Selection of Enquiries

EXPEDITIONS AND SEED ACCESSIONS

I have just (February 2016) had an inquiry from another continent who had learnt of expeditions through forums, wishing to know more about joining one and/obtaining seed from them.  They also wondered if I could suggest anyone to contact concerning seed from Africa.  Firstly, I advised that none of the seed I had ever offered through Chadwell Seeds was suitable to be grown where they lived.  Secondly, I had never had any interest in seed from Africa, had never been there (other than a brief trip to Cueta, a Spanish autonomous city in North Africa, during a University field-course in Spain, not that this really counts) nor had any contacts.  May I also announce that I have never been to, have any contacts in or ever received seed from Myanamar (Burma) - as someone seems to be suggesting!!!  By gum, I do seem to be amazingly well-travelled!

As for my expeditions, I mentioned that I did select small teams of botanists (which this person was not) and plants people for my early expeditions to Kashmir but as it is important to have a selection process that allowed me to assess if the candidates would be good "team members" and cope with adverse conditions/altitude, this was impractical for someone even living in a country nearby, let alone another continent.  I have had occasional offers to join my expeditions from Europe and North America and from time-to-time, members of the audiences I have just given a digital presentation about my travels in the Himalaya, come up, casually to offer their services as a porter on my next trip!

I advised this person that they needed to understand the full implications of the Nagoya Protocol.  I did not know if the country they lived in was a signatory but ANY country which is, may well introduce rules and laws meaning that WRITTEN PERMISSION in advance was required to utilise anything considered to be a GENETIC RESOURCE - which was likely to include seed.

Fewer expeditions were going to take place,  most, as has always been the case, were from botanic gardens.  I wondered, if this person had the resources, they could train at such a botanic garden and look for opportunities to join an official expedition.

Whilst I do have genuine and legitimate concerns about aspects of C.I.T.I.E.S., Convention Biodiversity, Nagoya etc., which could prove counter-productive (and thus should be addressed.  RULES & REGULATIONS are meant to be for good reasons.  The new rules are meant to PROTECT and CONSERVE native flora (which is an ADMIRABLE objective) but IF the additional rules are actually going to DAMAGE the flora, this makes no sense to me.  Having said that, we ALL have to abide by the rules.  And governments have the right to set new rules - whether or not they make any sense or not.

My concluding remarks were that their prospects of participating in an expedition or obtaining seed from one, was somewhere between remote to impossible!  I have not been fit enough to participate in an expedition for a while and do not expect to be able to do so in the future - even taking an international flight would be foolhardy in the extreme, as I have been in serious pain for most of the past few weeks!

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Chris beside SALVIA HIANS in the Western Himalaya


BUYING A DIGITAL PICTURE OF SALVIA HIANS TO BE USED FOR PLANT LABELS

I was contacted in February 2016 by a representative of a company in a European country which producing labels for different types of plant.  This person wished to know if they could buy a digital picture of SALVIA  HIANS (presumably, the image of me beside a clump of this species on my Home Page had attracted their attention. They also wished to know if they could use the picture and on what terms - obviously, they would not be interested if they could not.

Whilst it was good that they had asked (ILLEGAL use of images on the internet is widespread - leading many to mark their images; so far I have decided not to do this but some people I know feel obliged to, as they keep finding their photos being used without their permission), not identifying which company, a postal address and link to a web-site (which presumably the company must have) concerned me.

Much as I would welcome (indeed need any sort of income), I stated that I definitely did NOT agree for my image of SALVIA HIANS to utilised by the unknown company!

Some may ask, why be bothered?  Well, as I hope is clear from my web-site (though sadly, that is not the case, as a very uncomfortable episode, still on-going, with let us say, the media, bears testament to - I may be obliged to elaborate later) I am an honest, honourable person (which has often been to my cost), who does not wish to contribute further to the absolute MESS that exists in terms of the reliability of the identification of plants in cultivation.  Why is such a high level of misidentification tolerated.  Perhaps the power-that-be, do not realise?  In what other trade who customers accept such a HIGH proportion of what they buy NOT actually being what is says so on the label?

Let me share with you the explanation I offer to the person who made the inquiry:

"The image I have of SALVIA HIANS on my Home Page, is NOT representative of ALL forms of this species.  ALL species vary in the wild - sometimes quite considerably so!  This species is found in the Himalaya from Kashmir to Bhutan*, from 2400-4000m.  So unless the plants with a label from this image were grown from material propagated VEGETATIVELY and this would have involved bringing back roots or cuttings (I only deal with seed), they could not POSSIBLY match this image.  I know this did not happen.  Indeed this image shows a plant IN FLOWER (not at the fruiting/seed-producing stage), so it could NOT even have been grown from seed.

Similarly, unless a plant photographed in cultivation (a garden) was then propagated VEGETATIVELY by a nurseryman (which it could be), a label using such an image would be misleading.

BUT and this is the major point,  SIGNIFICANT proportion of ALL plants in cultivation (both at species level and cultivar level) have been misidentified.  My informal research suggests that for those labelled as from Himalayan species, it is more than 50%.  I don't expect it would be much better for plants with names from other regions of the world - but I do not have sufficient expertise to comment about plants from other parts of the world.

In the case of SALVIA HIANS, almost all plants grown under this name are IMPOSTORS.  In athefew cases that they MIGHT genuinely be this species, they could easily NOT look like my picture - so to use it would be wrong."

* According to 'Flowers of the Himalaya', the distribution of SALVIA HIANS extends to Bhutan - the information for that coming from 'An Enumeration of the Flowering Plants of Nepal'.  However, the account for LABIATAE (now LAMIACEAE) by R.A. Clement within 'Flora of Bhutan' (Vol. 2 Part 2) does not mention S.HIANS.  This appears to be an omission by the author; I certainly would have liked to know which species of SALVIA he considered was mistaken for S.HIANS - thus helping me illustrate my point better i.e. that plants are regularly misidentified - even by botanists!  He does, wisely, comment, " Peter (1936) revised the Indian and Tibetan species of SALVIA and described new species and varieties from our area (Bhutan plus Sikkim and Darjeeling covered within the 'Flora of Bhutan'). A number of taxa undoubtedly require further investigation and revision over a wider geographical area than is possible here."   So much of the flora of the Himalaya urgently needs to be studied better.....

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POSSIBLE FEATURE IN MAGAZINE


I was approached in February 2014 by the co-Editor of an Independent magazine, who wished to interview me and have me photographed in a suitable location in the UK, with a view to running a feature about my expeditions for their upcoming volume!  She had been perusing this web-site and it sounded like I had an adventurous life and career. Their focus is on finding inspiration in ideas and people; ideas that become more interesting the further they are unraveled; people who are interesting individuals with enthralling lifestyles and stories to tell.

It was certainly not a convenient period of the year for me.  I gave the matter due consideration but had major reservations - despite the certainty that any result article would have been highly complimentary.  Upon receiving a copy of a previous edition of their magazine, my conclusion was that their approach was not for "me", so declined the offer.

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SEED OF THYLACOSPERMUM CAESPITOSUM FOR RESEARCH PROJECT

THYLACOSPERMUM  CAESPITOSUM

I was contacted in April by a Professor at an American University, who was hoping to obtain seeds of Thylacospermum (Caryophyllaceae - the PINK family) for a research project aimed at understanding how plant genomes respond to shifts in ecology and physiology over evolutionary time scales.

I explained that whilst I had come across THYLACOSPERMUM CAESPITOSUM on high passes in the borderlands of Western Tibet on a number of occasions, none of the specimens ever had viable seed on them.  Species from extreme altitudes do not set much seed.  I christened these extraordinary plants,  'Tibetan Vegetable Sheep' on account of their similarity to 'New Zealand Vegetable Sheep' which also form large mounds on screes and have foliage which looks remarkably similar - even though the New Zealand plants belong to a completely different family, the ASTERACEAE (formerly COMPOSITAE).

The 'Tibetan Vegetable Sheep' - forming large hard compact cushions to 30cm or more across


The prospects for obtaining any seed, to be grown on at a partner botanical garden, with a view to sampling live material for RNA analysis, were thus very poor.  I had advised that good quality pressed specimens of the species were to be found in the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, collected by Dr Walter Koelz and Rup Chand in the 1930s (see RECIPIENTS OF KOHLI MEMORIAL GOLD MEDALS section of this web-site) but whilst dried material might be OK for obtaining DNA, it was not suitable for RNA.

Furthermore as such seed would be considered a GENETIC RESOURCE under the Nagoya Protocol, securing permission to obtain a sample is likely to prove a challenge. I knew of no individual botanist nor institution covering regions where THYLACOSPERMUM CAESPITOSUM grows, in India or Nepal, worth contacting to request they supply a sample.  In light of this species actually setting little seed at high altitude, my advice was to forget the idea - why go to not inconsiderable effort and no little expense, to in all probability, fail.

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POSSIBLE FILIMING FOR BBC SERIES

At the end of March I agreed to be contacted by a TV Production Company working on a second series of a gardening programmes for BBC Two.  'Great British Garden Revival' aims to revive the public’s appetite for gardening, and some of its bygone traditions. Each episode focuses on a different horticultural style or tradition that might have fallen out of popular favour and will be championed by one of the nation’s favourite gardening presenters. 
 
One of the subjects they were looking at for this series was rhododendrons and azaleas; they were looking to film this episode in the middle of May (so they had certainly left things to the last minute).  I had to explain that I could be of little use to them, as whilst Rhododendrons are well-represented in the Himalaya, their real centre of diversity is the mountains of SW China, about which I know almost nothing (having never been to this part of the world).  Furthermore, despite extensive plant exploration in the Himalaya, I have only come across a relatively small number of Rhododendrons- the majority of are found in the monsoonal districts of the Eastern Himalaya, which I seldom venture into.  As I had no expertise about Rhododendrons in the wild or gardens for that matter, I was unlikely to be of interest to them.  I was however, able to recommend GLENARN in Scotland as well worth filming (see GARDENS OF DISTINCTION section of this website). 

Magnificent large-leaves Rhododendron at Glenarn

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Close-up of a herbarium specimen of ALLIUM CAROLINIANUM - used in Ladakhi  traditional medicine



ALLIUMS  UTILISED IN TIBETAN MEDICINE

In February I had an inquiry forwarded to me through an American lady who spends most of each year in Ladakh, who had asked about the scientific names of native plants utilised for assorted purposes in Ladakh.  An Indian lady who helps make environmental education handbooks was experiencing difficulties making sense of Latin names applied to various Alliums. 

I explained that often the scientific names applied were misidentifications.  Other than well-known examples of the genus such as 'Chives' (ALLIUM SCHOENOPRASM), identifying Allium species correctly was very difficult and beyond the scope of amateurs. Even those in professional botanical posts who did not have full training or access to reliable reference material, would struggle.

My final recommendation was to largely dispense with Latin names, as the handbooks were mostly for Ladakhi teachers at primary level. Most 'A' level biology teachers have limited familiarity with Latin plant names - let alone general primary staff. Far better to use local (Ladakhi) names.  By all means have a formal TIbetan equivalent name but most importantly a translation of its meaning into English - as English is the preferred medium of education in India.   Often these Tibetan 'names' describe the colour and in some cases the resemblance of the shape of the flowers to a part of an animal, which children could relate to such as YELLOW ELEPHANT'S TRUNK or SHEEP'S EYE.  I know of no books for UK primary schools using Latin plant names!

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PLANTING OF NATIVE LADAKHI  SPECIES IN GARDEN OF SCHOOL BEING RE-BUILT AFTER LANDSLIDE

I was contacted in February by a landscape architect, recently-retired as a lecturer from a London University, who was helping make a garden at a school in the Upper Indus Valley near Leh, Ladakh, which had been destroyed by one of many landslides which followed a torrential.  Could I recommend an illustrated guide to the native plants of the region, which they would like to concentrate on for the planting? 

I informed him that no such guide existed (the nearest and most useful book,  available, especially in its CONCISE version, in a book-shop in Leh) is FLOWERS OF THE HIMALAYA (Polunin & Stainton, Oxford University Press). Its coverage of Ladakh plants is quite good but it only covers a fraction of the total species found in Ladakh and is a general introductory guide (not a full FLORA) - few know how to use it well.

Nor were there any nurseries which stocked genuinely native species.  One or two sources for plants grown locally were available but these were mostly of introduced species and advised as to the considerable challenges involved in growing wild species in such an exposed location.

A WALDHEIMIA photographed in Ladakh

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IDENTIFICATION OF CURIOUS-LOOKING PLANT ON HIGH PASS DURING TREK IN LADAKH

LAGOTIS  GLOBOSA in scree (Photo: Aaron Perez)

I was contacted in December 2013 by Aaron Perez of the University of Barcelona, who had come across the section of this web-site about the flora of Ladakh, wondering if I might be able to identify the above plant, he had come across in scree on a high pass during a trek in Ladakh.  I immediately recognised this remarkable-looking specimen, so different to other species of  Lagotis. 

Dr Perez subsequently sent me the other images he had taken of plants in Ladakh and the Upper Kulu Valley, Himachal Pradesh.  Amongst them was a fine shot of a Rhodiola.  This will be reproduced in the October 2014 issue of The Sedum Society Newsletter.

DELPHINIUM and RHODIOLA  (Photo: Aaron Perez)

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