Books

Below, one can view the front & back covers of a recently published book (which Chris Chadwell will review in due course but  can straight away commend for the number of images, their quality and the level of reliability of the identifications also being brave enough to include plenty of less showy species including ones belonging to families often omitted, such as grasses - the Poaceae as they are now known and sedges, Cyperaceae) will be of interest to those with a serious botanical approach to flowers, who are planning a visit to Ladakh.  I agree with the claim that the book is widely applicable in the borderlands of Western Tibet in Indian territory (e.g. Lahaul, drier parts of Spiti and drier parts of Kinnaur) and Western Tibet proper (now administered by China) but few get to travel there.  There is a fair degree of overlap with Kashmir but this guide cannot be described as widely applicable to the Kashmir Valley.  As for Nepal, this guide overlaps hardly at all, other than a little in Tibetan borderland areas.  I really wish scientists would make accurate claims (or perhaps this was on the insistence of the publishers to attempt to boost sales), especially as the purpose of as 'botanical' a guide as this is (which I approve of), must be to aid accurate and reliable identification of plants. Mind you, I have never published a printed book myself.  My late uncle Douglas Chalk, published a book on 'Hebes & Parahebes' and there were aspects he did not approve - I e.g. felt the selection of colour drawings on the front cover were uninspiring, hardly likely to boost sales!


Front cover


Back cover

Since its publication in 1984, too many people have misused 'Flowers of the Himalaya', quickly matching one of the small images it contains, not bothering to check the geographic and altitudinal ranges, all-too-often concluding they had seen a particular species, when in fact it had only previously been known 1-2000 km to the north-west or southeast or 1000m higher or lower! They had not read the accompanying written descriptions to see if these tallied.... Thus, assorted accounts of treks in specialist society journals I read about treks in the Himalaya, obviously, to me anyhow, contained numerous misidentifications.  A book on the flowers of Ladakh is not a suitable guide to flowers in Nepal and its use would only lead to further misidentifications.  At one level, one might say, it does not really matter when a person from the West buys the book, whether they reliably identify the plants they see, after all they were most probably only on a holiday trek but Indian and Nepalese botanists will refer to this new guide, as they do to 'Flowers of the Himalaya', as a standard reference, thinking they are full floras - at least in the case of 'A Field Guide to the Flora of Ladakh' around a half of all known wild species recorded from there, whereas 'Flowers of the Himalaya' illustrated or described only about one tenth of the total for the parts of the Himalaya covered - and this authors of this new guide rightly comment that it includes the vast majority of species the typical visitor would encounter.  A work can only be described as a 'Flora', if every known species is mentioned, regardless of how detailed the descriptions of individual species are.  Stewart's 'Flora of Ladakh', published a century ago in an American Botanical Journal, qualifies as a 'flora' but is in reality little more than an annotated check-list.

Please note that Chris Chadwell has begun a series of digital guides to the flowers of Kashmir, Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti and Himachal Pradesh - the first parts will be available as CDs later in 2018. Useful though the books below are as an introduction, guides covering only a fraction of the total flora and with only single images and brief descriptions are not sufficient to reliably identify most species from the Himalaya. Chris' guides typically provide several images per species, which are not economic to publish as printed books.  See: 

Those serious about identifying Himalayan plants should consult his 'Flowers of the North-West Himalaya' web-site for further advice: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/fowh/

Chris offers a free identification service for plant photos taken in the Himalaya.  He is currently most interested in material photographed in the NW Himalaya (the Indian States of Kashmir & Himachal Pradesh) but he knows something of the floras of Uttrakhand, Nepal & Bhutan, so can try his best with images taken in those places.  He can be contact at: chrischadwell261@btinternet.com

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This is the best available guide to Himalayan flowers containing very few mistakes but as it was published by Oxford University Press back in 1984, the nomenclature and taxonomic treatment of plants has changed considerably.  Please note this is not a 'flora' as such, the content only represents a selection of the commoner, showier and noteworthy species (some 1500 are described with over 690 colour photos and 315 line drawings), perhaps 1/10th of the total flora.  The authors mostly cover species found above 1200m in the upper valleys, the hills and higher mountain regions to over 5500m.  The Himalaya stretches from Nanga Parbat eastwards from 2250km to Namcha Barwa on the bend of the Tsang-po in South-East Tibet; this book only covers the Indian Western Himalaya and Nepal, a distance of about 1450km - though gives some idea of the species in Sikkim and Bhutan as well.  Also be aware that only the commoner and distinctive species can be reliably identified by matching with such small, single photos, which often do not show diagnostic characteristics. Most species cannot be correctly identified in this way, sorry but this is true.  It is essential to read the accompanying text which provides geographic and altitudinal ranges, typical habitat and brief descriptions. If these do not tally with the specimen observed in the Himalaya or the photos you took, then almost certainly you need to re-check.  In all probability you will not have come across a species 1000m higher or lower than ever recorded before or 1000km to the north-west or south-east but misidentified it!  Chris Chadwell got to know Oleg Polunin during several visits to his home at Godalming (not far from Charterhouse, where Polunin had been Botany master); he was most encouraging as Chris began his expeditions to the Himalaya.  Chris also met Adam Stainton both at his flat in London and the Natural History Museum herbarium.  Both lent slides for Chris to use in his lectures - in his early days, he could not afford a satisfactory camera.

It is worth obtaining the full version of this publication, rather than the Concise one, which is most often available for sale in India, as this has deleted important information.  Also look out for the following Supplement:


This Supplement was also published by Oxford University Press, in 1997, funded by Adam Stainton himself (who enjoyed a private income). Anyone with a serious interest in Himalayan plants should obtain a copy as well as the main volume.  This describes 350 species not included in the parent volume and 600 new colour plates. Although more up-to-date than the main 'Flowers of the Himalaya', as the years pass, this also becomes out-of-date, nomenclature and taxonomy-wise but that applies to all printed volumes. 


*Note the front cover image above is not the correct way up!  I don't know which orchid it is nor who took the photograph - this is missing from the book.

I purchased a copy of this in a bookshop in Leh in 2012 for Rs 950 (I cannot recollect the exchange rate at the time, nor know what it would cost in 2018 but this currently works out at just over £10).  If this is the only version you can obtain then OK but you miss out on a lot of the written descriptions including typical habitat and the original book's introduction - not that many seem to bother reading this information anyhow, preferring to flick through the page, making a rapid match with what they think they have seen/photographed in the Himalaya.  I do not recommend this method, as it results in a high proportion of misidentifications - though most plant enthusiasts are much more likely to buy a copy of a cheaper book like this 'Concise' version and take it on a trek, rather than the FULL VERSION.

 

UNFORTUNATELY, THE COLOUR REPRODUCTION (BY DE UNIQUE, NEW DELHI, INDIA) VARIES - SOME PAGES ARE TRULY DREADFUL SUCH AS THE RIGHT HAND SIDE SHOWING RHODIOLAS OF AN UTTERLY FALSE COLOUR COMPARED WITH THE LEFT-HAND-SIDE REPRODUCED FROM THE ORIGINAL FULL FLORA.  SEE RHODIOLA WALLICHIANA  AND KALANCHOE SPATHULATA, WHICH HAVE YELLOW FLOWERS, WHEREAS THE COLOUR IN THE COPY OF 'CONCISE FLOWERS OF THE HIMALAYA' IS A DIRTY BLUE!

 

AS FOR THE ABBREVIATED TEXT WITHIN THE 'CONCISE' VERSION, THE AUTHORITIES OF THE NAMES & SYNONYMS ARE MISSING - NOT TO MENTION NOT BEING BROUGH UP-TO-DATE (THERE HAVE BEEN MANY CHANGES SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF THE FULL VERSION IN 1984); THIS IS A MAJOR PROBLEM FOR INDIAN BOTANISTS AND INDIAN AMATEURS SINCE THE ONLY REFERENCE BOOKS THEY USE FOR HIMALAYAN FLORA ARE LOCAL FLORAS PUBLISHED BY INDIAN BOTANISTS SINCE INDEPENDENCE, LARGELY CONSISTING OF COPIES OF THE CONTENT OF HOOKER'S 'FLORA OF BRITISH INDIA' (PUBLISHED IN THE 19TH CENTURY) LITTERED WITH ERRORS AND OMISSIONS; AND AN UNOFFICIAL COPY OF COLLET'S 'FLORA SIMLENSIS' (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1921, COPIED BY BISHEN SINGH MAHENDRA PAL SINGH IN 1980) - THESE USE HOOKER'S NAMES, WHICH DO NOT TALLY WITH MANY IN 'FLOWERS OF THE HIMALAYA'.  ANOTHER SERIOUS DELTION IS THE HABITAT WHERE EACH SPECIES IS FOUND AND OBSERVATIONS AS TO ABUNDANCE, BOTH OF WHICH ARE IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS.  ANOTHER MISSING ASPECT ARE THE KEYS TO HELP SEPARATE BETWEEN SPECIES WITHIN A GENUS AND MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, THE SPECIES WHICH ARE NOT ILLUSTRATED BY PHOTOS OR LINE DRAWINGS ARE MISSING - WHEN ADDED TO THOSE NOT INCLUDED IN THE ORIGINAL FULL 'FLOWERS OF THE HIMALAYA', THIS CONTRIBUTES, AS MOST USERS DO NOT APPRECIATE THAT EVEN THE ORIGINAL COVERED ONLY A FRACTION OF THE TOTAL FLORA, TO EVEN GREATER NUMBER OF MISIDENTIIFCATIONS, AS THE OWNERS OF THE 'CONCISE' VERSION FALSELY ATTEMPT TO 'MATCH' THE PLANTS THEY COME ACROSS IN THE HIMALAYA WITH AN IMAGE IN THE BOOK.



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This publication, entitled 'Himalayan Plants Illustrated' by Toshio Yoshida undoubtedly has some lovely images - some larger than those in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' but there are problems for non-Japanese-reading purchasers, as the text is in Japanese, so utterly meaningless to most.  Latin names are provided (which just goes to show the benefit of this International language amongst botanists). Also, the book covers both Himalayan flora proper and plants found in the mountains of SW China (which are not part of the Himalaya as such, although many, incorrectly, think they are).  Thus, for those wishing to attempt to name a plant found in the Himalaya, confusingly, there are many species which do not occur there.  There are plants whose range extends all the way from Kashmir to SW China or Nepal to SW China but not that many.  As to the price, this is prohibitively high for most - running to hundreds of UK pounds if purchased from a UK supplier.  It would have been much better of the author had published a volume on Himalayan flowers only with a separate one covering South-West China.  In this way, more would have purchased copies. I have not used this as often as 'Flowers of the Himalaya' but have spotted a few more mistakes but still not many.  I was keen to obtain a copy of this for several years but could not afford to do so until my eldest son, who works in Japan, obtained a copy at a much-reduced price.

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Whilst only a strictly limited Himalayan plants are illustrated, many of the large colour prints are truly sumptuous and inspiring, bringing back delightful memories for me of my Himalayan travels - one cannot fail but to be inspired, whether by the Meconopsis horridula above or the Saussurea gossypiphora below (or should it be 'Baked Alaska').  I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all plant enthusiasts - not just those with a specific interest in Himalayan flora; I even managed to get this at a discount price last time I was in Nepal and the colour reproduction was fine.

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The Editors and authors are to be complemented on their scholarship.  Leaving aside the content in connection with Tibetan Medicinal Plants, Himalayan plants, principally found on the Rohtang Pass in Himachal Pradesh and parts of Nepal are described and illustrated to a high standard. Chris Chadwell has not met any of the authors but undertaken a considerable amount of research into Himalayan plants utilised in Tibetan medicine.  Chris was a consultant to The Royal Government of Bhutan on the 'Cultivation of Medicinal Plants for Traditional Medicine Project' in the mid-1990s and has identified plants used for traditional medicine by amchis (doctor of Tibetan Medicine) in Ladakh.
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