forests abound on both the western and eastern margins of the ghats, where the rainfall is much above average. This zone displays diversity of forests from evergreen to dry deciduous. Nilgiris, a part of this mountain chain is also a prime producer of tea and coffee.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands have tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen rainforests, besides tropical monsoon forests. The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic (plants which do not have roots in the soil) vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. The Middle Andamans are covered by moist deciduous forests. North Andamans is characterised by the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers. Evergreen forests are completely absent in the north Nicobar Islands. Grasslands occur only in the Nicobars where deciduous forests are conspicuous by their absence.The coasts of these islands are dotted with coconut trees.
Featured here are some vitally important, yet commonly available plants, whose parts (root /stem/ branch leaf/ flower/ fruit/ seeds / oils) provide us with medicines spices and condiments.
Tulsi (Basil) is one of the most popular herbs grown in the world. It is native to Asia (India, Pakistan, Iran, Thailand) and can be found growing wild in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Medicinally, Basil shares many of the properties of the other mint species, most outstanding among these being an antimicrobial effect. The essential oil derived from the plant has been found to have antibacterial, anti-yeast, and insecticidal qualities. Researches have revealed that the seeds and oil of Basil possess mild antibiotic properties, help to destroy some intestinal parasites. Tulsi leaves are a sure fire cure for coughs and colds. Because of its popularity, Basil is often referred to as the "king of the herbs".
Turmeric is the dried rhizome of a herbaceous plant. Often called the 'Indian Saffron', turmeric has been known to the world since ancient times. Its antiseptic and preservative properties makes it an ideal food flavouring agent, an effective ingredient in medicines (due to its anti-septic and anti-carcinogenic properties) and cosmetics. It is also a powerful antidote against poison. As a beauty aid, turmeric paste prevents and cures pigmentation, maintains pH factor and leaves the skin glowing.
A ginger plant can grow to about 1m in height. The upright shoots sprout from the rhizome at the base of the plant. The rhizomes (swollen stems, knotted fleshy, and covered by ring-like scars) are the most important parts of the plant, extensively used for cooking and medicinal purposes. Ginger is believed to help the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and even painful menstual periods. Ginger root is widely used as a digestive aid for mild stomach upset and helps prevent nausea / vomiting associated with motion sickness and pregnancy.
This is a perennial plant closely related to the onion, shallot, and leek. Down the ages of recorded history, garlic has been used,for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The most commonly consumed part of the plant is an underground storage structure called a head. The head of garlic is composed of a dozen or more discrete cloves, each of which is a botanical bulb, an underground structure comprised of thickened leaf bases.
Garlic is excellent for bruises and blisters. If taken with vinegar, relieves toothache. If cooked in vinegar and honey, garlic removes tapeworms and other parasites in the human intestine. Garlic taken in food helps to control epilepsy. According to the Indian Ayurveda garlic boiled in milk, and taken in small doses helps to cure hysteria, flatulence, sciatica, and heart ailments.
Nutmeg & Mace
The nutmeg tree is a large evergreen native to the Moluccas (an archipelago in eastern Indonesia), east Asia, though it is also cultivated in the West Indies). It produces two spices mace and nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside the fruit and mace is the lacy covering / aril (a fleshy covering of certain seeds formed from the attachment point of the seed) on the kernel.
Forniculum vulgare, which belongs to the parsley family (Apiaceae, is a culinary herb. It is grown for the dried, ripe fruits or seeds which are used in bread, pickles, liqueurs, and meat sauces and dishes as well as a mouth freshener. The fennel seeds can be distinguished by their warm, sweet characteristic smell.
One of the oldest spices in the world, the clove is the dried, unopened flower bud of a small evergreen tree. Clove forms a major ingredient for a variety of beverages, medicines, cosmetics, perfumery and toiletries. Either powdered or whole, clove finds extensive application in Indian foods. It is a major constituent of garam masala and several kinds of curry powders. Clove is also extensively used in pickles, ketchups, and sweetmeats, tooth pastes and mouth-fresheners. It is an important spice used in paan (betel leaf) chewed after meals.
Cinnamon sticks & Bay leaves
The trees and shrubs of the genus Cinnamomum of the laurel family have aromatic bark and foliage and are evergreen. The cinnamon sticks are obtained by drying the central part of the bark, whereas the dried leaves of the same tree comprise another important Indian spice, the tejpatta. This has strong resemblance to Bay (laurel) leaf, a popular culinary seasoning, extensively in French, Italian, Spanish and Creole cooking. It flavours soups, stews, pickling brines, sauces, marinades, and poultry and fish dishes. Bay laurel is a pyramid-shaped tree or alternatively a large shrub with aromatic, evergreen leaves and shiny grey bark.
This is a pyramid-shaped tree or large shrub with aromatic, evergreen leaves and shiny grey bark. This is a perennial, herbaceous, rhizomatous plant. Cardamom is the dried ripe fruit (capsules of cardamom plant) often referred as the “Queen of Spices” because of its very pleasant aroma and taste. Roasted seeds, boiled with betel nuts make a drink that cures indigestion and nausea. Cardamom seeds added to tea. make a tonic to relieve the symptoms of stress due to overwork or depression. Cardamom seeds are given to patients with bad breath and a capsule of cardamom taken with honey helps to improve eyesight.
This herbaceous plant (Cuminum cyminum) like coriander, is related to the parsley family, and produces spicy seeds used extensively in cooking especially Indian and Mexican. In herbal medicine, cumin is considered to be a stimulant, carminative (a drug with antispasmodic properties, used against cramps of the digestive tract in combination with flatulence), and antimicrobial. Cumin can be used to season many dishes, as it draws out their natural sweetnesses. Cumin finds use in meat dishes in addition to other common seasonings.
It is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the living underground rhizome or tap root of the Ferula tree, a perennial herb, three species of which grow on the subcontinent. It is grown in Kashmir and in some parts of Punjab in India. Afghanistan and Iran are the major suppliers of asafoetida to India. Asafoetida is extensively used for flavouring curries, sauces, and pickles. It is also used in medicines owing to its antibiotic properties.
Cilantro / Coriander
Cilantro is a member of the carrot family (Coriandrum sativum). The plant and leaves are called cilantro, while the seeds (used as a spice) are called coriander Interestingly, coriander is one of the oldest used herbs and spices in human history. It finds mention in the Bible, and the seeds have been found in ruins dating back to 5000 B.C. The name is probably derived from the Greek word corys, meaning bedbug; this is an obvious reference to the strong aroma emitted by the leaves and stems of the cilantro plant, when crushed.The seeds have a lemony citrus flavour when crushed, due to the presence of the terpenes linalool and pinene. It is also described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavoured.
This annual herbaceous plant (Trigonella foenum-graecum, Family: Leguminosae) is a native of North Africa and eastern Mediterranean countries; it is widely cultivated in India. Fenugreek seeds have been used as a spice since ancient times. Since ancient times Fenugreek was known to have possessed medicinal properties. Modern medicine has revealed that fenugreek seeds possess anti-diabetic, nutritive and restorative properties. They are also believed to stimulate the digestive process in human beings.