This broadly equates to the Tien Shan Mountains (from Chinese ‘Divine or Celestial’ Mountains) of Central Asia, but includes a number of related uplands such as the Kirgizian Range, the Kungei Ala-Tau, the Transalai (Zaalai) Range, the Fergana Range, the Susamyr Tau, the Talassian Ala-Tauthe Kirgizian Mountains, the Talassian Altai (Mountains), Transilian (Zailiisky) Altai, Dzungarian Altai, the Tarbagatai Mountains, the Badghys, the Karabil Uplands, the Paropamisus Range, the Safod Koh Range, western Hindu Kush, the Koh-i-Baba Range and the Pamirs.

Central Tien-Shan Mid-Altitude Mountain Steppe

Ranging from 1600-2400 m this dry steppe vegetation is typically dominated by Festuca valesiaca, Koeleria cristata, Stipa capillata, S. lessingiana and S. zalesskii. Other species may include Phleum phleoides, Poa stepposa together with species of Galium, Hedysarum, Medicago and Thalictrum. Bushes of Atraphaxis, Cotoneaster, Rosa and Spiraea are also often present.

Central Tien-Shan High Mountain Steppe

This ultra continental ecosystem can be found at altitudes ranging from 2800-3200 m. The vegetation largely comprises small cushion or cespitose (tufted) species. Typical species include Festuca musbelica, Hordeum turkestanicum, Stipa breviflora, S. subsessiliflora and endemic species of Acantholimon (Plumbaginaceae). It also extends in the eastern Pamir range.

Dzungaro-Tien Shan Feather-Grass Steppe

Above the forest, between 2000-2600 m, the dominant species are the grasses Stipa caucasica and Festuca sulcata together with Artemisia compacta and A. tianschanica. This vegetation is often stratified with a ground layer of small species such as Androsace villosa (3-5cm), a middle layer (10-20 cm) of herbs such as Leontopodium alpinum and Potentilla conferta, while Stipa and Festuca together with other grasses such as the endemic Agropyron dishungaricum (Poaceae) form a tall layer growing up to 50 cm. On the more rocky slopes shrubs such as Caragana jubata, Rosa webbiana, Clematis songarica and Ceratoides paposa may predominate.

Western Tien Shan Mountain Steppe

Steppe vegetation is widely distributed in this zone from about 700 m to an altitude of about 3500 m, and can be found in the foothill plains of Alai and Western Tien Shan, the Fergana Valley and mountain massifs of Kara Tau and Nura Tau. It can be dominated by species of Fectuca and Stipa or comprises an herbaceous mixture. The associated flora is extremely varied and very rich with over 2000 species and contains many endemics. For example, there are 153 local endemics in the Kara Tau alone. Here the vegetation is characterized by northern-steppe elements such as Festuca valesiaca and Stipa kirghisorum, while the many associated endemic species include Cousinia mindshelknsis (Asteraceae), Lepidolopha karatavica (Asteraceae), Rhaphidophyton regelii (Chenopodiaceae), Scorzonera tau-sagyz (Asteraceae) and Stipa karatavica (Poaceae). On the Alai Plain Festuca valesiaca is again one of the dominant species together with Carex stenophylla var. desertorum and many tiny annuals such as Alyssum desertorum and Ceratocephalus orthoceras. Also common is Avena desertorum and the endemic Anemone tischernaewi (Ranunculaceae), while the moist ground near the River Kisil Su and its tributaries support various delicate forbs such as Polygonum cognatum, Ranunculus flexicaulis, Primula algida and the endemic or near endemic Carex regelii (Cyperaceae) and Erysimum altaicum (Brassicaceae). In the high mountain steppe of Eastern Pamir (2800-3200 m) the vegetation is largely composed of cushion and small cespitose cereals such as Festuca musbelica, Stipa breviflora, Stipa subsessiliflora, species Acantholimon and the endemic or near endemic Hordeum turkestanicum (Poaceae). Formations of cryophitic motley-grass cespitose-cereal steppes are also found on the south slopes of Western Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai with species such as Festuca musbelica, F. olgae and Helictotrichon hookeri. In the mid altitude belt of Western Pamir (Badakhshan) at elevations of 2700- 4000 m the vegetation is dominated by Artemisia korshinskyi and Artemisia lehmanniana with participation of mountain xerophytes like Acantholimon parviflorum Festuca valesiaca, Stipe caucasica and the endemic Acantholimon pamiricum (Plumbaginaceae) and Stipa turkestanica (Poaceae).

Dzungaro-Tien Shan Alpine-Sub-Alpine Meadow-Steppe

This belt between altitudes of about 2600-2900 m is often characterized by Phlomis oreophila especially on southwestern exposures.  Other mountain species commonly found in this zone are grasses such as Festuca kirilovii and Roegneria (Agropyron) schrenkiana, together with alpine herbs like Aconitum nepellus var. tianschanicum, Dianthus hoeltzeri, Euphorbia alatavica, Gentiana kaufmannia, Ligularia altaica, Neogaya mucronata, Solenanthus stylosus, Thalictrum foetidum and Trollius altaicus. Endemic or near endemic species found in this zone include Alchimilla sauri (Rosaceae), Astragalus dsharkenticus (Fabaceae), Cerastium tianschanicum (Caryophyllaceae), Corydalis gortschakovii (Fumariaceae), Crocus alatavicus  (Iridaceae), Gentiana dschungarica (Gentianaceae), Melandrium sordidum (Caryophyllaceae), Oxytropis pseudofrigida (Fabaceae), Scutellaria irregularis (Lamiaceae) and Trinia polyclada (Apiaceae).

Western Tien Shan Subalpine Meadows and Juniper Elfin Wood

In Western Tien Shan at altitudes of between 2400-3000 m sub-alpine meadows alternate with juniper elfin wood (Juniperus pseudosabina). The most important associates include Alchemilla vulgaris, Geranium saxatile, G. albiflorum, together with the motley-grass species Alopecurus pratensis, Helictotrichon pubescens and Phleum phleoides. Also found here is the endemic Alchemilla retropilosa (Rosaceae).

Western Tien Shan Grass-Sedge Savannoid

At lower altitudes, between 350-700 m, on the piedmont plains of Pamir-Alai and Western Tien Shan the vegetation is often dominated by low herbaceous, ephemeroid elements such as Carex pachystilis and Poa bulbosa. This formation has been described locally as savannoid. Ephemerous forbs including species of Astragalus, Alyssum, Malkolmia and Vulpia and sometimes annual saltwort species of Halocharis, Salsola and Suaeda may be present At higher hypsometric levels perennial forbs become more conspicuous with genera such as Cousinia, Phlomis and Stachys and including species like Artemisia cina, Cousinia sydariensis and the endemic Phlomis salicifolia (Lamiaceae). At mid-altitudes in Western Pamir, (Badahshan) at altitudes of 1800-2200 m there are ephemeroid-sagebrush formations. The vegetation includes Artemisia vachanica Poa bulbosa, Carex pachystylis with participation of savannoid tall forbs like Eremurus fuscus and the two endemic species Crambe schugnana (Brassicaceae) and Ferula foetidissima (Apiaceae). The distribution of many southern endemic and rare species are connected with these unique ecosystems.

Central Tien-Shan Alpine Short Grass and Kobresia Meadows

These cryophytic alpine meadows, which range in altitude from about 2800-3600 m, have varied composition, but provide important summer pasture for various wild and domestic animals. Some of the more common species include Allium kaufmannii, A. semenovii, Aster alpinus, Carex stenocarpa, Festuca kryloviana, Gentiana falcata, Kobresia capilliformis, K. humilis, K. stenocarpa, Leontopodium campestris, Poa alpina, Puccinellia subspicata, Trisetum spicatum and the endemic Alchemilla retropilosa (Rosaceae).

Western Tien Alpine Short Grass and Kobresia Meadows

In Western Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai at elevations of 2800-3600 m cryophytic vegetation of various composition can be found. The most important species include Alchemilla retropilosa, Aster alpinus, Festuca kryloviana, Gentiana falcate, Kobresia capilliformis, K. humilis, K. stenocarpa, Leontopodium campestre, Poa alpina, Puccinella subspicata and Trisetum spicatum. Also present are the mountain onions Allium semenovii and A. kaufmannii and many other species.

Dzungaro-Tien Shan Kobresia Meadows

In the alpine zone above 2900 m Kobresia including K. capillifolia and K. humilis become the dominant species often forming extensive carpets. Low growing Caragana jubata and Dracocephalum imberbe are also characteristic. In the wetter areas Saxifraga sibirica occurs and sheltering between the many boulders Chrysosplenium nudicale, Cortusa matthiola and Festuca coelestis can be found.

Piedmont Tall Forb and Grass Formations

These are characteristic of Western Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai on high flats ranging in altitude from 700-1200 m. The vegetation is dominated by tall forbs (Phlomis, Cousinia, Eremostachys, Ferula)andtall grasses (Agropyron trichophorum, Hordeum bulbosum). Ecosystems of this type are unique to this region. They are distinguished by an original floristic composition and abundance of rare and endemic species and some are dominated by giant umbellates. In the foothills of Western Tien Shan the main species are Alcea nudiflora, Eremurus regelii and the endemic Ferula karatavica (Apiaceae), while on Badhys the endemic Ferula dorema (Apiaceae) can be found.

Pamirs Poa attenuata Mountain Grassland

On wetter north and northeastern slopes of the Pamirs on soil rich in humus there is a grassland association dominated by Poa attenuata. It is a mesophytic community confined to the wetter areas. On the northeastern slopes the associated species include Carex macrogyna, Geranium collinum var. saxatile, Kobresia schoenoides, Leontopodium alpinum, Lloydia serotina, Myosotis silvatica, Primula nivalis, Sedum gelidum, Saxifraga cernua, S. flagellaris, and several endemic or near endemic species such as Gypsophila cephalotes (Caryophyllaceae) and the two succulent ranunculi Ranunculus rubrocalyx and R. rufrosepalus (Ranunculaceae). Northern slopes appear to have a slightly different assemblage with species such as Dracocephalum discolor, Nepeta kokanica, Pedicularis dubia and the endemic or near endemic Draba turcestanica (Brassiaceae) and Oryzopsis purpurascens (Poaceae). Moving towards the summits further compositional changes occur although grass continues to be conspicuous.  The interesting endemic brassica Didymophysa fedtschenkoana (Brassicaceae) with its fresh, succulent leaves, small white flowers and bladder-shapes fruits, has been recorded on at least one summit growing under boulders.

Pamirs Cryophytic Trigonella and Cushion plant Formations

Vegetation characterized by the large, tuft forming Trigonella emodi, which can reach a metre in diameter, occurs in various upland dry valleys and plains, and can be found, for example, in the area around Lake Jashil Kul (the green lake) in the Pamir Mountains at about 4000 m above sea level. Here it consists of a scattering of colourful, xerophytic tufted, cespitose and cushion forming plants, and has features in common with the fell-fields found in places like the Alps and Greenland. Among the tufted plants are various endemic species such as the Astragalus alitschuri (Fabaceae), the beautiful red flowered Hedysarum cephalotes (Fabaceae), Oxytropis bella and O. poncinsii (Fabaceae). The main cushion forming species are Acantholimon alatavicum and A. diapensioides. These can reach a metre in diameter and are so solidly filled with twigs and dead leaves that one can stand on top of them without causing any damage. A typical cespitose species is the grass Oryzopsis molinioides, which has leaves only 4-6 cm long. Macrotomia euchromon is cespitose when young but because the vertical rhizomes grow up over the surface of the ground it can eventually attain 30 cm or so in height and become cushion-like due to its covering of dead stems. Also characteristic of these formations are various suffruticescent plants such as Arenaria meyeri, Astragalus lasiosemius, Eurotia ceratoides, Polygonum paronychioides and the endemic Chrysanthemum pamiricum (Asteraceae). Eurotia is especially characteritsic because of its thick, flat, fasciated stem. At altitudes of 4200-4600 in Eastern Pamir there is predominance of microthermic grassy, shrub and semishrub species with cushion forms including species such as Acantholimon diapensioides, Ajania tibetica, Oxytropis chionobia, O.humifusa O. immersa, Sibbaldia tetrandra and the endemic Oxytropis tianschanica (Fabaceae) Potentilla pamirica (Roseaceae)and Thylacospermum caespitosum (Caryophyllaceae).

Central Tien-Shan Cryophytic Cushion Formations

Found in both Central Tien Shan and Eastern Pamir these ultra continental formations range in altitude from 4200-4600 m. Cryphytic cushions represent the most typical plant form with important species including Acantholimon diapensioides, Ajania tibetica, Oxytropis chionobia, O. humifusa, O. immersa, Potentilla pamirica, Sibbaldia tetrandra, Thylacospermum caespitosum and the endemic Oxytropis tianschanica (Fabaceae).

Central Tien-Shan Intermountain Grass-Sagebrush Desert

These formations are found in the dry intermountain depressions. Characteristic species include grasses like Cleistogenes squarrosa, Stipa breviflora and S. desertorum, and sagebrush like Artemisia issykkulensis, Ceratoides papposa and Helianthemum songaricum. Dwarf semi shrubs such as Limonium kaschgaricum, Reaumuria kaschgarica and Sympegma regelii may also be present.

Central Tien-Shan Intermountain Dwarf Semi-Shrub Desert

Dwarf semi-shrubs such as Artemisia issykkulensis, Ceratoides papposa, Limonium kaschgaricum, Reaumuria kaschgaricum and Sympegma regelii dominate certain intermountain depressions. More locally is Artemisa nigricans, Psathyrostachys hyalantha, the grass Stipa desertorum and the perennial saltworts Salsola gemmascens and Suaeda physophora.

Pamirs Mountain Desert Formations

These are found in ultra-continental, warm temperate regions of Eastern Pamir at altitudes ranging from 3500-4200 m. They largely comprise sagebrush and grass-sagebrush with species such as Artemisia skorniakowii, Krascheninnikovia ceratoides, Stipa glareosa and S. orientalis. Other species include Christolea crassifolia and the endemic Xylanthemum pamiricum (Asteraceae).

Pamirs Talus Slope Formations

Where talus slopes support large stones these provide sheltered areas where fine soils can develop, and even on the most exposed slopes these usually retain a degree of moisture. Nevertheless, many of these slopes are devoid of plant life and where it does exist there maybe several metres between each plant. On the northern parts of Jashil Kul in the Pamirs talus slopes stretch from the almost perpendicular mountains slopes down to the lake shore. The characteristic plant species of these slopes include Acantholimon alatavicum, Astragalus lasiosemius, Cicer pungens, Elymus lanatus, Eurotia ceratoides, Ligusticum alpinum, Nepeta podostachys, Rubia tibetica, Zozimia tragioides and the endemic Heracleum olgae (Apiaceae) and Lagochilus diacanthophyllus (Lamiaceae). Other less common species include Astragalus tibetanus, Silene caucasica and the endemic Artemisia pamirica (Asteraceae) and Astragalus alitschuri (Fabaceae). Also growing sporadically on the lower slopes are large quantities of Chamaenerium angustifolium and low bushes of Hippophae rhamnoides.

Montane Swamp and Marshland

Along the shores of many of the slow moving rivers and deltas are large green flatlands dominated by large cyperaceous-tufts often up to a metre in height. Some of these are thought to be of great age and principally dominated by Carex orbicularis, Kobresia bellardi, Royleana schoenoides and R. stenocarpa. Many of these marshes are saline and include more typical halophytes like Atropis tenuiflora, Carex pseudofoetida, Suaeda setigera, Triglochin maritima, Saussurea crassifolia and the endemic Alopecurus mucronatus (Poaceae), Erysimum pamiricum (Brassicaceae), Oxytropis glabra var. pamiricum (Fabaceae) and Polygonum pamiricum (Polygonaceae). In associated shallow water there are a number of hygrophytes such as Batrachium paucistamineum, Zanichellia pedicellata and the endemic Zostera-like Potamogeton pamiricus (Potamogetonaceae). Particularly interesting are the stony riverbed formations. Many of the rivers virtually dry out in summer and support very characteristic vegetation. It includes willows, such as Salix oxycarpa, that can attain heights of 4-5 m, while associated Myricaria squamosa forms bushes up the 1 m tall. Other common species include Potentilla salessowii, with stiff upright stems 20-40 cm tall and great tufts of the attractive white flowered endemic Scrophularia incisa var. pamirica (Scrophulariaceae). Less common species include Sisymbrium korolkowii, Tanacetum tibeticum, the beautiful Delphinium cachemirianum, and the two endemic or near endemic species Ligularia altaica (Asteraceae) with its broad blue-green leaves and yellow flowers and Scutellaria filicaulis (Lamiaceae). Also very characteristic if not unique is the vegetation found in areas near hot springs. Near Jashil Kul there are two major hot springs producing water that can reach temperature of 78oC. The associated vapour can be seen for miles around. The vegetation adjacent to these springs is often dominated by luxuriant stands of Scirpus compressus, which can form fresh green stripes on the brown mountainside, but this species is also abundant in the vicinity of cold springs and so does not appear to be dependent on the raised temperature. On the other hand, in the hot spring basins and along the warmer courses the characteristic species are Veronica oxycarpa and the endemic Epilobium thermophilum (Onagraceae). Both of these depend on both the moisture and the warmth.


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