A family in Nagaland is on a mission to conserve the state flower, rhododendron

Kelühol Tase and his brothers opened a rhododendron park last year to conserve the flower impacted by wild forest fires and continuous human activities

Kelühol Tase of Jakhama village in Kohima district, Nagaland

“Rhododendrons are a symbol of my childhood,” says Kelühol Tase. The resident of Jakhama village in Nagaland’s Kohima district reminisces about joining his parents at the family’s potato fields located along Dzükou valley, a tourist attraction for its abundant flora and fauna, where he would marvel at the vibrant rhododendrons.

It is a large genus of about 1,000 species of woody plants. According to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Plant Sciences, as many as 87 species are found in the Indian Himalayan region. Its flowers can be white, pink, red, orange and even purple. But their medicinal properties is the real draw. For instance, the flowers are consumed to treat inflammation due to gout, arthritis or bronchitis. R arboreum, which has bright red petals, is the state flower of Nagaland. The traditional belief in the state is that consuming rhododendron petals can help remove fish bones stuck in one’s throat.

However, indiscriminate felling and habitat destruction, and damage by pests and diseases have left several of the species vulnerable to extinction. R watti, endemic to India, is impacted by wild forest fires in Dzükou Valley and continuous human activities, highlights the Botanical Survey of India in a 2017 publication. “But not much is being done to conserve this genus. I wanted to change that,” says Tase. In 2018, after having left his post as registrar of St Joseph’s College in Jakhama, he decided to embark on his mission. He travelled to Dzükou valley and the Japfü mountain, Nagaland’s second-highest peak located in Kohima, with his two brothers to collect rhododendron saplings. He then planted the saplings on his family’s 2.02-hectare land in Jakhama.

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In 2022, after sowing and nurturing 500 rhododendron plants of six species, Tase officially opened the area as a rhododendron park. The park, inaugurated by the state’s current deputy chief minister, TR Zeliang, now attracts researchers and students who want to learn more about rhododendrons. “I knew nothing about the flower or its benefits. I hope to keep learning from Tase,” says Asano, a college student from Kohima. Tase hopes such interest will ignite more conservation efforts. His aim now is to obtain World Heritage status from the UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) for his rhododendron park and to launch a society focused on conservation of the plant.

“This would not only help recognise the significance of these plants but also promote tourism and awareness in the region,” he says.

This was first published in the 1-15 January, 2024 print edition of Down To Earth


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