Plant Identification /Advisory Service

PLANT-RELATED TRAVEL TO THE HIMALAYA  (First Draft February 2016 – time constraints force me to post this now)

As I state below, I am available to deal with inquiries about identification of plants photographed in the Himalaya and can advise upon plant-related travel to the Himalaya along with questions concerning projects in the region - whether being undertaken by local or foreign individuals or NGOs operating in the mountains of India, Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan. 

What matters is the current situation and what is likely to be case in the immediate future.  What applied in even the recent past including rules, regulations and indeed laws, may well not apply now, so are largely irrelevant.

Photographic/Plant Hunting tours

Most of the inquiries I have received, over a period of more than 30 years, in person (after lectures), by letter, telephone or e-mail concern WHEN and WHERE to see Himalayan plants in flower.  These are important questions, as it what type of plant you wish to find in flower (as they flower at different times of the year and in different parts of the Himalaya).  If someone is interested in RHODODENDRONS, then they need to go to the EASTERN Himalaya as only 3 species occur in WESTERN PARTS; spring months are the best bet.  If someone is keen on ‘alpine’ species then July is the best month all along the Himalaya.  However in monsoon-districts (which is much of the Himalaya) this would involve extremely wet conditions (which can result in travel disruption).  This was why I would, for much of the 1980s, recommend Kashmir (which does not suffer from the monsoon).  Unfortunately, the kidnap of foreigners at the end of the 1980s, meant it became unsafe to travel there.  I myself, only returned in 2012 after a gap of more than 20 years.  BUT it is still not safe to trek in the Kashmir mountains e.g. I led a pony-trek there in 1987 showing clients of a travel company, the alpine flowers.

Local botanist, guide a driver of tour-bus during photographic/plant hunting tour I led in the 1980s

Botanical/Scientific/Medicinal Plant Expeditions

I have, occassionally, been asked about such expeditions.  I have always strongly advised that it was essential to treat local people and any universities/institutions/government officials with respect.  It was NOT just about what they might be permitted to bring back to the UK (or whatever other country they lived in) but what rules and regulations, even laws which applied in the Himalayan country they planned to visit (these varied).  It was their responsibility to FIND OUT. Ignorance of the rules is not an excuse.  It was ESSENTIAL for them to liaise the relevant body or university.  For my 1980 expedition, auhtorisation for the bird-ringing programme coming through the Bombay Natural History Society (who supplied the official rings to be used).  For my 1983 and 1985 expeditions to Kashmir, it was the University of Kashmir (which I collected botanical specimens for).

A Hoopoe photographed after being ringed during the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition, 1980 (Photo: © John Norton) - the bird was released, unharmed

A few inquiries were about possible seed collection.  I INSISTED they check with the universities/institutions they were in contact with, who would best know the CURRENT situation.  A number of expeditions to Nepal (since it opened its doors to foreigners in the late 1940s) were officially permitted to collect and take seed back to the UK (under certain conditions).

Chris Chadwell with botanists at an Indian University inspecting a specimen of a mat-forming COTONEASTER collected by them

Anything to do with plants utilised in TRADITIONAL medicine, would  nowadays CLEARLY require WRITTEN permission IN ADVANCE, after  the NAGOYA protocol came into force and the country was a signatory.  I am currently uncertain about whether ALL Himalayan countries have signed this.  India certainly has, so a number of undergraduate expeditions from British universities in the past, concentrating upon gathering botanical (pressed specimens) with associated information on uses in Tibetan Medicine e.g. in Ladakh (in Indian territory) would have had to ABIDE by this, IF Nagoya had been in place back then.  I understand that the University of Kent, did secure such permission to study local medicinal plants in Southern India since Nagoya came into force.


This is always crucial.  Expeditions MUST be planned at least a year, if not two, in advance.  They cannot be undertaken at short notice.  It takes a lot of time (much more than is realised) to research what MUST be done and for all the necessary paper-work to be completed.  Without this the expedition HAS to be cancelled.

The Present Situation

Even since my last visits to the Himalaya, the situation has become much more complicated, difficult and time-consuming. I am uncertain exactly what rules apply in some cases but whilst curious to find out (this can be impossible) to be able to continue to advise well, in most cases, I no longer can – So no longer can help with such advise. Perhaps the University of Kent can? As I do not expect to be in a position to undertake any more expeditions in the future, this is not a priority for me personally.

The Future

My prediction is that the rules, regulations and laws are only going to increase.  Indeed complete BANS are increasingly likely.  Whilst this may be done with the BEST OF INTENTIONS, in the interests of PROTECTING and CONSERVING Himalayan flora, in fact it will prove counter-productive, as I try to explain on my web-site.


I am available to deal with inquiries about identification of plants photographed in the Himalaya and can advise upon plant-related travel to the Himalaya along with questions concerning projects in the region - whether being undertaken by local or foreign individuals or NGOs operating in the mountains of India, Nepal, Bhutan or Pakistan. 

A botanical expedition to the Himalaya in the 1980s which Chris Chadwell subsequently helped identify the plants photographed

A DELPHINIUM photographed during an expedition to the Himalaya in the 1970s, which Chris Chadwell helped identify

My greater familiarity is with the flora of the Western Himalaya and Borderlands of Western Tibet (i.e. Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Lahoul, Spiti, Kinnaur) but I am also in a position to attempt to name material from the Central and Eastern Himalaya.  My knowledge is concentrated upon plants from medium to higher altitudes- I know much less about specimens from sub-tropical elevations/districts. 


Whilst it is not my intention to PUT OFF anyone who is genuine, I do feel entitled to expect the person making the inquiry to have thought CAREFULLY, as to whether I am likely to be in a position to advise them BEFORE approaching me.  Rather than simply "on the off-chance", having stumbled upon this site as a result of a random internet search.  I take what I do seriously.

PLEASE do not be hesitate on the basis of limited knowledge of the Himalaya or Himalayan plants - we were all beginners once.  All I ask is that you are genuine and take the time to think through your inquiry, explain in some detail and to provide some background - otherwise I will not be able to provide a worthwhile response. 

I have never visited China, possess minimal knowledge of its plant-life and consider Yunnan or Sichuan NOT to be part of the Himalaya as such - so AM NOT in a position to advise on travel to China or identify Chinese plants. Similarly, the Karakoram range in N.Pakistan is NOT part of the Himalaya - I disagreed with the BBC including both parts within their TV series (narrated by the delightful Michael Palin) on the Himalaya.  However, I do have good knowledge of the flora of Northern Pakistan, so am happy to be contacted about this.

Whilst this advisory service is free-of-charge, many inquiries take a substantial amount of time and effort to answer in a meaningful way. I therefore ask that those inquiring, unless they are able to do something for me in return, consider making a donation to one of the charities I highlight in this web-site (such as The Britain-Nepal Medical Trust) or directly to me towards the running costs of my own projects, as a thank you.