Is climate change responsible for the early blooming of the Himalayan Rhododendron?

The impact of climate change and overall warming up of the planet does not require any special theorem. It is happening rapidly in our surrounding environment. The Himalayan region, especially the states of Himachal and Uttrakhand, that used to have a long spell of winters from November to March, is witnessing a dramatic change in the temperatures and seasons. The winters have shrunk and there is a decrease in snowfall according to Dr. Manmohan Singh, director of India Meteorological Department (IMD), Shimla.

One of the signs of early spring that used to knock around late March is the blooming of Rhododendron, a red-coloured flower, found mostly in the Himalayan states. This flower has bloomed in February. The year 2018 is no anomaly. The early blooming has been reported in the previous years too.

According to the study conducted by GB Pant institute of Himalayan environment in Almora, ‘peak flowering of Rhododendron is witnessed during early February to mid-March since 2009 onwards’. Earlier the full bloom was noticed from March to May when the spring was full blown.

It is reported that the rapid advancement of flowering in different species in the recent decades has been reported from other parts of the globe as well. It is attributed to corresponding increase in temperatures. This is a natural indicator of climate change having impact on the flowering phenology of various regional species which also affects the ecosystem.

The year 2018 has spelled a 68 % deficient rainfall in the Northern region. According to the experts in IMD, the deficiency is attributed to variation in the western disturbances (WD) that bring rain and snow in the Northern part. The month of January remained completely dry. However, the experts do not term it as a general phenomenon and state it as a variation that changes from year to year.
Going by the data of rainfall and snowfall from last 118 years of Shimla, the stark reality about shrinking the winter season (November to March) and decrease in snowfall is very vivid. The precipitation takes place only because of WD. Local precipitation which used to be a regular phenomenon in the past (about three decades ago) has reduced substantially.

The experts opine various reasons for that. But the profound ones are: reduction or virtual loss of local water channels, large deforestation (just for four-laning of the highways and other developmental works in the Himalayas more than half a million trees have been cut), sheer increase in the number of vehicles that emit gases which increase the temperature of the surface, changing patterns of lifestyle i.e. in winters the people used to move away from the mountain cities and live in their native places.

This has changed over the period and now more and more people tend to stay back in the urban centres for various reasons. This has a direct impact on the snowfall.

The residents of the mountains can easily feel the brunt of the climate change as it affect their lifestyles. The snow line is receding very rapidly in the hill stations and it is believed soon there may be a situation when snow fall may not happen at all in some of these important hill stations. This will create phenomenal loss to the environment and the entire eco-system.

Just as the growth of lichens is a pointer towards pollution in the city, so is the early blooming of Rhododendron – the mountain flower, towards the early warnings of warming up. It is time that action is oriented to protect the ecosystem, and the humankind for both are grossly interlinked.

Tikender Panwar is the former Deputy Mayor of Shimla.

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