Newsletter of Himalayan Botany

I have been sent, on behalf of the Himalayan Plant Association,  the Newsletter of Himalayan Botany by the Society of Himalayan Botany since     (it was on an exchange basis until we no longer produced a printed version of our journal; since then they have kindly continued to send copies. It is published semi-annually as a means of communicating current events in Himalayan botany. Should you wish to be considered for receipt of copies, contact:
c/o The University Museum, The University of Tokyo, Hongo 7-3-1, Tokyo 113-0033 JAPAN.

I have just (22nd May 2018) received the above, February 2018, issue.  From now on, I shall review and comment upon the content.  Most of the content covers plants of the Eastern Himalaya, especially Nepal, which Japanese botanists have contributed to the study of its flora from the 1960s onwards.

The first article is jointly written by staff of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh; University Museum. The University of Tokyo, Department of Plant resources, Kathmandu and Department of Botany, Altai State University, Russia.  The authors make the valid point that, "The collection density of herbarium specimens in Nepal is low in comparison with other countries, so we do not yet have a complete picture of the country's plant diversity.  Within Nepal the collection density is very variable, and some areas have scarcely been visited by botanists".  This is essential to recognise.  Nowhere in the Himalaya, whether Nepalese territory, Indian or Bhutanese, have the individual floras been studied sufficiently to enable a meaningful assessment be made as to the size of populations..  Neither India, Nepal nor Bhutan have a full on-line flora, which both Pakistan and China have managed - not that the flora of Pakistan  has been botanized adequately in the field to enable valid assessments of rarity or abundance to be made of individual species. Thus, claims of being 'Critically Endangered' according to IUCN guide-lines, frequently made by e.g. Indian botanists are FALSE - I know for certain this is the case for several NW Himalayan species.  Why? Well, one cannot meaningfully discover if a plant is genuinely rare sat in an office or even herbarium...  Indian botanists rarely go into the mountains to study the flora of the Indian Himalaya (few have any appetite for coping with the rigours of arduous travel at altitude) and when the occasionally do, this is almost always merely by vehicle with the Botanical Survey of India and individual Institution staff having assistants to undertake the actual collection, which contributes to their poor quality; in most cases there are no detailed accompanying field notes whatsoever, which combined with badly dried and pressed specimens, means the quality of herbarium specimens gathered since Indian Independence is generally poor - and as successive governments have discouraged international collaboration, there are better specimens in Nepalese herbaria collected by Nepalese botanists who participated in foreign especially from UK and Japan, than in India - despite India have much larger numbers of botanists and resources.  Individual botanists seldom explore more than 100m or two from their vehicles/road/track.  They do not scramble amongst large boulders, they do not botanise up steep slopes or cliffs.  Few have ever undertaken treks involving camping in the mountains overnight let alone of weeks duration.  Thus numerous species restricted to such habitats/locations are poorly, if at all, represented in Indian herbaria. I know of only one Indian botanist that I know of who might have been able to keep up with me on my expeditions along the Himalaya! Most would have proven a liability and no doubt given up after a short period.  The first expedition I organise and led myself with 3 team members from the UK, devoted 3 months in the field.  No Indian botanist has ever been on an expedition lasting months; most of their ones last only a day or two!

Unfortunately, Edinburgh Botanical Garden herbarium staff have fallen into the trap of judging the collections of pressed specimens in their herbarium and Nepal are sufficiently extensive combined with the field experience of individual staff members adequate, along with e.g. Berberis specialist in Nepal B.Adhikari, to provide An IUCN conservation assessment for each species of Berberis in Nepal.  I question the validity of this.  Yes, I accept the new revision of Berberis sensu stricto (Berberidaceae) in Nepal that Adhikari, Pendry, Pennington and Milne published on-line in the 'Edinburgh Journal of Botany'; they have reduced the number down to 21 species including 2 new ones. Unfortunately, I cannot, at present afford to access the article.... I can assure everyone reading this that Berberis has been a very difficult identification-wise.  I have confidence in the new species since Western taxonomists seem to have checked Adhkari's work and having only half the number of species to distinguish between is a big help. The 'An Enumeration of the Flowering Plants of Nepal' Vol. 2 (1979) which covers Berberis, listed 30 species, so given the 2 new ones, that mean 12 known in the past have been reduced, presumably to synonyms. See: 

But even if Dr Adhikari can reliably determine all Nepalese species now, he has not extensively covered all of Nepal, nor have other collectors, who may well have neglected Berberis due to the prickly nature of these shrubs, making them more challenging to press well!  I thus, categorically state that the conservation assessments for Berberis species in Nepal must have been highly speculative - provided every realises this, OK but I know that most botanists in the Indian sub-continent, do not understand plant ecology and  and all-too-readily make false claims because it sounds impressive and presumably increases the likelihood of publication when claiming that a species is 'critically endangered' (which actually means is about to become extinct). 

It is also disappointing that Dr Adhikari has only contributed in a small way to efloraofIndia - whereas I have devoted much more time than him to Berberis alone - his revision was published 6 years ago now.....  It is such a shame when specialists exist that they do not contribute much (at times at all).  This certainly applies to almost every Indian botanist with specialist knowledge of genera - they have not bothered to-date to help expand (and correct) entries covering their genera.  Now it must be realised that for certain genera, the photos submitted to efloraofIndia are inadequate but why not tell the contributors!  In some cases, pressed, herbarium specimens are required to enable specialists to reliably identify plants belonging to difficult genera - this is what the now retired Corydalis specialist said and an Impatiens specialist from Japan.

Returning to the article above, the account goes on to explain that travel arrangements in W.Nepal are more complicated than is Central or even Eastern Nepal, as there is little trekking and thus few agents or locals with experience of taking groups into the hills. Nevertheless, given the contacts they had, its was avoidable heading for one at the same time as local pilgrims - to be fair, festivals in Nepal are frequent and do not always run to a timetable which can be found out in advance.

It was remiss not to give the elevations of each camp as this is informative.  I was surprised that early August was selected to depart from Kathmandu as being in the monsoon period, there is risk of travel disruption and seriously heavy downpours.  My experience suggests the end of September, if not October, would have been better to gather seed, especially at higher altitudes - though the primary purpose was gathering herbarium specimens and specimens in flower, rather than fruit. It is noteworthy that despite the resources available at Edinburgh, which has specialised in the Eastern Himalaya since the 1980s (initially, Bhutan, now Nepal), that this account, written in time for the February 2018 Newsletter, though still months after collection, only 60% of the 364 collections had been determined (i.e. reliably identified to species level) - of which a new Potentilla had been recognised along with a new generic record for Nepal,  a grass Sehima, the species being S.notatum, previously collected by Duthie in what is now Uttarakhand which borders W.Nepal  It takes time, even at one of the world's leading botanical institutions, to correctly and reliably identify plants.

I do not know what these botanists/taxonomists in this team were like at trekking?  Just because you are a botanist does not mean you are suited to coping with the rigours of trekking, especially at higher altitudes. On my first visit to Nepal in 1990, I was disturbed by the leeches - they are not life-threatening exhibit high nuisance value.  My companion in Nepal that year (though we did not actually trek together) was less bothered by the leeches. Perhaps they did not take to Scottish blood! This could also impact as to where botanical specimens were collected from.

Another important consideration as to the seed collected, was that it was to be cultivated at NBG, Godavari but there was a major problem.  Not that many Nepalese plants are grown here.  One of the problems is that there are hardly any specialist horticulturists in the Indian sub-continent.  Most scientists incl. botanists (certainly in India, where I have more experience and insider knowledge) view 'gardening' even of the more scientific nature, as 'manual labour' and thus for lower-caste people to do. Another factor is that almost all Indian gardeners are really lazy.  Those who worked for P.Kohli & Co., worked when Mrs Suri, Proprietor, was around to supervise.  When she was not, they did pretty much nothing!  Then, one has to appreciate the climatic conditions at Godawari (c. 1500m).  Conditions are sub-tropical here (as they are in Kathmandu), which experiences virtually no frosts, let alone snow, thus anything from 'alpine' parts of Nepal, would stand no chance.  Without skilled care, more difficult species would rapidly expire - thus there is no chance of ex-situ conservation of higher mountain plants of Nepal, at Godawari Botanic Garden!  Godawari is not worth visiting if you are interested in wild plants of Nepal.

Since none of the higher mountain plants the expedition came across would have been in seed, then this matter was not a consideration on this particular excursion in Nepal.  However, futile attempts at ex-situ conservation of supposedly 'Critically-Endangered' species in the Indian NW Himalaya, have spectacularly failed (though this has been hidden) as firstly, this involved digging-up plants (at the wrong time of the year, in part perhaps because they did not have the field skills to recognise them later in the year at the fruiting stage or beyond, when the above-ground parts of the plants may start decaying. See:

It has long been recognised that Western Nepal has a flora with many species in common with the North-West Himalaya, so knew well most of the plants mentioned in the article.  There were photos of Ligularia fischeri (which I know from Mustang district of Central Nepal) and Parnassia wightiana (which I first saw, also in Mustang district on my first visit to Nepal back in 1990 - this is found from Kumaon through to Bhutan, S.Tibet, W.China and India @ 2700-3600m in Nepal). I was surprised to see an image of Capparis spinosa as I know this from arid slopes in the Upper Indus Valley, Ladakh. They found Salvia hians, the flowers of a similar colour form to the shot at the top of my home page, see: There is a shot of the pretty Primula reidii - the typical ivory-white form, rather than var. williamsii with bluish flowers, originally thought to be a new species of Primula; the specimen photographed was at 4189m - it is possible, had they been observant enough, that colonies of this plant at lower elevations might have in fruit, though no purpose in gathering capsules of it to be trialled at Godawari as it would surely expire shortly after the seed germinated!