WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE? Chris launches (again) project to save genuinely rare flora of NW Himalaya, abandoned to its fate by Indian authorities.

Unless plants in the Himalaya are correctly identified with their abundance (or not) being accurately assessed by extensive surveys in the mountains themselves by skilled field botanists it is impossible to meaningfully conserve them!  Supposed claims by Indian botanists of species being 'Endangered' (often 'Critically' so, which means they are about to become extinct) are not just misleading but UTTERLY false, indeed fraudulent; such information cannot be 'discovered' sat in offices or even in herbaria in India. There has been little appetite for studying plants in the wild in India since Independence back in 1947.  When, very occasional so-called 'surveys' are undertaken, this often involves remarkably short excursions, mostly by vehicle, with the Indian 'botanists' only walking a short distance, employing assistants to actually collect the necessary pressed specimens - hand lenses (which are ESSENTIAL tools for field botanists), it seems, are seldom used meaning it is impossible to familiarise themselves with living plants) and the resultant herbarium specimens are often of poor quality with practically no accompanying field notes - making them difficult to identify reliably and of limited use as reference specimens in herbaria.

Many habitats/locations are not explored AT ALL - such as steep slopes, between large boulders, cliffs, whilst treks lasting days (let alone weeks) rarely take place.  In too many cases, 'floras' published consist of little more than completely out-of-date COPIES of records from Hooker's 'Flora of British India' published in the 19th century plus details of specimens collected by foreign botanists from the late 19th century to the 1930s.  Perhaps a more accurate description of most of these floras would be 'Road-side 'Weeds' of the particular district covered'.... Any species which does not inhabit readily accessible location is INCORRECTLY described as 'inaccessible'. 

How is it that a foreigner like Chris, on a tight budget, relying on nothing more than local buses, lifts on Public Carrier Trucks and on foot, botanized in Ladakh and Kashmir in the 1980s more than any Indian botanist has ever done? Added to which, Leos Klimes, a Czech plant geographer undertook excellent field surveys even more extensive than Chris' efforts.  Prior to that, Walter Koelz and Thakur Rup Chand (who was not a trained botanist) made extensive collections in the 1930s of pressed specimens in Kulu, Lahaul & Ladakh - yet the set deposited at the Urusvati Institute (set-up by Russian Nicholas Roerich) have languished untouched and abandoned for 80 years.  The set which made it to the herbarium of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, was mounted, labelled, incorporated into the herbarium there, after being identified by Ralph Stewart, author of 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan and Kashmir' (published in 1972 - yet the equivalent for India remains, almost half a century later, not compiled).  A 'Flora of Lahaul-Spiti' was published in 1999 but the main author did not consult a single specimen at the Urusvati Institute; I can say that the Koelz & Chand specimens are the best ever collected.  Such neglect is inexcusable.

Over the decades Chris has, time and time again, offered to assist numerous Indian botanists but absolutely no interest has been shown.  Back in the mid-1980s he approached the then Director-General of the Botanical Survey of India, proposing he collaborate with Indian botanists on an up-to-date Flora for Ladakh.  Stewart had compiled a 'Flora of Ladakh' towards his doctorate awarded about a century ago.  Chris was told such a flora was for Indian botanists to compile.  Well, Chris is still waiting.  Recently, various Czech plant geographers and a German plant taxonomist have published a printed photographic guide to approximately a half of Ladakh's flowers (flora).  Meanwhile, Chris (with the help of the late Krishan Lal, who was a keen amateur, not a botanist) has begun four digital photographic guides to the flowers (floras) of Kashmir, Ladakh, Lahaul & Himachal Pradesh; these will be available on CDs (permitting many more images to be shown) and completed in Parts.  The first parts will cover genera starting with A & B and should be ready sometime summer 2018. As for the Himalaya as a whole, it was Brits Oleg Polunin & Adam Stainton, who used their extensive travels (with accompanying excellent photographs) to, with the help of other Britishers who had visited the Himalaya, allowing their photos to be used, prepared the excellent 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (1984) and its 'Supplement' (1997).  Where were the Indian field-botanists and plant photographers?  And when plant photos appear in Indian-published books, they are generally of a really poor standard; the explanation for this and why it is tolerated, is beyond explanation, as 'Flowers of the Himalaya', which had respectable colour reproduction back in the 1984, was published by Oxford University Press, India with the plates printed by Indraprastha Press (CBT), New Delhi - so why, decades later, are most Indian flower books, publishing such awful images?

This unacceptable situation needs to be recognised both in India and by International bodies, who MUST NOT BLINDLY ACCEPT THE INFORMATION SUBMITTED to them.  Until major steps are taken to rectify this matter, the world's conservation bodies are abandoning plants to their fate!  Shame on those responsible for permitting this and failing to act.  Chris cares deeply about this scandal.  Does anyone else - beyond the 'crocodile' tears which are shed because it is 'fashionable' to support conservation? He has raised such concerns before, yet was ignored. He is trying again. International bodies and leading figures need to be smarter and face the inconvenient truth - the flora of the North-West Himalaya, its environment and peoples are being failed.  And for the majority who have no interest in plants - let us not forget that without them, there are no animals or habitats for them to live in!  In the UK, thanks to the long-standing efforts of members of the 'Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland' (BSBI) our flora is better-known and studied than anywhere in the world. Chris finds most British people assume a similar situation exists in other countries. In the Indian Himalaya, the flora remains poorly known. Chris' travels combined with his field skills of being to recognise many of the prominent species during his treks combined with records of other Westerners who have visited the region enable us to know with confidence, which of these are common and abundant but nobody actually knows which species are genuinely rare. 

Chris, is a trustworthy person of integrity, who has devoted his adult life (since 1980) to studying the flora of the Himalaya both in the wild and cultivation along with Himalayan species utilised in Tibetan Medicine - not just on a 'Not for Profit Basis' but at a loss, leaving him in a dire situation financially whilst others, in comfortable circumstances, encourage donations to FAKE conservation charities.....    Measures adopted both nationally and internationally in recent years including Protocols and Conventions, far from helping conserve the flora of developing countries, is in reality damaging it.  The world SHOULD be concerned by what Chris is exposing but instead, this inconvenient TRUTH is being ignored. His knowledge and expertise about North-West Himalayan flora is unrivalled in the Indian sub-continent, indeed any country and exceeds that of the major institutions in the UK - he should be respected and listened to. 


Chris is a strong advocate of digital photography, which has the potential to revolutionise the study (and conservation) of the world's flora but only if both the botanical world including senior plant taxonomists and those interested in plants appreciate the necessity of examining specimens more closely. In the past it was only feasible and economic to take 1 or 2 slides per plant, whilst books would have been too large and prohibitively expensive if more than one image per plant was printed; at that time, plant identification was primarily based upon close examination of dried pressed specimens in herbaria, not photographs. The 'penny' dropped for Chris a few years back as to just what digital photographs could provide, in place of the collection of herbarium specimens, which is increasingly being discouraged, often prohibited (which he considers mistaken) but he has been frustrated to-date, as his efforts to draw attention to this have been thwarted both by the botanical establishment in the West and those amateurs in the Indian sub-continent taking an interest in the flora of the Himalaya.  PLEASE READ, STUDY & DIGEST more about this topic within this web-site - which is applicable to plants all over the world.  At present, the flora of the Himalaya (which occupies a vast area), Chris' speciality, has been poorly studied - too much of the published records since Indian Independence, whether in traditional printed floras/check-lists/guides or nowadays informally on-line, are littered with misidentifications, based too often upon Hooker's 'Flora of British India' published way back in the 19th Century - woefully out-of-date.  Other problems include discouragement of International collaboration by successive Indian Governments plus the lack of actual studies in the mountains; few Indian botanists spend much time studying plants in the wild with little appetite for exploring on steep slopes, amongst boulders, on cliffs, let alone trekking.  It is ridiculous to claim that species such as Meconopsis aculeatea, Primula reptans nor Saxifraga jacquemontiana  are in any way 'Endangered', when few Indian botanists have ever ventured to places where they grow abundantly (which I have seen repeatedly with my own eyes). Unless a flora is examined (and photographed) in close-up detail in the wild, its a abundance or rarity cannot be ascertained.  At this time, false records as to the supposed rarity (at times, claimed to be 'Critically Endangered', which means about to become extinct) of Indian flora have been submitted to International bodies.  This serious situation needs to be addressed. What about the species which are genuinely endangered, left to their own devices!  Chris cares deeply about the flora, environment and peoples of the Himalaya - those in senior positions, whether, politicians, professional botanists, conservationists, ill-informed journalists, media and others cry 'crocodile' tears but could not care less.  IF they did, his un-rivalled experience and expertise would be put to good use.  Instead, he is attacked.  Funny old world.