Not far from Khorugh (the administrative centre of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) at 2,320m above sea level, on an ancient river terrace at the confluence of the Ghunt and Shohdara rivers, is the green “Roof of the World” – the A. GurskyPamiri Botanical Gardens, the highest Botanical Gardens in the CIS. The Gardens were founded in 1940 in a complicated mountainous area. The climate is dry and extremely continental. The precipitation fluctuates between 200-300mm depending on meteorological conditions and altitude. The annual average temperature here is 8.7ºC. The average temperature in January is –7.9ºC, while in June it reaches 24ºC.
There are at least 130 days each year without frost. Morning frosts in spring and fall are a normal phenomenon even on hot days. The microclimate differs greatly from one area of the garden to another. All types of ground found in the West Pamirs are present in the Gardens: rocks, steep and sandy areas, pebbles, screes, hilltops, and mountainous slopes. The flora of the Gardens consists of approximately 4,000 species and varieties in the botanical collections and native vegetation of the protected territories. There are about 3,000 species of trees and herbaceous plants in the collection. The Pamiri Botanical Gardens are a unique natural laboratory for researching the vital functions of plants in alpine conditions. From the beginning, responsibility for the construction and creation of the collection belonged to professor A. V. Gursky, the first director of the Gardens. He was head of the Botanical Gardens for 26 years. These gardens hold a special place among the botanical gardens of the world. Many other botanical gardens are interested in it as a source for seeds of alpine flora. Seeds are exchanged with 170 partners in the former Soviet republics, and about 200 in 40 other countries. The Pamiri Botanical Gardens have tested more than 30,000 kinds of plants in their nurseries.
Studies on some species of the international collection of potatoes were carried out here. The first fruit-tree nursery in Gorno-Badakhshan was established in the Gardens, where reproduction methods for fruit-trees in mountainous conditions were developed. More than 500 hectares of mountain slopes, shale, and hilltop mud were transferred to the Gardens in 1970. At an altitude of 2,700–3,000m, this area is a good place to carry out comparative studies of the lives and activities of plants in high-mountain conditions. Currently, the Pamiri Botanical Gardens cover 624 hectares, more than 100 hectares of which are irrigated. There is a large diversity of ecological conditions in the Gardens which provides a good basis for studying a wide variety of plants. Within the Gardens can vertical profile tests of plants be carried out at a range of altitudes from 2,100-3,500m. Inside the gardens, a “Pamiri Nature” museum was established. More than 800 exhibits displaying the natural conditions of GBAO and representing its flora and fauna are here. Materials about the geography, geology and soils of the region are exhibited in the museum. Typical landscapes of the Western and Eastern Pamirs are also on display. Becoming familiar with the botanical collection begins immediately at the entrance gates, where the Central Asian department is located. The collections in the unit are presented not as individual plants but as whole vegetational collections.
The Tien Shan fir-tree, brought to the Gardens from its traditional habitat in the Nura Valley in the Alai valley, grows on the steep slope here. The Tien Shan mountain ash and various honeysuckles which accompany fir forests in Central Asia grow close to the fir-tree. The Pamiri birch, a large tree with red bark, also draws attention. It grows in the Pamirs in natural conditions along the mountainous rivers banks and close to water sources, forming birch groves at altitudes of up to 3,600m. The Pamiri birch also appears in other flora departments of the gardens reaching 14m in height.
Various species of juniper are of great interest. The local Shughnon Juniper is remarkable for its drought-resistance, ornamentality, and variety of forms. Young juniper saplings successfully withstand replanting and therefore they are widely used for landscaping in GBAO. The East Asia department holds an important place in the Pamiri Botanical Gardens. Thirty-five percent of the total number of arboreal and dumetosous species are East Asian flora. More than 500 species of trees and bushes in the East Asia department were successfully acclimatized. Most of them originated in China, Japan, Manchuria, the Far East and Siberia. The flora department of Europe, Caucasus and the Crimea adjoins the East Asia flora department. In the northern part of Gardens there is a department for plants from North America, and on the south-east slope you will
find the flora department of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush.
There is a fruit garden in the northern part of the main botanical collection. More than 60% of the species in it are local varieties developed by the population over the last thousand years. Some of these varieties were
discovered in valleys where they were on the verge of extinction, with only a single known specimen remaining. The most promising varieties and forms of trees are planted. In the north-west part of the gardens there is a nursery for decorative flowers. It is a model for decorative
flower nurseries in mountain conditions and developing mountain slopes for forest gardens. The collection of wild herbs, which includes more than 50 species, began in 1979. Research is carried out on rare and disappearing GBAO flora. To that end, a nursery was established in which about 30 species of rare and vanishing flora were planted, collected from different parts of the Pamirs.
The Botanical Gardens protected territory covers more than 50 hectares. It begins from the riverbeds of the Ghunt and Shohdara Rivers (2,200m) and stretches to the top of the Shughnon range (3,800m). This area is a research testing site. Here, the study of the dynamics of phytocenosis and zoocenosis, environmental protection, and rare and unusual plant species is carried out. The protected territory serves for the study of plants and specific environments: rocks, scree and other mountainous and rocky places. The plant pool of the Botanical Gardens protected territory includes more than 800 different species.