Example 1 - Chapter on Vegetation' within University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition (1976) Report

I have to say that I was mightily impressed and not a little intimidated when I first read the account on the vegetation of Ladakh contained within this report. Having been brought in at a late stage to be the team leader of the botanical projects for the 1980 University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition (which was primarily a zoological trip), despite my passion for plants and research prior to our journey into the borderlands of Western Tibet, my grasp of the local flora did not appear to come close to that of the person who wrote the chapter - and they had not even studied botany!

However, as my familiarity with the flora of Ladakh grew and my capacity to check the species names contained in the report, I started to have my doubts.  Initially, I even questioned both my own competence and that of Dr Ralph Stewart, author of 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of West Pakistan & Kashmir' (which included Ladakh); Stewart had been awarded his doctorate for his studies on the Flora of Ladakh.  Up to that point I had always had confidence in his comments and what he published but as I knew a set of pressed specimens had been collected during the expedition and deposited in the herbarium of Edinburgh Botanics (I rated highly the expertise of the staff there), I assumed it was Stewart who must have been mistaken.

Unfortunately, as I began to scrutinise the matter further, I realised that much of the account on Ladakh's vegetation had just been copied from Stewart's writings and that in fact, many of the species listed had been identified not by Edinburgh staff but by a local botanist.....

Since I have been prepared to point out the mistakes and shortcomings of reports and articles written by Indian botanists, I must be prepared to be similarly critical when it comes to a report published by the university where I studied.  This is only fair.

Leaving aside the lack of acknowledgement of Stewart as to the description of the physical setting and zonation, it is the species claimed to have been observed in Ladakh by during the expedition which concerns me the most.

The vegetation of the Stok area was analysed following representative sampling.  Within the Desert Zone 5 species were recorded: Christolea crassifolia, Corydalis adiantifolia, Echinops tibetica, Ephedra gerardiana and Nepeta spicata.  The Echinops name is an old synonym and was incorrectly spelt, it should have been E.tibeticus; the up-to-date name is Echinops cornigerus.  As for the nepeta this is again an old synonym for Nepeta laevigata but the important consideration is that this is almost certainly a misidentification, as this species, whilst very common in Kashmir and Pakistan, has never been recorded from Ladakh nor bordering Baltistan (parts of which are similar to Ladakh). Nepeta is a large genus many species being difficult to tell apart; I could not speculate which one one does occur in the Stok Valley. As for the Ephedra, this may be E.gerardiana but there are other species of this genus in Ladakh, which are often overlooked.

Next, a transition zone between Desert and Alpine Zones was covered.  8 species were listed.  Whilst 6 of them seemed likely to be correctly, 2 were highly questionable. The Melilotus name was, yet again, an old synonym, which is now M.indicus - unfortunately, this not only has never been recorded for Ladakh but is a low-altitude plant, the highest elevation it has been recorded from being 1200m, whilst the lowest part of Ladakh is 3000m!  So surely is a misidentification. The likely species is M.officinalis. There was also a Geranium which I was not familiar with - G.molestianum, which seems not to even exist!  Geraniums present a challenge identification-wise. The most likely candidate her is G.regelii.

Further up the Stok Valley was a gorge where 20 species were found. 3 were only given to genus; of these 2, Hieracium sp. and Myosotis sp. may well be misidentifications. Allium tenuicaule would represent a new record for Ladakh.  Alliums are very difficult to tell apart, the genus being poorly known and inadequately studied in the whole region.  Unless the specimen collected had definitely been named by staff at Edinburgh, then I expect it is a misidentification. As for Rheum emodi - this, although frequently reported from Kashmir, it seems Lahoul is the most westerly location for this species. There appear to be no records for Ladakh.  Rheums can be difficult to tell apart, so again, unless the specimen was named at Edinburgh, it identification is questionable.

Next, the 'alpine' zone was described. 34 species were listed. Of these, a number are clearly misidentifications.  The most glaring is Urtica dioica.  Whilst this species has been recorded from Ladakh, being common in waste places and barnyards in many parts of Pakistan and Kashmir but only to 3000m.  U.ardens has also been recorded from a few districts in Pakistan & Kashmir incl. Ladakh but once again, only to 3600m.  But the 'alpine' zone of Stok Valley is at a much higher altitude, so the nettle found in Stok Valley is surely Urtica hypoborea, which grows between 3600-5200m. Cerastium bungeana; I am puzzled by this.  A quick internet search only reveals C.bungeanum and this was in Krgystan!  I suspect a misidentification.  The taxonomy and synonymy of a number of genera in the Caryophyllaceae family is complicated.
Valeriana himalayana - I cannot find too many references to this. Stewart did not have this species in his "Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of W.Pakistan & Kashmir" (which includes Ladakh) but had added it in his handwriting, to the copy of this he presented to me when I visited him in California. So I shall accept it as correct.

Finally, the oasis zone. 28 species were listed. Lactuca rhaphamostrica - Stewart did not have this species in his "Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of W.Pakistan & Kashmir" (which includes Ladakh) and I can find no references to this whatsoever, so presumably is an error. Plantago lanceolata had not been recorded from Ladakh previously, the highest it had ever been found was 2400m (the lowest part of Ladakh is 2700m).  As Plantago has a number of species which are difficult to separate, so unless the specimen collected was named at Edinburgh, I suspect this is a misidentification. Rumex crispus - the only records of this from the region are Kurram (Pakistan) and Kashmir.  I therefore suspect a misidentification, unless the specimen was named at Edinburgh. Salix elegans is an old sysnonym for S.denticulata but this species has not been recorded from Ladakh before (it is very common & gregarious on high level hillsides in several districts of Pakistan & Kashmir), so likely to be a misidentification - unless it was identified at Edinburgh.