Siroy Lily, the State Flower of Manipur

N Munal Meitei *

Siroi Lily
Pix - Zion Tuithung
Courtesy :: Shirui Kashong Timrawon Website

Manipur, which literally means "A jewelled land", is a State nestled deep within a lush green corner of North East India. Mrs. St. Clair Grimwood once described Manipur as "A pretty place more beautiful than many show places of the world" and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once termed Manipur as "Jewel of India".

Manipur is an oval shaped valley at the centre surrounded by hills, rich in art and tradition with nature's beauty landscapes. The Manipur River flows across the valley and joins in Chindwin River on its head. Rajashree Bhagyachandra made the famous classical dance of Manipur, Ras Lila out of his enchanting dream by the grace of Lord Krishna.

Having a varied and proud history, after the defeat in the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891, Manipur came under British rule as a Princely State. Manipur merged with the Indian Union on October 15,1949. After India's independence, Manipur became a full-fledged State on January 21, 1972. While talking about Manipur, nobody can forget our lovely dancing deer Sangai, Manipuri dance, polo, Emma Keithel, Loktak Lake and sports and ultimately the dearest Siroy Lily.

Shirui Lily or Siroi lily and Botanical name Lilium Mackliniae Sealy, is known worldwide for its rare and modest beauty. It is found in the upper reaches on the third peak of Siroi hill ranges in the Ukhrul district of Manipur, India, at an elevation of 1730m-2590m above mean sea level. It is the State flower of Manipur since 21-3-1989 but has unfortunately become a rare and endangered species in India. A postal stamp was issued by the Indian Postal Department to commemorate this flower.

Ukhrul: - The district headquarters of Ukhrul district is situated 83 Kms away from Imphal in the east. Undoubtedly, one of the highest hill stations of the State inhabited mostly by Tangkhul tribes. Ukhrul is famous not only for the peculiar type of terrestrial lily, the Siroy Lily, it is also famous for the Khangkhui lime caves. Known for the natural hospitality of its people, it is the place where pioneer missionary, William Pettigrew was first offered a foothold.

Siroy Lily:- In 1946, Dr. Frank Ward, a botanist and his wife Jean Macklin, a daughter of a Bombay High Court Judge came to Manipur hills to collect botanical specimens on behalf of the New York Botanical Society. They set up base at Ukhrul in a building which they called "Cobweb Cottage or Bug Bungalow" and discovered Siroy Lily. The lily gets its name from Macklin, the second wife of plant-hunter Frank Kingdon-Ward.

The scientific classification of the Lily is

  • Kingdom - Plantae,
  • Phylum - Angiospers,
  • Class - Monocots,
  • Order - Liliales,
  • Family - Liliaceae,
  • Genus - Lilium and
  • Species - Lilium Mackliniae
This shade-loving lily has pale bluish-pink petals. In the wild it flowers in the monsoon months of June and July. They are seasonal flowering plants and at their best in May and June when it blooms and is a local tourist attraction. The peak season of its bloom is May 15 to June 5. The height of the plant is 1-3ft. and has 1-7 flowers per plant.

The maximum plant density is 7-8 plants per sq.m. The associated species are Anemon Rivularis (Summer flower), Iris Wattii (Kombirei) etc. The leaves are longish and narrow like most lilies. The flowers are pinkish white, delicately flushed pink at the base, and hang looking down. In fact, in Manipur the flower is compared to a beautiful and modest girl.

The lily bagged the prestigious merit prize from the Royal Horticultural Society's Flower Show in London in 1948 but no longer holds an Award of Garden Merit. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is a prestigious Society in the world and was founded in 1804 in London, and gained its present name in a Royal Charter granted in 1861 by Prince Albert. The Society is one of the world's leading horticultural organisations and the UK's leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting gardening.

The Present Destination of Siroy

A conservation programme to protect Manipur's State flower is limiting the loss of its habitat, but community-wide efforts are needed to sustain the efforts in the long run. Found in a small area of about 3-4 hectares only on third peak of the 1730-2570-metre-high Shirui Hill of Shirui village in Ukhrul District of Manipur is an endemic and much endangered floral species. Shirui peak are known by different names, each slightly different from the others: Siroy, Shiroi, Sirohee, and Shirui, the last one being the local pronunciation.

It is part of the Shirui-Kashong range which is proposed to be a National Park under the Wild Life Protection Act 1972. It is the only place in Manipur that the Siroy Lily is found, and even here, only for a couple of days following mid-May every year the beauties of the flower persist. The area is also known to be inhabited by endangered bird species like the Blyth's Tragopan and Mrs. Hume's Bar-backed Pheasant or Nongyin, Manipur's State Bird.

Habitat of Lilium mackliniae

Manipur is one of the States of North East India which is gifted with serene beauty together with magnificent diversity of flora and fauna and lofty mountains. It is in the five hotspots of the world in terms of biodiversity in the eastern Himalayas.

The Shirui Hill in Ukhrul district is blessed with the rare and endangered species of Shirui Lily (Siroy Lily) which is locally called Shirui Kashung Timrawon in Tangkhul. It grows best in partial shade with abundant humus. The Lily grows well in open gritty soil rich with chromium, sunny slopes, and adequate wind speed throughout the year. Eastern Himalayan Temperate Forest with sometime frost is the favourable natural adaptation. This Himalayan type of lily is found in association with many rhododendron species.

The Challenges to Manipur Siroy

The habitat of the Siroy lily is threatened with the intensive tourist activities which are especially organised during the blossoming period of the lily. The dumping of waste, plastic, plucking of flowers and uprooting has threatened the sustenance of the species. The species is also endangered by the invasion of Machun which is kind of miniature bamboo species growing profusely in Siroy's habitat.

The State Forest department as well as Non-Govermental Organisations is working hard to save and conserve the habitat of this treasure of the State. At the most, with some financial assistance from the Central Government, the State Forest Department; Manipur has been taking up some local support measures through providing awareness programmes and employing five local volunteers to look after and protect Siroy Lily.

The Mungleng Vathei Hill Development Society (MVHDS) has volunteered checking people's belongings all throughout the trekking route. Nobody is allowed to even carry a blade of grass or leaf out of the area. Within the flower's habitat itself, there were volunteers imposing a straight fine on anyone who plucked a lily. The unfortunate part here is that those lilies already pulled out from the earth cannot be returned for survival to their original places. So, while the fine is harsh, it is mostly a deterrent to the next misdemeanor. It might have been helpful, also, for the volunteers to caution all visitors about the fines at the beginning of the trek, where the entry fee is collected.

Throughout the trek to Siroy landscape, pits are dug alongside the path to dump the garbage. Typically, these contained empty plastic bottles, wrappers from packets of chips, etc. This is an interesting change from the usual bright jarring dustbins that would just not blend in with the place. All the rubbish is later collected by MVHDS volunteers and disposed off elsewhere. The Society has also launched Project Farm, with some important objectives to conserve the Siroy habitat. Using all the available resources at its disposal for the better growth of this magnificent flower, the Society has put up fencing around the main park and restriction imposed on burning the mountain sides which is one of the main factors for degrading the natural environs of Siroy Lily and hampering its full growth.

Another approach is an attempt to plant the Siroy Lily on the first hill along the trek route, to reduce pressure on the flower's main pocketed habitat. This would also enable many tourists to experience it much earlier in the trek, potentially turning back those who had come only to see it briefly. While appreciating the efforts of the MVHDS, one could not help comparing it to an earlier system. It had laid down a code of conduct for the visitors, including the fines for uprooting of plants, grazing, and so on. And the environment here was recognised as a community conserved area as well.

The need is to promote Eco-excursions Jeco-tourism which should aim at sensitising people towards Environment and Biodiversity. The habitat of the lily that is Shirui hills should be declared as World heritage site. The visitors must be given some pamphlets about the hill to reconcile humans with nature. The present status of the Shirui hill ie proposed National park should be implemented as soon as possible in order to safeguard the natural habitat and to promote in-situ conservation of this endemic species. The above goal should be achieved only through the local people involvement by linking the needs of people with Biodiversity imperatives.

For conservation of Siroy lily, how the changes to the new conservation effort happened is not clear, but it is surely unfortunate. In a successful community-based tourism all over the world, the most critical element in such tourism is that the controls and benefits reside with the community should be on sharing basis. When the whole community feels connected to the flora and fauna it is trying to preserve, there is greater purpose in its effort, and often a higher chance of success too.

On the other hand, communities are often not homogeneous, and bring their diverse elements together in such common cause itself can be a difficult task. The Siroy Lily's survival too depends on meeting of these challenges. The sense of pride in this flower among the people here is obvious, but a return to community-wide interest in this habitat will be critical to keep the conservation attempts strong. The current efforts for conservation have clearly helped, but they are only a beginning; more is needed to manage the mass tourism that is expected in the years ahead.

Therefore it is the duty of all of us to protect the Manipur Lily, the Shirui Lily from its endemic peak of the Shirui Hill in Ukhrul District of Manipur for the sake of the future generations to come.

* N Munal Meitei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a Range Forest Officer and he can be reached at nmunall(at)yahoo(dot)in
This article was webcasted on June 28, 2011.

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