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Highland flora of Tien Shan


As a Trekking Club guide, in the mountains I spend more time than at home: as soon as summer starts, again and again I re-discover the fantastic world of Tien Shan nature. It never gets boring, as every time and every season it is beautiful…and it is different. Hiking from the wooded lowlands to the glaciers, through the alpine meadows, I do not get tired of admiring the riot of colours and the variety of forms. Although, I still know very little about the flora of the highlands. Being interested in this topic, I found a time to fill the knowledge gap. Finally, discovered lots of amazing fact about the Northern Tien Shan vegetation in the books of the famous Almaty botanist A.Ivaschenko. Share it with you!

- famous Schrenk spruce. This is a tree that makes all northern slopes of Zailiysky Alatau so charmштп. Tall, powerful trees, which sometimes grow right on the rocks, at 1300-2000m ASL. They live up to 600 years, but any hurricane can ruin them - the root system is very shallow. The most beautiful ones are blue coloured.

- Sievers apple tree. Is said to be the 6000 years-old ancestor of domesticated apples, a true relic! It is listed in the Red Book. Normally grows in the foothills, but separate trees can be found even at 3,000 meters above sea level. If you want to see a real prehistoric paradise garden, come to the Turgen gorge, where this apple tree is re-cultivated.

- now move to the endemics: Mushketov goat’s-wheat (artaphaxis). The rarest of 14 Kazakhstani species. It can be found in a small area, only in the central part of Zailisky Alatau, around Almaty. The plant is also a relic of the moist forests of the Tertiary period, that is, there is at least 10 million years of existence. This is a shrub up to 1.5 meters high. From other representatives it is distinguished by the lack of spines. The leaves and large, bright green and elliptically shaped. Very nice when blossoms with white or pale pink bunches.

- Tulip Regel. Kazakhstan's endemic and the most original of the tulips. It has low stalk with a single flower: light-violet outside, white and yellow inside. Because of the similarity with the snowdrop, locals often call it “baysheshek”. It grows on stony slopes and is listed in the Red Book as a rare relict species.

- when hiking through the alpine highlands, always feel fascinated with the variety а colours, but some plants attract with a completely unusual bloom. Such as black-red onion. It is found on the high ridges of the Tien Shan, in some places as thickets (in wet areas). Blooms all summer, from June to August, in very original form: inflorescences resemble umbrellas, dressed in a black and purple cover. Young shoots are very tasty: do not miss a chance to diversify your trekking menu.

- all those red and pink thickets, which you pass through when walk up, are the sally-bloom fields. Here it is also called “koporsky tea”, which is a veritable herb for all occasions. Being a perfect bee plant (1 hectare may provide with 600kilos of honey), this tall, up to 1.5m plant is used in medicine as an antipyretic and sedative. Rhizomes are eaten as a vegetable; the leaves are edible in the form of a salad or brewed like tea. Fibre stems are used for making ropes.

- Schmalhausenia (nidulans) – local Asian genus with the only known specie, named in the honour of famous Russian scientist J.Schmalhausen. It can be found on the ancient glacial moraines and in alpine highlands of the Northern Tian Shan. This rare amazing plant is a real decoration of the cold highlands. It looks like a high thorn, framed with colourful leaves. The colouring of the plant is very unusual: the lavender leaves have a rusty-grey tint, and the large prickly flower is violet. Shepherds sometimes consume its sweet stalk for food.

- Edelweiss Fedchenko – the most recognizable highland “brand”. Here in Kazakhstan it is not as scarce as in Alpes, but, unfortunately, is no longer so common. This is a redivive plant, densely pubescent with soft grey-white filaments. Thanks to this "collar" the flower resembles a multibeam star. The real star of the mountains!
Aconite Aquilegia Forget-me-not
Hieracium Rhodiola Schmalhausenia
Semenovia Trollius Yellow_cress
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