Scientific Name: Daphne bholua
Common Names: Nepalese paper plant
Plant Type: Deciduous or evergreen shrub
Environment: Sheltered, part sun, well-drained soil
Uses: Border gardens, specimen plant
The Nepalese paper plant (Daphne bholua) is a pleasantly fragrant flowering shrub native to the Himalayas and neighboring mountain ranges. It is found high up in the mountains at elevations between 5,500 and 12,500 ft. Depending on where the species is growing in its altitudinal range it can be either deciduous or evergreen. At lower elevations, the Nepalese paper plant will typically be evergreen and grow in forest margins, however at higher elevations it is found in pastures and loses its leaves seasonally.
As the English common name indicates, the Nepalese paper plant is used in traditional paper making in Nepal. This paper is known as lokta paper and is crafted from the inner bark of Daphne bholua and Daphne papyracea. It is known for its long-lasting nature and resistance to damaging insects and mildew. Historically the paper was reserved for important documents such as religious texts or government records.
The production of lokta paper began to decline rapidly with the introduction of imported paper in the early twentieth century. By the 1970s only a handful of families retained the skills to produce the traditional paper.
At the same time, however, demand for lokta paper began to grow due to an increase in tourism in Nepal. Because of this interest and seeing a potential market, UNICEF and the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal/Small Farmer Development Fund with support from the Nepali government, implemented a project to revive the traditional paper making process, with the intention of also providing community development and reducing poverty with employment opportunities. This project resulted in a rapid expansion of lokta paper production in Nepal by the 1990s. And though the project engaged local forestry experts to ensure sustainable harvesting of the Daphne species, more recently experts are concerned about the regeneration of wild populations and overharvesting. Today, the paper is used widely in Nepal for items ranging from greeting cards to wallpaper to lampshades.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Profile by Victoria Stewart.