Ladakh has an extremely cold climate with rocky and uneven terrain. It is a dry desert and harsh climate with low temperatures. Due to these factors, there is limited vegetation here. However certain narrow valleys in the region are quite fertile where certain plants and agricultural crops are grown. Vegetation is also visible around the river banks and along the snow line. There are also certain varieties of willow groves, wild roses and herbs.
The flora of Ladakh comes under alpine and high alpine zones. There are a great number of annual, perennial herbs followed by stunted shrubs and bushes. The vegetation in Ladakh starts growing at the commencement of summer, with abundant moisture being provided by the melting snow. The vegetation starts disappearing at the commencement of winter in September.
The Himalayan ranges have been a source of rich medicinal plants since ancient times. These plants are commonly used for most of the Asian traditional medical systems. One of them being “Amchi system of medicine.” 80% of the substances used in formulating these medicines are of plant origin.
Wild Edible Plants: These plants start growing during March-May as soon as the winter snow starts melting in Ladakh. After several trial and error methods, the local inhabitants have identified certain wild plants good enough to be consumed. The tender shoots, leaves, stems and underground parts of these plants are consumed fresh or in dehydrated form. Some of these are dried in sun and stored as emergency vegetables for prolonged winter.
Aesthetic flowers: The Himalayan flora also consists of aromatic and aesthetic plants. Some of the high alpine species like Aquilegia sp, Delphinium sp, Juniperus sp, Rosa sp, etc; are used in the religious rituals, monasteries and several other purposes in Ladakh. The vegetation in Ladakh has also been categorized in to different zones as follows:
High Altitude vegetation: The flora of this region shows the characteristics of Alpine Mesophytes. Some of the common alpine forest species are Betula utilis, Pinus wallichiana and Rhododendron Campanulatum. Some of the common mesophytic species are Podophyllum hexandrum, Lavetera kashmiriana, Lotus corniculatus, Astragalus rhizanthus, Verbascum thapsas, Lagotis cashmeriana, Lagotis kunawurensis, Picrorhiza kurroa, Oxyria digyna and Capsella bursa-pastoris.
Oasitic vegetation: Plants of this zone are represented by a variety of exotic as well as indigenous species, growing near habitation, along water channels, streams, nullahs and in moist places. The common plant specifies found here are Mentha longifolia, Pedicularis longifl ora, Potentilla sp., Stachys tibetica, Sedum ewersii, Rhodiola quadrifolia, Lancea tibetica, Trifolium pretense,Melilotus alba and Melilotus offi cinalis.
Desert vegetation: The plant species here have long roots and are succulent with small leaves. Common plant species which are growing around barren valley of Indus and Changthang are Polygonum aviculare, Atriplex crassifolia, Corydalis flabellata, Caragana pygmea, Capparis spinosa, Echinops cornigerous, Ephedra gerardiana, Physochlaina praealta and Peganum harmala.