On-line resources

Just because information about plants occurs on-line, it is not a guarantee of reliability, so I am recommending sites/data-bases that are of a high-standard.

Flora of Pakistan (Pakistan Plant Database) see: http://www.tropicos.org/Project/Pakistan

Pakistan botanists and the Pakistan Government is to be commended for building upon Stewart's 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan and Kashmir'.  There was a family-by-family revision of the flora with printed fascicles (which I do prefer - the ones I possess I find easy to use and compare material than on-line versions). The Pakistan Plant Database (PPD) includes all information published in the Flora volumes already in print in a searchable web-based format.  To-date this project has produced 217 volumes of the flora, the last 16 co-published by the Missouri Botanical Garden and the University of Karachi. Many treatments have been authored by world authorities of the taxa involved, often partnered with Pakistani botanists; the volumes are well-edited and well-received by the botanical community.

To-date I have been impressed with the standard of the taxonomic treatments and comments - though am confused about certain species.  Since I am currently working upon digital guides to flowers of the NW Himalaya, a flora covering Pakistan is the most useful to me, as Kashmir as a whole is covered.  The Himalaya is a vast area with its flora needing further study.  Even if 'Flora of China' is accepted as of comparable standard to 'Flora of Pakistan' it covers territory a long way, sometimes 2000km away from the NW Himalaya, thus the taxa found there, even though perhaps under the same species name, may not match that well and when studied further, it may be that the colonies in the NW Himalaya prove to be different varieties, subspecies or even species.  I often noticed that contributors to efloraofIndia would quote descriptions from 'Flora of China' when attempting to identify plants from Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh - this seemed questionable to me, as the material was such a long way away.

Once I have completed the four guides, I am considering one on Baltistan.  Dr Stewart, when I visited him in California, felt the floras and Baltistan and Ladakh over-lapped so much, he had begun a check-list for Ladakh & Baltistan combined.  So it would be fitting that I worked on this area, using my familiarity with the flora of Ladakh plus some fine photos taken in Baltistan.

India, with far greater resources, has achieved a fraction of what Pakistan has - there is still nothing comparable to Stewart's 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan and Kashmir' and as to printed fascicles, Pakistan has completed 217 (with a few remaining) whilst India has managed only 27!  As for regional floras, there is none for Himachal Pradesh - what was produced (I have not seen a copy) appears to mostly consist of abbreviated copies word for word of entries from Hooker's 'Flora of British India' (published in the 19th Century).  What a pity successive Indian governments have discouraged international collaboration with most individual botanists and the Botanical Survey of India disinterested, rejecting repeated offers of help - which Chris Chadwell has personal experience of.  How is it that both Pakistan and China (which has more species to contend with) have achieved so much more?  Instead, India actively prevents proper taxonomic study of its flora by prohibiting the sending of dried pressed specimens of plants abroad - this is crazy and along with decades of neglect and lack of proper exploration, means Indian botanists do not actually know which species are rare and which are abundant.  Instead, they submit false claims of species being 'Critically Endangered' when they are no such thing - Chris Chadwell has first-hand evidence to prove this is the case. This is a highly unsatisfactory situation.

I am currently working on 4 digital photographic guides to the flowers of Kashmir, Ladakh, Lahaul & Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, to be published on CDs in parts.  Part I will cover genera A&B (A has the largest number of genera and probably species); a quick check shows currently 26 genera beginning with A, incuded within my guide for Kashmir are not covered in 'Flora of India', as yet.  To be fair, some of the larger genera have been completed e.g. Artemisia and Aconitum but not Allium or Astragalus. Though they do boast a considerable staff and India has been Independent for 70 years.....  I did offer to collaborate with Indian botanists on a up-to-date Flora for Ladakh back in the mid-1980s but this was declined by the then Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India, indicating this was for Indian botanists; well, more than 30 years later, I am still waiting for this publication - as far as I know, its publication is not imminent.....

At present I cannot recommend Flora of India, as not only a fraction of its flora completed but the descriptions and keys, from what I have quickly glanced at, appear too simplified and in some cases there is no information about altitudinal range nor habitat and to solely list the state the species is found in is inadequate - it makes a big difference as to whether a plant occurs in the Kashmir Valley or Ladakh, just as is the case for Lahaul or the Kulu Valley.  An over-simplification, having waited so long for so very little content.  Why are the authorities in Indian unwilling to engage the services of foreign specialists to improve the standards?  And why have individual Indian botanists not interested in joining forces with me?  This has been going on for decades - I have bent over backwards offering help, at no financial cost to them whatsoever and more recently, after making a significant contribution to entries for efloraofIndia, I decided to stop "banging my head against a brick-wall" in terms of attempting to politely explain the necessity of, at the very least, several images, close-up and in-focus, being submitted per plant - otherwise it is often difficult, at times impossible to reliably identify the often single (at best 2-4) poor quality images posted. 

It appears that very few people realise that plant identification has traditionally been based upon observing characteristics on dried, pressed specimens (NOT FROM FRESH LIVING MATERIAL IN THE WILD OR CULTIVATION) - and a combination of India's isolation and the poor quality, scrappy pressed specimens collected, usually with virtually no field notes, for naming at Indian herbaria since Independence, has meant, allied with only out-of-date floras as references, that the reliability of identifications is poor.  There also appears little appetite for field-work, especially in high mountains, such that nobody in India actually knows correctly which species are rare and which are common, even abundant - such information cannot be discovered sat in an office or even in a herbarium.  Copying records from Hooker's 19th century 'Flora of British India' is misleading to say the least.... Too many claims of 'endemic' species or species 'new-to-science' (which subsequently prove nothing of the sort) have been made.  Just as too many false claims of species being 'Critically Endangered' have been made, when I know from first-hand experience that most of said species are not even rare, let alone endangered.  This situation needs to change.