Conservation of tsenden in the Dangchu Valley, Bhutan

Bhutan’s national tree, known locally as Tsenden, is considered sacred in Bhutanese culture. Due to its highly durable timber and religious significance, it has been much sought after for the construction and renovation of Dzongs (temples) and monasteries. However, this important timber species is now threatened as the amount of logging has become unsustainable. A new GTC project will restore populations of Tsenden in the Dangchu valley, which houses Bhutan’s largest remaining Tsenden forest, in order to create a sustainable source of Tsenden Timber and eventually provide revenue for local people.

Bhutan’s national tree – Tsenden (Cupressus torulosa) – only occurs naturally in Bhutan and possibly India. Tsenden is of immense cultural and religious importance, making its timber a widely sought after material for the construction and renovation of Bhutanese holy buildings such as Dzongs (temples) and monasteries. A decline in wild Tsenden populations in Bhutan has been observed largely due to unstainable logging rates.

The Dangchu valley, which houses the largest known population of Tsenden in Bhutan, has been frequently targeted by both legal and illegal loggers. Most recently Dangchu valley Tsenden is being harvested to rebuild the Wangduephodrang Dzong, which was destroyed by fire.

Natural stand of Tsenden in Dangchu valley earmarked for logging

Natural stand of Tsenden in Dangchu valley earmarked for logging

The local people of Dangchu valley are concerned about the sustainability of these actions and fear that this culturally important tree is at risk of disappearing. This has led the present Mayor of the Dangchu valley, with the help of local people and the Forestry Department, to establish a nursery to grow Tsenden seedlings.

The Global Trees Campaign is supporting the people of Dangchu village to scale up their conservation of Tsenden.  This project will generate new knowledge about Bhutan’s national tree, for example by identifying optimum growing conditions. In the long-term, restoration of populations of Tsenden in the Dangchu valley, will create revenue for local people and provide a sustainable source of Tsenden timber. However, it is estimated that the trees take around 70 years to reach a harvestable size, so the Dangchu valley residents are carrying out this project with future generations in mind.

In partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, a survey of Dangchu valley Tsenden has recently been completed which identified suitable trees from which seeds can be collected, to increase the stock and genetic diversity of the Dangchu valley nursery.

The community nursery will then be expanded to 1 ha with a production capacity of 20,000 Tsenden seedlings per year and fencing and stone walls will be constructed around mother (seed source) trees to protect them from illegal logging. The seedlings produced from the nursery will then be used to restore sites where trees have been felled.

The project is also collaborating with Royal Botanic Gardens, Serbithang (located in Bhutan’s capital – Thimphu) to increase public awareness of the importance of Bhutan’s native species such as Tsenden, and the need for its conservation.

Tsenden, Dangchu valley

Tsenden, Dangchu valley

Did you know?

The Vietnamese golden cypress was discovered as a new species to science in 1999.