Flora of Himachal Pradesh Analysis Vols 1-3 (Chowdhery & Wadwha, 1984)

* I do not know what 'Analysis' actually means in the above title?  Perhaps an Indian botanist will kindly contact me to explain.

Despite having been aware of the existence of this so-called 'Flora' for many years, no effort to obtain a copy has been made by me, as I knew in advance, it would not constitute an actual flora. There was no straightforward or inexpensive way to purchase one; I saw no purpose in wasting my time and strictly limited finances. I strongly advise against attaching much importance to it nor using it as a reference. This publication is not a flora at all but merely constitutes a copy of some of the content of pages of Hooker's 'Flora of British India' published more than a century ago!  Does this not constitute plagiarism?  Perhaps the authors admit as much but as I do not possess a copy, I cannot say - though I know that few users of such works bother reading introductions, so because of the title, they will, incorrectly, assume it is a flora which can be relied upon.  I advise it is no such thing. All floras and check-lists are "out-of-date" as soon as they are printed; in this case the information it contains does not date from the 1980s but a century or more earlier..... You have been warned. 

From the pages covering Crassulaceae which have been copied for efloraofIndia members (October 2017) with a view to attempting to identify a Rhodiola photographed in Himachal Pradesh, one can readily see how inadequate it is.  The descriptions are so brief as to be virtually meaningless. There are no keys but I caution against relying too heavily upon keys anyhow, especially over-simplistic ones.  Keys are extremely challenging to prepare well and require experience to use satisfactorily.  For most people it will be a challenge to sort out the out-of-date nomenclature and any up-dated taxonomic treatments. Rhodiola is an especially difficult genus to identify.  The genus needs further study with extensive botanical exploration in the Indian Himalaya with input by highly skilled specialists - a satisfactory taxonomic revision cannot be achieved without international collaboration. The situation with this genus has been complicated by the difficulty in pressing the succulent foliage and fruiting parts of these Crassulaceae - without great care, extremely poor, often inadequate specimens result, as can be seed in the major herbaria in the UK, making the life of the taxonomist, who has not seen them in the wild, in cultivation nor in photographs, especially hard, if not virtually impossible.

 

All that is provided by Chowdhery and Wadwha is which herbaria are pressed specimens they* consider to belong to each species they list (be warned there are numerous misidentifications and omissions), along the districts within Himachal Pradesh the specimens were collected in (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kulu, Lahul & Spiti, Mandi, Simla, Sirmur), a very brief description, flowering period and finally which 'region' it occurs in within India (Alpine Himalaya, Alpine Western Himalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Himalaya, Northern India, Subtropical Himalaya, Temperate Himalaya, Tropical Himalaya, Tropical India, Western Himalaya. Such scanty information is of limited use. *Neither of the authors had specialist knowledge of this genus, indeed they were not even aware of the division into Rhodiola and Sedum, so were entirely relient upon the identifications on the herbarium sheets performed by other Indian botanists.  From what I can assess, misidentifications are widespread in Indian herbaria, which when copied down into floras, lead to widespread replication of the mistakes.

Ralph Stewart's 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' (published in 1972) which makes no pretence to be a 'Flora', is far superior to Chowdhery & Wadwha's efforts.  Yes, this half-a-century out-of-date but contains much more reliable and higher quality information, despite being published a decade before.  He travelled extensively all over Pakistan and in Kashmir, so had seen "in the field" many of the species he lists and could recognise lots of them at the time. The same could not be said for H.J.Chowdhery or B.M.Wadwha - who would themselves have explored little of Himachal Pradesh, as was the case for any Indian botanist between 1947 and the early 1980s.  Stewart* established an extensive herbarium at Gordon College, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where he was Principal when he retired (which went on to become the National Herbarium), spending much time at herbaria in the US (he was an American) and UK studying Pakistan flora.  His Catalogue (which I do regularly consult) contains altitudinal ranges, specimen collection numbers of collectors enabling one to check which specimens he refers to, more detailed locations of collections of specimens and useful overall observations....  Time spent in major International Herbaria meant he kept up-to-date with nomenclatural and taxonomic changes and consulted international specialists for difficult genera and families.  If there are people with expertise in such taxa, it makes sense to avail yourself of their input. Though there have been numerous changes since the early 1970s. *In fact Stewart could have compiled a check-list of Himachal Pradesh plants himself because although he had not spent that much time there in person, he had identified the extensive collections of good quality pressed specimens gathered in the 1930s by Dr Walter Koelz and Thakur Rup Chand in Kulu plus Lahul & Spiti, a set of which went to the herbarium at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  This work was undertaken after Stewart retired from his post in Pakistan.  It is such a waste the original set of specimens deposited in the Urusvati Himalayan Institute, Naggar, Kulu Valley, Himachal Pradesh for Nicholas Roerich, have lain un-touched for more than 80 years!  Chowdhery & Wadwha clearly never checked these specimens.  And the quality of pressed specimens of plants (and accompanying field notes) really do matter.  The vast majority of pressed specimens in Indian herbaria are scrappy with virtually no field notes.  The best set of pressed specimens of Himachal Pradesh flora in any herbaria in the world are those of Koelz & Chand in Ann Arbor, Michigan - which have been determined (reliably identified) and mounted on sheets with accompanying notes.  A duplicate set exists, languishing, abandoned in the Urusvati Institute.  No doubt the same will still be true a century after their collection  and a proper 'flora' for Himachal Pradesh will still not have been published....

 

The first entry for the Crassulaceae family in the Chowdhery & Wadwha 'Flora' of Himachal Pradesh is Bryophyllum pinnatum.  This species is also found in Stewart's catalogue who informs us that it is an African succulent cultivated in Sind & Punjab gardens. Pity such informative notes are not provided by Chowdhery & Wadwha.  Knowing that a species is an alien which has naturalised or is merely a cultivated foreign species is important, yet such matters seem to be poorly understood within floras and check-lists published by most Indian botanists. 

Let us now examine Sedum, which had already been split into Sedum, Rhodiola and other genera by the date of publication of this work (as can be seen in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' [Polunin & Stainton] published the same year, 1984) yet Chowdhery & Wadwha, merely copied the 19th century work of Hooker et al... using the out-of-date Sedum not only for the species which are still included in the genus but 
also Rhodiola, Rosularia; more recently Hylotelephium has been recognised.  To refer to and copy Hooker's 'Flora of British India' as a standard reference continues to this day.  Why is it not recognised just how out-of-date, not just in terms of out-of-date nomenclature but taxonomic treatments and other research?  Since Independence, successive governments have actively discouraged international collaboration.  How many official botanical expeditions have taken place in the Indian Himalaya compared with Nepal and Bhutan?  Nowadays, with the additional restrictions in place due to Nagoya, it is virtually impossible to gain permission. Such a situation is detrimental to the study and conservation of the flora of the Indian Himalaya.  It is all very well being patriotic but Indian botanists need and should take advantage of offers of help.  It makes no sense to decline  

I shall give some examples which illustrate that the authors so-called 'flora' consists merely of copying a fraction of the content covering Himachal Pradesh from Hooker's 'Flora of British India' published 1875-1897 (so between 120-142 years ago):
 
Sedum heterodontum Hook.f. & Thoms. in Chowdhery & Wadwha - same in Hooker; Rhodiola heterodonta (Hook.f. & Thoms.) Boriss in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' published the same year.  According to Chowdhery & Wadwha, leaves prominently white-margined, flowers rose coloured; same in Hooker which also says leaves ovate incise-dentate from a broad or cordate or auriculate base prominently white-margined.  I can find no reference to the leaves being white-margined and have no recollection of observing what would have been a distinctive characteristic, on several living specimens seen in Lahaul.  Perhaps this feature only becomes apparent in dried, pressed specimens in herbaria?  One of the problems with specimens which have few, if any accompanying field notes, is that the taxonomist examining specimens decades later (many specimens from the Himalaya in Indian herbaria were collected in the 19th or early 20th centuries, meaning a century or more later) is that they cannot always judge colours and other features in a herbarium.  Hopefully, in the decades to come, provided more botanists become competent at taking close-ups of all the important parts of plants (requiring, a minimum of 20-30 quality images per specimen, taken in a methodical manner), species will be able to be studied to a higher standard.  See: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/fowh/ - where I provide advice on how to achieve this.  It is interesting that the description in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (Polunin & Stainton) of Rhodiola heterodonta is much lengthier and far superior to that in 'Flora of Himachal Pradesh Analysis...'; their work is merely a guide to the commonly encountered species....not a flora!  They say its flowers are yellow!  The sepals often reddish.  One might presume that either the flowers of this species turn rose as they dry or collections have mostly been made of specimens past the flowering stage.  Perhaps the petals were mistaken for sepals?  Polunin also describe the leaves, stems, rootstock, dense domed clusters of flowers.

Sedum wallichianum Hook.f. in Chowdhery & Wadwha - strangely, not quite the same in Hooker, where it is S.asiaticum DC. var. wallichianum Hook.f. & Thoms.; Rhodiola wallichiana (Hook.) S.H.Fu in 'Flowers of the Himalaya'.  According to Chowdhery & Wadwha this has white to red flowers and linear leaves, whereas in Flora of British India the flowers are given as yellow (on strength of a specimen flowered at Kew) rather than observation by Hook.f. & Thoms.  As the fruits are red, I suspect the confusion over flower colour arises here.

Sedum ewersii Ledeb. in Chowdery & Wadwha; Hylotelephium ewersii (Ledeb.) Ohba in 'Flora of Lahaul-Spiti.  Accoring to Chowdhery & Wadwha this has ovate or orbicular leaves, petals pink.



 

'Flora of Lahaul-Spiti' (Aswal & Mehrotra, 1990, though seems to have not been printed until later) contains numerous entries indicating that they considered species given by Chowdhery & Wadwha to be doubtful.  When compiling a flora the author(s) are expected to list any species they consider 'Dubiae'. They thought the record for Sedum rosulatum Edgew. to be a doubtful species - which Chowdhery & Wadwha recorded from Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kulu, Lahul & Spiti, Simla & Sirmur.  I certainly consider the records from Lahul & Spiti and Kinnaur to be somewhat surprising, as my understanding is that this is a plant of forests and damp rocks.  According to Polunin & Stainton, common in the Western Himalaya @ 1500-3000m.  A botanical tour to Kulu & Lahoul in 1986 gathered a pressed specimen deposited in the Edinburgh herbarium determined as this species, now under Rosularia rosulata was collected in Manali, which fits habitat and altitude-wise. 

 


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