As in the rest of tropical Asia, most indigenous
vegetation in Myanmar is associated with two basic types of
tropical forest: monsoon forest (with a distinctive dry
season of three months or more) and rainforest (where rain
falls more than nine months per year).
Monsoon forests are marked by deciduous tree varieties,
which shed their leaves during the dry season to conserve
water; rainforests are typically evergreen. The area
stretching from Yangon to Myitkyina contains mainly monsoon
forests, while peninsular Myanmar south of mawlamyaing is
predominantly a rainforest zone. There is muck overlapping
of the two - some forest zones support a mix of monsoon
forest and rainforest vegetation.
In the mountainous Himalayan region above the Tropic of
Cancer, Myanmar's flora is characterised by subtropical
broadleaf evergreen coniferous and subalpine snow forest
passing into alpine scrub above 3000m.
Along the Rakhaing and Tanintharyi coasts, tidal forests
occur in river estuaries, lagoons, tidal creeks and along
low islands. Such woodlands are characterised by magrove and
other coastal trees that grow in mud and are resistant to
sea water. Beach and dune forests, which grow along these
same coasts above the high-tide line, consist of palms,
hibiscus, casuarinas and other tree varieties which can
withstand high winds and occasional storm-sent waves.
The country's most famous flora includes an incredible array
of fruit trees (see the Food section in the Facts for the
Visitor chapter), over 25,000 flowering species, a variety
of tropical hardwoods, and bamboo. Of the last, considered
one of Asia's more renewable plant resources, Myanmar may
possibly contain more species than any country outside
China. One pure stand of bamboo in Rakhaing State extends
over 7770 sq km. Cane and rattan are also plentiful.
As mentioned earlier, Myanmar currently boasts natural
forest cover of 43%. Another 31% of the land surface is
covered by secondary forest, most of which is subject to
shifting 'slash-and-burn' cultivation.
Myanmar holds 75% of the world's reserves of Tectona grandis;
better known as teak to English speakers, and kyun to the
Burmese. This dense, long-wearing, highly prized hardwood is
one of Myanmar's most important exports, for which the
biggest consumers are China, Singapore and India.
When Marco Polo wrote about Myanmar in the 13th century,
he described ' vast jungles teeming with elephants, unicorns
and other wild beasts'. Though Myanmar's natural
biodiversity has no doubt altered considerably since that
time, it's difficult to say just how much
The most comprehensive wildlife survey available at the time
of writing was undertaken by the Bombay Natural History
Society between 1912 and 1921 and published as the Mammal
Survey of India, Burma and Ceylon. In Myanmar The Wild
Animals of Burma, published in 1967, is the most recent work
available and even this volume simply contains extracts from
various surveys carried out by the British between 1912 and
1941, with a few observations dating to 1961.
As with flora, the variation in Myanmar's wildlife is
closely associated with the country's geographic and
climatic differences. Hence the indigenous fauna of the
country's northern half is mostly of Indo-Chinese origin
while that of the south is generally Sundaic (ie typical of
Malaysia, Sumatra, Bornea and Java). In the Himalayan region
north of the Tropic of cancer, fauna shares the Indian
biogeographical realm with areas of North-Eastern India. The
large overlap area between zoogeographical and vegetative
zones - extending from around Myitkyina in the north to Bago
Yoma in the central region - means that much of Myanmar is a
potential habitat for plants and animals from all three
Myanmar is rich in bird life, with an estimated 1000
resident and migrating species. Coastal and inland waterways
of the delta and southern peninsula are especially important
habitats for South-East Asian waterfowl.