This article about Daphne Bholua, the paper plant of Nepal, is part of a series to mark South Asian History Month by exploring this year’s theme ‘Journeys Of Empire’ through plant and horticultural history. Daphne bholua is a medium-sized evergreen shrub with sweetly scented flowers in late winter, known as lokta or लोकता in Nepali.
It grows in mountainous areas of Nepal, mainly in clearings in oak forests at elevations of around 2000 – 3200 metres. Various parts of the plant have been used to treat fevers, parasitic worms and intestinal problems. Its bark has been harvested by Nepalis to make high quality lokta paper for over a thousand years; the oldest existing example is the block-printed Buddhist text, Karanya Buha Sutra, now preserved in the Kathmandu national archives.
In 1845, English botanist John Lindley reported the use of Daphne bholua in Nepal to make ‘a soft kind of paper’ (The Vegetable Kingdom, or the Structure, Classification and Uses of Plants) and in 1866 an adventure novel for children by Mayne Reid called Cliff Climbers describes two young German plant hunters and their Hindu guide, trapped in a Himalayan valley, using the bark to make a paper kite ‘as big as a coach-house door.’
The shrub does not seem to have been introduced into the UK as a garden plant until the 1930s. It is now best known in the UK as the strongly scented variety ‘Jacqueline Postill’ introduced in 1982 by Alan Postill of Hillier Nurseries, named after his wife.
In Nepal, it continues to be a source of paper, produced mainly by women in rural areas. One factory manager, Samita Khatri, explains that it is still used ‘in all official documents, to make diaries, books…’ Some of the paper is exported to the UK and elsewhere for use as menus by Nepali restaurants, and as a high-end artisanal product.
Written and researched by Jill Sinclair
Click to watch a YouTube video showing the paper being produced in Nepal
Other articles in this series: