There is this tale of two Himalayan Snow Lotuses: the heavily harvested Saussurea laniceps, left, and the seldom collected Saussurea medusa. Both are native to the eastern Himalayas where they grow in rocky habitats above 13,000 feet (4,000 meters).
S. laniceps is prized by tourists who pick the strange-looking, rare flowers for souvenirs.
It is called “Ka Er Lai Li,” which means the Lotus Flower in the Snow.
Xuelian Feng, Xuelian Peak or Snow Lotus Peak, is one of the major mountains of the TianShan mountain range where Snow Lotus flowers are found. It lies in Xinjiang Province, China, about 50 kilometres (30 mi) east-northeast of Jengish Chokusu, the highest peak in the range. It is notable for its large, steep relief above the nearby valleys, and for its large topographic prominence at an elevation of 6,527 m (21,414 ft).
Saussurea involucrata flowers and stems have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, cough with cold, stomach-ache, dysmenorrhea, and altitude sickness, and has been found to have anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, abortifacient, anticancer, and anti-fatigue actions. Ethanol extracts were shown to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
In most Chinese martial arts literature, the Snow Lotus was classified a rare herb as precious as lingzhi mushroom, and old ginseng.
The Snow Lotus blossoms in July and August every year. Due to the high elevation of the Mountains, the snow does not melt even during spring and summer.
The flower has several white or light green petals around a purplish hemispheriod stamen. It looks like a big Lotus standing gracefully in the wind and snow, sending out a unique fragrance.
When the mountain herdsmen see Snow Lotus Flowers, they take it as a propitious sign, treating it as a “Holy Flower.” People think that drinking the dewdrop from the flower bud can eliminate sickness and prolong life.
According to legends, fairies had scattered down Snow Lotuses when the Heavenly Queen of the Jade Lake came to Tian Chi (Heavenly Lake), to take a bath, and the snowy peak that is more than 5,000 meters high on the opposite side of the lake is said to be a beautiful mirror from the Goddess.
It is said the Snow Lotus has a Spirit and if she hears that someone reveals her tale, she can vanish in the snow. Today Xinjiang thieves have been stealing the Snow Lotus flowers like crazy and this rare and beautiful flower is facing extinction.
The heavily harvested Lotus has evolved four inches shorter over the past century, threatening its fitness for survival in unprotected areas. The findings suggest that humans can unconsciously drive evolution, which should be considered when managing threatened species.
It’s inspiring just to behold this rare flower with its ability to live in the snow
and exist even under the threat of extinction.