FLORA of LADAKH ('Little Tibet')

Chris Chadwell amongst DELPHINIUM BRUNONIANUM on a high pass in Ladakh © Chris Chadwell

Chris Chadwell, as of January 2018, has begun a series of digital guides to the flora of the North-West Himalaya including Ladakh. They will be available on CDs.  It is not economic to publish as printed books, since hundreds of species are covered, each one assigned typically between two and four pages (consisting of 4-6 quality images - as the examples below will verify). Running to thousands of pages and images, this provides vastly more visual information about floral parts, foliage and sometimes fruits, than is possible with traditional printed guides where space and cost of colour reproduction means only a single, small, often low-resolution photo could be reproduced for each selected species, covering only a fraction of the total number. There is also summarised text listing the currently accepted names (according to 'The Plant List' Version 1.1), the authors name (using standard abbreviations), most common synonym(s), botanical family the plant belongs to, geographic & altitudinal distributions along the Himalaya (and nearby regions where recorded), flowering period, flower-colour plus Identification Tips.  The entries are arranged alphabetically by genus and species. Chris has decided to publish these guides in parts (as the content represents full coverage of every recorded species and thus counts as a flora and hence is very long).  Part 1 will be genera A & B and should be completed by summer 2018; Part 2 will be genera C& D; Part 3 will be genera E through to J  and so until Part 6, wwhich all being well, will be completed by the end of 2019; Part 7 is likely to be Orchidaceae.
 For further details see:

Example pages for Gentianella moorcroftiana and Pedicularis longiflora var. tubiformis in the digital guide:

"...there is an urgent need for a complete checklist of plants and a standard flora of Ladakh, which should include information on the distribution of all species in individual areas, their abundance and habitat demands.  This is the only way ....to prevent the increasing noise in plant names utilized by local botanists and to avoid further misapplications of plant names, which also have serious consequences for the research focussing on medicinal plants,
and for applications based there upon.
Furthermore, a comprehensive evaluation of distribution data is needed to promote and establish Nature Conservation in the area, which should be based on a serious background, rather than on the present, crude and preliminary assessments of species' rarity or threat."
So wrote LEOS KLIMES of the Institute of Botany, Czech Academy of Sciences, Trebon, Czech Republic  (www.butbn.cas.cz/klimes/desert.html)  within 'Flora of Ladakh (NW Himalaya) - a preliminary check-list by L.Klimes and B.Dickore published in 2009
Leos commented further:
" Various types of checklists (endemics, threatened plants, medicinal plants....) are more and more needed for comparisons with other areas, natural protection and applied research.  Those available for the Ladakh flora are largely biased, as documented by two publications  from 2004:  A list of Endemics of the Ladakh flora. This includes 23 species.  However, only one of them have not been found outside of Ladakh  [An ENDEMIC species is only found in
a particular region...]. On the other hand, several species described from Ladakh, and so far apparently not collected otherwise, are not given; Rare and Endangered Medicinal plants of Ladakh. 46 species are given.  Of these, 12 do not occur in Ladakh at all, 24 are common in at least some regions, one is a synonym of a common plant and one is taxonomically unclear.  Thus, only 8 species given in the list can be considered as rare (even if not endangered) 
[And this is on the assumption that those species in the list had been correctly identified......]
Klimes' high standard of field-work and subsequent taxonomic work is exemplified within 'Vascular plant flora of Lower Ladakh  (Jammu & Kashmir, India) L.Klimes and B.Dickore Willdenowia  35- 2005 
It is a great shame that I never had the opportunity to meet or collaborate with Leos.  I was not aware of his outstanding research until it was too late.  When I first noticed articles published on the internet about his studies in Ladakh, I immediately planned to contact him to suggest we "join forces in some way".  Sadly, whilst deciding upon the best way to get in touch, I spotted that he had in fact gone missing in Ladakh (or perhaps Kashmir) towards the end of 2007.... 

It had long been my intention to compile an up-to-date flora for Ladakh.  In the late 1980s I prepared a preliminary check-list (un-published) but a lack of support or funding meant I could not proceed further at that time.  In 2005 Klimes & Dickore published a check-list of Ladakh flora.  There has been talk of publishing a popular guide to Ladakh flora but as far as I know, this is yet to materialise and to be honest, I feel these are of strictly limited value.  With the advent of digital photography, the situation has changed.  I consider traditional printed floras are largely a thing of the past, so it is time to produce a digital guide (see top of this page).  Over the decades I have travelled to and become familiar with the flora of the Indian States of Jammu & Kashmir (the Kashmir part) plus Himachal Pradesh, so have decided to cover the whole of what I count as the 'North-West Himalaya', rather than just Ladakh, see:

NEPETA LONGIBRACTEATA - the lemon-balm flower-heads and foliage uses to flavour soups © Chris Chadwell

Have you ever photographed any plants whilst visiting Ladakh or the bordering districts of Lahoul, Spiti, Kashmir or Baltistan, whether during a holiday, working for an NGO or on a scientific project?  IF SO, might you be willing to send me digital copies for my research purposes?  It is important that a general location is provided for each image - additional information such as an approximate altitude, habitat details would be a bonus.  Should you know anyone who has, please draw their attention to this section of my web-site.

 PEDICULARIS  var. TUBIFORMIS in a stream-side marsh © Chris Chadwell
When I agreed to join the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition in 1980, to supervise the botanical projects, my involvement with the flora of a region sometimes known as "LIttle Tibet"  or "Western Tibet", began.  The only reference about Ladakhi plants I could find at that time was 'Flora of Ladak, Western Tibet' submitted by Ralph Randles Stewart in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of doctor of philosophy in the faculty of pure science, Columbia University 1916-17 (Published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club).  This proved most useful during the expedition, though as it was more than 60 years from the date of publication, I reasonably enough, assumed that the author had passed-away.  When I discovered, upon my return to the UK, that Dr Stewart was not only still alive but had spent a life-time studying plants in bordering regions, I determined to meet him.

© Chris Chadwell

In April 1983 I paid him a visit at a home for retired Presbyterian Missionaries at Duarte in California.     I was delighted when he handed over to me his own, personally annotated copy of his life's work, "AN ANNOTATED CATALOGUE OF THE VASCULAR PLANTS OF WEST PAKISTAN and Kashmir" plus the first pages of a check-list of a flora of LADAKH and BALTISTAN which he had begun.  I have referred to Stewart's Annotated Catalogue literally thousands of times over the past 30 years.

© Chris Chadwell If you would like to learn more about Dr Stewart, I recommend his Wikipedia entry:



In July 1989 I compiled a list of provisional identifications of plants photographed by Dr. M.Leigh, from a set of slides which had been deposited in the Kew herbarium.


Extensive collections of pressed specimens were made in the Suru Valley.  After returning to the UK after the expedition, I visited the herbarium at The Royal Botanic Gardens,  Kew (K) to check on progress being made with the identification of a set of specimens we had collected, which had been deposited there under the name "Southampton University Ladakh Expedition 1980";  Additional sets were deposited in the herbaria of: The University of Southampton (SPN) and The University of Kashmir (KASH).  My initial visit facilitated the compilation of a list of specimens which had been identified. I returned on subsequent occasions to name the outstanding specimens.  I was then able to prepare a 'Preliminary List of Vascular Plant Species Collected and Noted in the field' arranged in systematic order for the expedition report which was published in August 1982. 


LEONTOPODIUM SP. -  A Tibetan Edelweiss on a high pass © Chris Chadwell


I prepared a Preliminary List of Vascular Plant species collected by Debbie Freeman above 4500m in   the Nimaling Valley near Stok, which was published in the Expedition Report.  Lichen specimens were deposited with the British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, whilst mosses were presented to the Bryophyte Project Group of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Edinburgh. 


Whilst in Kargil at the start of the 1980 Southampton Expedition I met Dr Henry Osmaston and other members of the much larger Bristol University Expedition, who were en route to Zanskar.  Back in the UK I visited Dr Osmaston's farm near Bristol to view slides of the plants he had collected.  Subsequently I examined the set of pressed specimens he had deposited in the Kew herbarium from that trip and one the following year.  In December 1983 I compiled a 'Preliminary Checklist of Vascular Plant Specimens' from these expeditions.  My contribution was acknowledged in 'Himalayan Buddhist Villages' Edited by Crook & Osmaston (Published by the University of Bristol 1994) 

After the success of the 1980 expedition, a team from the University decided to continue the collection of pressed specimens of plants further East into the Zanskar region the following year.  By chance I met one of the team a couple of years later at a British Bryological Society meeting and learnt that they had not completed their report.  Their field note-books were handed over to me and I made several visits to the main herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London where a set of their specimens had been deposited (further sets had been deposited at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Forest Office, Baru, Ladakh).  This enabled me to compile a 'Preliminary List of the Vascular Plants Collected during the University of Southampton Botanical Expedition to Zanskar... 1981' arranged in alphabetical order by plant family which allowed their report to be published in September 1984.

TIBETAN RHUBARB - Rheum probably moorcroftianum © Chris Chadwell

The expedition included a short foray over the Zoji La into Ladakh as far a Dras.  Specimens collected were deposited in the herbaria of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (E) and the University of Kashmir (KASH).  I compiled a 'Systematic List of Vascular Plants collected or observed in the field during the expedition' which was published in the expedition report in October 1984.
In May 1988 I received a complimentary copy of the above publication from its author Hans Hartmann.  I recommend Hartmann's site: http://www.ladakhflowers.com/.  This covers his phytosociological and floristic studies from 1976 to 1997.  The objective of the site is to make his studies available for future researchers.  The site contains lovely images of flowers in Ladakh - though many require naming.
I also received a copy of Hartman's 'Arten-LIsse der 1976 und 1979 in Ladakh (und nebenbei im Kashmir-Tal) gesammel-puten gefasspflanzen).
During visits to the Kew herbarium in the early 1990s, I noticed specimens collected by Brown & Rothera during the above expedition.  No full list of collections had been prepared, so I obtained copies of partial lists prepared by individual members of staff during the mid-to-late 1980s.  By August 1993   I had prepared a Preliminary List of Determinations. 
Dr B.M.Wadwha described a new species of Saxifraga from Ladakh, which was named in my honour.  This was published in Vol. 28 of the Bulletin of the Botanical Survey of India pp. 157-158.  However some of the information provided was not correct.  The material from which the species was named was not collected by me but members of the University of Southampton Botanical Expedition to Zanskar!  Furthermore, no information was provided to distinguish this new taxon from Saxifraga  hirculoides.
David Mallon published the article above in 'Biological Conservation 56 (1991) 101-119'.  I assisted in its preparation by providing identifications (from slides) of plant species noted in the study area. 
I compiled a list of identifications of 93 pressed specimens sent to my private herbarium which had been collected by Andreas Neugebauer during a herbal trek led by Amchi Tsewang Smanla.  Each specimen was understood to be of a species utilised by doctors of traditional Tibetan medicine.

SAUSSUREA GNAPHALODES on a high pass - dense domed cluster of many reddish-purple flower-heads © Chris Chadwell

By August 1993 I had compiled a preliminary check-list arranged in alphabetical order by plant family.
I visited Professor Bisby at the University of Southampton at the beginning of 2001 to collect 54 sheets of mounted specimens originally collected during the 1980 University Expedition to Ladakh, which he agreed to release from the herbarium there (SOUTH).  These were donated to use as an Identification Resource for work for the Yuthog Foundation.  See http://www.yuthog.org/?Home.  Whilst good work and training was undertaken in the past, the Amchi Health Worker Programme no longer operates.

ECHINOPS  CHORNIGERUS in the upper Indus Valley near Leh - numerous densely packed pale blue flower-heads © Chris Chadwell