Is it legitimate, indeed ESSENTIAL to collect botanical specimens - to be able to RELIABLY identify plants from the Himalaya?

My first expedition was as a botanist in charge of the botanical collections to be made during the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition, 1980, allowing a survey of the vegetation of the Suru Valley to be undertaken.  The collections were made in triplicate, enabling sets to subsequently deposited in the herbaria of Kew (K), Southampton (SPN) and the University of Kashmir (KASH) under SOUTHAMPTON LADAKH EXPEDITION 1980.  I undertook extensive efforts to familiarise myself with the flora of the region.  Time would not permit collection of all plant species encountered, so it seemed wise to be selective.  With the aid of species-lists and my familiarity of cosmopolitan weeds (which I knew from the UK), meant we could concentrate upon gathering unknowns.  It is easy to collect a disproportionate number of "road-side" weeds.  I was mindful that herbaria should be ENRICHED and not just ENLARGED with yet more specimens which have already been collected many times - that was one of the reasons I was brought in at the latter stages of preparations for the expedition, to lead the botanical work, of what was primarily an ornithological expedition, following on from field-work undertaken by Southampton University Expeditions to Ladakh in 1976 & 1977.   This resulted in more than 10 new records for Ladakh, with a first for Kashmir and a first record outside Gilgit.  The majority of specimens were named at Kew but quite a number required additional attention - by follow-up visits to Kew, I ensured the outstanding ones were named.

In those days I knew little about seeds or seed collection.

Botanical (pressed) specimen of the 'West Himalayan Blue Poppy' (MECONOPSIS ACULEATA) collected by Dr Walter Koelz for the Urusvati Institute in India in the early 1930s - this duplicate specimen is in the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; unfortunately, its duplicate is languishing, untouched (it might have rotted away or been infested with insects) more than 80 years later still at the Institute in the Kulu Valley! WHAT A RIDICULOUS WASTE - as this collection and the thousands of others Koelz and his partner Rup Chand gathered, represent by far the best set of reference specimens of the flora of Kulu and Lahoul EVER collected!  Why isn't something being done about this?

The botanical collecting during that 1980 expedition consisted of gathering specimens of each new/unknown (to us) species encountered. Then pressing and drying the samples in a plant press.  These specimens were, upon return to the UK, identified, mounted on card, labelled and incorporated into the respective herbaria.  Many years later, I took some of the Southampton set back to Ladakh to used by Amchi Tsewang Smanla at the Yuthog Foundation towards a reference herbarium to help a project for improving the reliability of identifying local Ladakhi plants utilised in Tibetan Medicine - to help trainee doctors of traditional medicine.  In 2011, I returned to Ladakh and was able to supervise and train Tsewang's son in how to collect botanical specimens - this brought fresh additions to the collections.  I purchased a metal trunk to store the specimens, sorting them into families and genera.  As far as I know, this probably represents the best herbarium in Ladakh - even though extremely modest. 

A SAXIFRAGA photographed prior to being collected as a botanical specimen during the  Joint British and Royal Nepalese Army Expedition to Mt. Kirat Chuli, Nepal (1985) - this was subsequently pressed, dried and deposited in the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardem, Kew - a duplicate set of specimens would have been deposited in a herbarium in Nepal


 A specimen of a member of the Umbelliferae family (now Apiaceae) collected during the Joint British and Royal Nepalese Army Expedition to Mt. Kirat Chuli, Nepal (1985) - this was subsequently pressed, dried and deposited in the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardem, Kew - a duplicate set of specimens would have been deposited in a herbarium in Nepal


In 1981, another team from the University of Southampton undertook a Botanical Expedition to Zangskar (another part of Ladakh) as a continuation of the survey work the 1980 team undertook.  They also collected their specimens in triplicate, resulting in material for the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, the British Museum (Natural History) and this time the Forest Office, Baru, Ladakh.

Specimens from my 1985 expedition to Kashmir were deposited in the herbaria of the University of Kashmir and The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.  I also took some specimens collected by staff of the University of Kashmir to Edinburgh for determinations (accurate identification) by specialists, then sent them a list of the names.  They held duplicate specimens (see above) so the identifications proved a value reference.

Metal cabinets filled with pressed specimens of plants, arranged in folders by genus, family and region of the world collected in, at a major herbarium - the example shown is for the 'Buttercup' Family (RANUNCULACEAE), 'Larkspur' Genus (DELPHINIUM); USA & CANADA then TROPICAL ASIA


I do not know of any herbaria in any of the new education establishments which have been constructed in recent years in Ladakh.  There might be a herbarium at a certain research institute but I do not know for sure - it would require special government permission, as this is on a military site, so probably impractical for me to gain access.  IF there is no herbaria at all or only ones which cannot readily be accessed, containing high quality reference specimens for comparison with the plants they come across with, local botanists CANNOT reliably identify plants..... These are needed in Ladakh, as having to journey all the way to the Kashmir or even Dehra Dun, on a regular basis is impractical.  So herbaria, full of botanical specimens from different parts of the Himalaya are needed in the Himalaya and the West (with active collaboration between them).  this only happens with the backing and encouragement of governments.  This should be done in the interest of plant conservation.

Pressed specimens of GENTIANA KURROO collected in Kashmir in 1898 (just a little before my time) - showing that such specimens can last for centuries - it is important to gather specimens in flower or fruit, showing both lower (basal) leaves and upper (stem) leaves as the shape of these can be different


Why collect botanical specimens?

It is not widely known that RELIABLE plant identification has traditionally been based upon inspection of characteristics of the plant which can be observed on dried, pressed, reference specimens stored in cabinets in herbaria. Some think they can accurately identify plants by "matching" with pictures in books or brief descriptions - they are mistaken! Large herbaria, like Kew (the largest in the world) in the UK or the New York Botanic Garden in the US, which have millions of specimens, from many countries, if not all over the world, divide the specimens (mounted on card and labelled) up by region, family and genus, within those cabinets.  There is often more than one sheet/collection  for each species - at times many (in cases of smaller plants there are actually a number of specimens per sheet).  Several specimens of each species (ideally at both flowering and fruiting stages) are much better than one, as plants vary.  Understanding variation within a species, helps prevent misidentifications and false claims of the discovery of species 'new to science'.  It is remarkable the number of these that are claimed from the Indian Himalaya.  In most cases I am highly sceptical. 

Field notes made by Dr Koelz for a specimen of RHODODENDRON ARBOREUM


The specimens in herbaria vary in quality enormously (some are just poorly dried or pressed scraps, of minimal use), as do the accompanying field notes (which can provide important information - the worst examples being non-existent). By far the BEST collection of botanical specimens covering e.g. Ladakh, Lahoul and the Kulu Valley, in any herbaria in the world were gathered by Dr Walter Koelz of the University of Michigan and Thakur Rup Chand (a member of the local ruling family) in the 1930s; they are stored at the herbarium of Ann Arbor, Michigan (see: https://www.lsa.umich.edu/herb/).  Koelz and his two main locals assistants have been honoured posthumously by Chris Chadwell with Kohli Memorial Gold Medals on behalf of the Himalayan Plant Association but circumstances have so far prevented Chris from presented the award to Chand's relatives in India.  It was Dr R R Stewart who became a Research at Ann Arbor, after retiring from his position as Principal of the Gordon College, Rawalpindi, who undertook the identification of the thousands of specimens (30,000) gathered by Koelz & Chand (with the help of additional local collectors). Such high quality specimens (of known provenance, with good accompanying field notes) are ESSENTIAL to enable botanists to RELIABLY identify species from the Western Himalaya - otherwise, as has been happening for decades, misidentified species abound in the lists published in articles on the flora of this region!  This situation NEEDS to change....

Professor Reznicek consulting specimens in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor herbarium


To what use is Chris Chadwell putting his experience of collecting botanical specimens (on his early expeditions), exploring for and photographing plants in the Himalaya, along with knowledge of botanical specimens in herbaria?

Chris has begun a PHOTOGRAPHIC REFERENCE and IDENTIFICATION GUIDE to the FLOWERS OF THE WESTERN HIMALAYA - in the form of a digital herbarium containing a mixture of photos of flowers taken in this region of the Himalaya, botanical specimens of plants from this region of the Himalaya photographed in herbaria (such as Ann Arbor, Michigan) and of plants grown from seed from this region of the Himalaya.  This is a truly INVALUABLE and exceptional resource, vastly superior to anything which currently exists but there is only so much one can do, operating off a shoe-string budget and without the input of a major herbaria.  Should such a project not be worthy of support and encouragement?  At present he is doing this on a shoe-string budget, with no interest, let alone support coming from any herbaria or botanists in the West or the Western Himalaya.

So how do botanists in herbaria identify plants?
Botanists specialising in plant identification in the West will refer to/check specimens in herbaria or descriptions of them within floras, to decide on a reliable identification (called a DETERMINATION) and give a species name, when sent a specimen of an unknown plant.  In essence they are "matching" it with an existing specimen, whose identity is known/has been verified.  IF the specimen they are examining does not match any specimens in their herbaria or others in herbaria in different countries, a botanist specialising in the genus to which it belongs (or family to which it belongs) is consulted.  They may then decide it is a species new to science - though this process often takes years.  For the name of the new species to be accepted, a description must be published within a journal which is published internationally - so all the world's botanists are alerted.  A specialist in the genus SAXIFRAGA decided a specimen from Zangskar collected on a University of Southampton botanical expedition was new to science, naming it in my honour: SAXIFRAGA CHADWELLII - though I only found out, by chance, years later!

There are plant taxonomists, generally employed at herbaria at botanical gardens, museums or institutes, who work full time on revising families or genera - which are then published as monographs and utilised within floras.  This is vital research, as all over the world, much information about plants is out-of-date and does not take account of more recent collection of specimens and studies.  The Himalaya occupies a vast area, has thousands of species; its flora has not been studied well for almost a century and was inadequately known in the days of the British.  At that time Nepal and Bhutan were +/- closed to foreigners, so the floras of these countries were particularly poorly known - efforts are being made to improve this situation, as mentioned elsewhere in this web-site.

Botanical (pressed) specimen of (POLYGONATUM  VERTICILLATUM) collected by Dr Walter Koelz for the Urusvati Institute in India in the early 1930s - this duplicate specimen is in the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; unfortunately, its duplicate is languishing, untouched (it might have rotted away or been infested with insects) more than 80 years later still at the Institute in the Kulu Valley! WHAT A RIDICULOUS  WASTE - as this collection and the thousands of others Koelz and his partner Rup Chand gathered, represent by far the best set of reference specimens of the flora of Kulu and Lahoul EVER collected!  Why isn't something being done about this?

Unless botanical specimens are gathered in every country and made available to leading herbaria around the world, the flora of those countries will remain poorly know.  For the purposes of botanical studies and ultimately correct, accurate and reliable identification of plants, extensive international collaboration must take place - without which Himalayan flora CANNOT be conserved.  To NOT engage fully and accept the help of foreigners is damaging to the development of individual botanists in those countries, who without it cannot possibly match international standards, which often results in the flora of those countries being badly studied.  The situation is exacerbated in countries where field-work is not respected.  Botanists in such countries are often not keen to undertake collecting trips.  And in the Himalaya, exploring, "plant hunting" (which is what botanists do) in the mountains is often arduous, especially at altitude.   The situation is not that much better now in the UK.  These days, it is mostly about "high-tech" laboratory science! Good field-botanists are very much a dying breed in the UK.  It seems it is thought they are no longer required.  Plants gets minimal attention within 'A' level biology courses in the UK, whilst one cannot study botany as such at British universities anymore (not that I was taught how to identify plants as such during my botany degree in the late 1970s). 


To be fair, in many countries, funding is often strictly limited for botanical studies and in war-torn ones, when to go out into the field would put one's life at risk, 'botany' cannot be viewed as a priority. But there are examples of wealthier developing countries who collaborate much better than others. The collaboration of botanists in Britain (primarily from Edinburgh Botanic Garden) and Nepal in the 'Flora of Nepal' Project is to be commended. Japanese botanists have undertaken a lot of collaborative work with Nepalese botanists.  Edinburgh also produced the 'Flora of Bhutan' - though botanists in Bhutan are few and far between.  Pakistan has collaborated quite well with foreign botanists.

Botanical (pressed) specimen of (CLEMATIS  BUCHANANIANA) collected by Dr Walter Koelz for the Urusvati Institute in India in the early 1930s - this duplicate specimen is in the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; unfortunately, its duplicate is languishing, untouched (it might have rotted away or been infested with insects) more than 80 years later still at the Institute in the Kulu Valley! WHAT A RIDICULOUS  WASTE - as this collection and the thousands of others Koelz and his partner Rup Chand gathered, represent by far the best set of reference specimens of the flora of Kulu and Lahoul EVER collected!  Why isn't something being done about this?


Botanists (and their governments) from developing and partially developed countries  SHOULD actively encourage visits by Western botanists to undertake joint collections - they should not DISCOURAGE such involvement.  After a lecture to the Botany Department of the University of Kashmir in 2012, I was asked what ways could their research be improved - my response was to INCREASE international collaboration!  The fully trained botanists from these Western countries (whether staff of botanic gardens or freelancers like myself) can share their expertise, allowing more collecting of botanical specimens, a set of which can be taken back to the major herbaria around the world.  Links and connections with foreign botanists and institutions would then be fostered.

Unless there are good quality pressed specimens of every species growing in a country or region, available to be refer to/compare with, at well-maintained herbaria (with ready access), botanists in such countries cannot build up sufficient knowledge of their local and regional flora.  Unless proper links exist with the major herbaria and foreign specialists covering genera and families found in their country, knowledge will remain incomplete and at best, "out-of-date" - now matter how talented or committed  the botanists in such country's are.  Such incomplete knowledge leads to assumptions that a plant they come across is ENDEMIC (i.e. only found in a particular country or region).  I frequently see such claims in publications, when I can tell the species is only a variant of an existing one or occurs in a bordering district of the Himalaya.  Similarly, I KNOW that when it is claimed that a particular species is 'Rare and Endangered' or the emotive 'Critically Endangered' is definitely not when I have come across it many times, in different parts of one district or another region of the Himalaya!  How would these botanists know, if they have not travelled to these places or have access to RELIABLE information on their occurrence or possess the necessary field-skills to RELIABLY identify plants.  They are working in "not so splendid" isolation...

A specimen of the glorious RHODODENDRON GRANDE collected by Chris Chadwell for pressing for a herbarium in Bhutan, when he worked as a consultant for The Royal Government of Bhutan


UNLESS A COUNTRY HAS SUFFICIENT BOTANISTS WHO CAN RELIABLY IDENTIFY PLANTS, ABLE AND INCLINED TO UNDERTAKE EXTENSIVE SURVEYS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK OUT WHICH SPECIES ARE 'RARE', LET ALONE ENDANGERED IN THAT COUNTRY OR REGION.  THIS SITUATION EVEN LEADS DEVELOPING COUNTRIES TO SUBMIT INCORRECT ENTRIES/INFORMATION TO CITIES COVERING SUPPOSEDLY ENDANGERED SPECIES!  WHAT ABOUT THOSE SPECIES, UNRECOGNISED WHICH ACTUALLY ARE RARE AND OR ENDANGERED!  THEY HAVE BEEN ABANDONED TO THEIR FATE.

THIS SURELY IS AN UNACCEPTABLE SITUATION, WHICH THE WORLD'S LEADING CONSERVATION BODIES SHOULD ADDRESS....AM I TELLING THE TRUTH?  WHAT PURPOSE WOULD IT SERVE FOR ME NOT TO BE?  IF A COUNTRY IS SERIOUS ABOUT CONSERVATION OF ITS PLANTS, THEN THEY NEED TO ENGAGE AND GET ASSISTANCE FROM STAFF OF HERBARIA ABROAD (UNFORTUNATELY NUMBERS OF AND FUNDING FOR BOTANISTS HAS BEEN DECIMATED IN MANY WESTERN COUNTRIES IN RECENT DECADES) OR FREELANCERS LIKE CHRIS CHADWELL, WHOSE OVERALL KNOWLEDGE OF THE FLORA OF THE HIMALAYA IS NOW SECOND-TO-NONE..... Being too proud to ask for help, makes no sense to me - it is NOT being PATRIOTIC in my eyes.

Do such countries NEED help from abroad?  I myself, am WILLING and ABLE to be engaged as a CONSULTANT to ALL Himalayan countries.  I could deliver a series of lectures (digital presentations) to every University, Institute and Botanic Garden which covers Himalayan flora to explain about and encourage more and better collection of botanical specimens.  I could give seminars.  I could give practical demonstrations and work-shops in the field.  I could......

And this leads to SEED collection, which has a VITAL role to play in ex-situ plant conservation and better botanical studies, see:

SHOULD MORE COLLECTING OF BOTANICAL SPECIMENS BE TAKING PLACE?

Categorically YES!  There is a shortage of freshly collected, quality specimens of Himalayan flora in herbaria around the world.  There is ALSO a shortage of specimens in India herbaria!  MANY more joint expeditions involving Indian and foreign botanists should take place.  This would allow duplicate specimens to be stored in both Indian and foreign herbaria.  The specimens could then be DETERMINED (reliably identified) to a higher standard than can CURRENTLY be managed (with the best will in the world and even by the most enthusiastic of botanists working in India).  Those identifications completed in the West (or Japan) can then be sent to Indian herbaria, added to the duplicate sets of specimens in the country where they had been collected and rapidly improve the quality of reference material available.  This will ENCOURAGE botanists to attach greater importance to such work.  But for this to happen, the backing, support  and above all else, encouragement of  Governments is required.

Botanical (pressed) specimen of (PRIMULA MACROPHYLLA complex) collected by Dr Walter Koelz for the Urusvati Institute in India in the early 1930s - this duplicate specimen is in the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; unfortunately, its duplicate is languishing, untouched (it might have rotted away or been infested with insects) more than 80 years later still at the Institute in the Kulu Valley! WHAT A RIDICULOUS  WASTE - as this collection and the thousands of others Koelz and his partner Rup Chand gathered, represent by far the best set of reference specimens of the flora of Kulu and Lahoul EVER collected!  Why isn't something being done about this?


Is more botanical collecting actually going to take place?  No.  Would MORE aid PLANT CONSERVATION? Yes.   Will implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, based upon the Convention on Biological Diversity, improve the situation? No.  It will unquestionably HINDER the involvement of foreigners, indeed lead to a REDUCTION in collaboration with foreign universities, botanic gardens, NGOs and freelancers like Chris Chadwell.  Indeed had 'Nagoya' been in force back in 1980, my botanical collecting work would in all probability never even have begun (probably those he is criticising might wish that had been the case) as getting "written permission" in advance would often be impractical for an undergraduate expeditions.  One less botanist to built up VITALLY needed expertise....  The ever-increasing rules and regulations, with the resultant bureaucracy, WILL harm conservation efforts.  Does this make any sense?  Not to me!  Decide for yourself.





Is there a way of ENHANCING or REPLACING the collection of botanical specimens?

Yes, with the wonders of digital cameras it is now possible to take many more pictures (at no cost) of every species encountered.  Provided the botanist knows which parts of the plant to photograph and has developed the necessary photographic skills, the information which quality close-up images of live plants (in the field) can add to the botanical study of plants is enormous.  This has potential to be an indispensable tool in botanical studies.  Last year I took 700+ digital images of local flowers during a 2-hour period one morning - at no cost.  In the 1980s I used slide film and would take about 20 or so rolls (36 exposure) for an expedition to the Himalaya last 2-3 months!  This would have cost £300+.  One could only afford 2-3 shots per plant and then with no certainty of the results.  How things have changed!

Image of PRIMULA ELLIPTICA photographed by Chris Chadwell in Kashmir in 2012 - which combined with other close-ups of different parts of the plant, allow excellent details of fresh specimens to supplement and potentially replace the need for collecting botanical (pressed specimens)


CHRIS CHADWELL PLANT HUNTING EXPEDITIONS ALONG THE HIMALAYA HAVE LONG INVOLVED TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS, RATHER THAN GATHERING BOTANICAL SPECIMENS (WHICH NOW REQUIRE PERMISSION).  THIS PROVED HELPFUL, AS ONE CAN PHOTOGRAPH A PLANT (EVEN IF ONE TAKES 10, 20 or 30 IMAGES NOWADAYS) MORE QUICKLY THAN GATHERING A SPECIMEN FOR PRESSING - THOUGH ONE MUST HAVE THE SKILL TO CORRECTLY IDENTIFY PLANTS FROM PHOTOGRAPHS ALONE.  IF ONE FAILS TO PHOTOGRAPH WELL THE RIGHT BITS, THIS CAN BE IMPOSSIBLE.

Prem Nath Kohli in Kashmir, set a fine example during the first half of the twentieth century, raising issues of plant conservation decades before most governments around the world, belatedly showed an interest, indeed he campaigned for wildlife conservation.  Most of his colleagues in the Forest Department used go for 'SHIKAR' (traditional shooting of wild animals) while Kohli would SHOOT them to make them immortal - with his camera!  He had thousands of negatives destroyed (along with an extensive herbarium of pressed botanical specimens) during a raid in 1947 (as Kashmir split into two parts, one controlled by India, one controlled by Pakistan).

And guess who COULD train local botanists how best to photograph Himalayan plants?  Why, Chris Chadwell, of course - as a result of experience gained during 'plant hunting' expedition.  Is this going to happen?  No.  Yet the authorities will continue to introduce ever stricter "rules and regulations", purporting for the PROTECTION of wild plants......  ALL THIS WILL DO IS DAMAGE THE CONSERVATION OF HIMALAYAN FLORA.

Perhaps I have started to convince you of the MERITS of botanical and plant hunting expeditions?

Maybe the next step will be to BAN taking photographs of wild flowers in the Himalaya?  I kid you not....


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