Camel’s Tail, growing in a forgotten plantation

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David G. Anderson
University of Aberdeen

Community: Svetlyi, Bodaibo District, Irkutsk oblast’, Russian Federation

People: Evenki, Tunguses, Russians

Camel’s Tail, growing in a forgotten plantation

To the North of Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia, there live several communities of Evenki taiga hunters and reindeer herders.  Although their ancestors were some of the first to encounter Russian voyageurs, today they live a largely unacknowledged lifestyle in between the placer gold mining operations of the region.  Traditionally, each family occupied a single valley  – known as a pad’ – and moved from the mouth to the headwaters in an annual round.  At the beginning of Russian settlement they leased their valleys to prospectors, often generating great wealth.

While travelling to the now-abandoned community of Svetlyi we drove through an arid valley filled with a spiny, fragrant plant known colloquially as Camel’s Tail (Верблюжий хвость, Caragana jubata).  A member of the pea family, it produces succulent pods which then dry and remain protected by thick spikes.  It is valued as a traditional medicine among Evenkis, and more widely in the region.  It is a key ingredient in Tibetan medicine.  Picking the plant and drying it is a source of cash income for people in the region.  Locally it is considered to be an endangered species.

Although the plant is not uncommon in Eastern Asia, it is uncommon in this mountainous region.  Our guides speculated that the dense plantation was isolated in the last glaciation.  However an equally interesting idea – although unprovable – is that the copious seeds were deliberately sown by indigenous hunters to create an accessible plantation for medicine.

This pattern of lush, productive valleys lying forgotten in between scarred placer mining  operations is a common theme in this region – illustrating a type of localised resilience to traditional taiga lifestyels


Reading Links

Anderson, D.G., et al. (2014). Landscape Agency and Evenki-Iakut Reindeer Husbandry along the Zhuia River, Eastern Siberia. Human Ecology 42 (2):249-266,


I would like to thank Dr. Evgenii Ineshin, from Irkutsk, for sharing his knowledge about this site.