Legitimate to have had seed collected, to help conserve Himalayan flora?

I have been prompted to speak up and out about this subject. Whilst trying to make sense of who commissioned the BBC's sudden interest in me, I wonder how many people casually reading about my travels along the Himalaya actually considered me to be some sort of importer of illegal 'drugs' poacher of the botanical equivalent of ivory or someone who "hunts down" and kills (digs up) 'rare and endangered' plants! Surely not? I had thought that anyone who actually read the detailed information (much of a PRIVATE and personal nature which I do not see too many others 'revealing') within my web-sites, could not possibly envisage such things..... But I may have been mistaken! So I MUST attempt to defend my honour.

P.N.Kohli collecting seed in Kashmir - for the ROYAL parks and gardens in London

Let me TRY to explain. The truth is very few understand much of what is involved in 'modern-day plant hunting' or what happened during expeditions undertaken by the famous plant hunters of the past. The latter situation is exacerbated by most of those writing about the subject, who know precious little about it! Beyond the imagined "romance" involved.... I am a botanist at heart. Do I really care about plants? Absolutely! I have always operated with a personal CODE OF CONDUCT far stricter than any rules or regulations that are or were in place (what one can do legitimately has varied over the decades). Mind you, just because someone is permitted to do something and abides by "the official rules" (which change over time), does not mean it is necessarily right! I consider that nobody (including the world's most famous botanic gardens) have the right to attempt to grow a plant at the expense of wild populations. Intelligent and thoughtful seed collection DOES NOT damage plant populations. In most cases seed is over-produced, with almost all species of plant growing in colonies/populations. Those who provided me with seed (from the Himalaya, Japan, North America and occasionally other parts of the world) did conduct themselves honourably! I "checked out" those I associated with. Not every firm or individual in all countries is honest and reliable. P.N.Kohli was exceptional. Were P.Kohli & Co., permitted to export seed to me? Yes. This firm held an export license. Indeed Prem Nath Kohli set an example which not too many others were following when he started back in 1928. Yes, material was originally introduced into his nurseries and farms in Kashmir from the wild. This was done responsibly. He was a skilled and dedicated person. He was exporting BULBS from his nurseries NOT directly from the wild, as early as the 1930s and writing about his in newspapers and journals raising concerns about plant and nature conservation, decades before it became FASHIONABLE to the "concerned". Pity this was not being done in Turkey, when for decades MILLIONS of bulbs were being DUG UP directly from the wild to be sold in European garden centres and nurseries!

An ALLIUM being grown in a bed in one of P.Kohli & Co., nursery plots in Kashmir - originally gathered as seed by P.N.Kohli - setting an example for others to follow

The Himalayan seed I offered through Chadwell Seeds was supplied through P.Kohli & Co. plus other sources in the Himalaya. I have never been to Japan, so cannot have collected there, yet for almost as long as Seed offered Himalayan seed, it has offered Japanese seed. Yes, I have been on a number of lecture tours to N.America but as these have always been in the spring (or end of winter), when the plants are in flower and not at the fruiting stage (when seed is produced), I cannot have collected seed myself. From time-to-time, I supplied seed from North America. Was I supplied this seed from individuals and seed firms in the US? Yes. The same applies to a few other countries. Was all this seed supplied to me legitimately? Yes.

BELAMCANDA being grown in a bed in one of P.Kohli & Co., nursery plots in Kashmir - originally gathered as seed by P.N.Kohli - setting an example for others to follow

Likewise, if I visited a Himalayan country to photograph flowers (or for my early expeditions, to gather botanical specimens - when I liaised with the local university), I cannot have collected seed, if there was no seed to collect! The prime time to photograph flowers is the summer months BEFORE seed is ready. Would visitors to this site prefer it to have pictures of the capsules or pods of plants, rather than flowers? Would the audiences at my lectures be impressed? I would never be invited back and hardly anyone would return to this site. In illustrated seed catalogues, almost the images are of flowers, not fruits (though a small minority of species do have attractive pods or capsules). Did I visit those who supply me with seed from the Himalaya, to check things and offer advice? Yes. Did, sometimes, they subsequently send me seed? Yes. What else did I do when visiting the Himalaya? See: as examples.

I also led a number of 'botanical tours' (though they could be described as plant hunting expeditions), escorting clients booked by specialist travel companies (like West Himalayan Holidays and Raoul Moxley Travel - though they no longer exist) to show them and identify flowers. No seed was collected - not that there was any that could have been collected, as they were during the early summer or spring.

Some of the clients I led on a botanical tour (flower holiday) who reached the snout of a glacier in the Miyah Nullah, Lahoul during a trek for West Himalayan Holidays in the mid-1980s

In 2012 I retuned to Kashmir (the first time for more than 20 years as it had been unsafe following the kidnap and execution of foreigners - so could not have collected seed there during that period), delighting in being able to return, assess the situation and spend time with Mrs Suri, Proprietor of P.Kohli & Co. I also visited the University of Kashmir and various botanical garden in Kashmir; managed to deliver a lecture and have a Kohli Gold Medal presented (see: I had planned to go back in 2010 but was advised by a Professor at Kashmir University that it had become unsafe to botanise in Kashmir that year - so I cancelled my trip. This was a wise move as the university remained closed for a long period, with widespread rioting and 24 hour curfews!

ELEAGNUS in fruit at P.Kohli & Co's nursery in Kashmir

Are foreigners ever permitted to collect seed themselves in the Himalaya? Yes, they were in the past (new rules & regulations are making this more difficult) - though this was mostly during official expeditions mounted by leading Western botanic gardens (or those with the 'right' connections with the establishments (such as Edinburgh Botanic Garden) who could secure permission to export seed collected e.g. in Nepal or in the hey-day of plant hunting up to the 1950s. Am I responsible what was done then? No. Just I was not responsible for the introduction of 'Himalayan Balsam' (IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA) which causes problems in parts of the UK and abroad. This was first introduced in the 19th century - a little before my time. Typically, botanical specimens were collected during these expeditions and often seed as well. Often at least one local botanist accompanied these expeditions (at the expense of the Western botanical institution). These are good examples of collaboration between botanists in different countries. Do botanists in developing countries benefit? Yes and more such 'plant hunting' expeditions should be encouraged/approved - not discouraged or prohibited.

OK, so if Chris Chadwell (and others) are permitted to receive seed from the Himalaya (and other parts of the world), then what use can it be put to, beyond growing plants for enjoyment and appreciation of garden lovers (and what is wrong with doing that)?

Let us consider botanic/botanical gardens in the UK? These places would receive few visitors if the only plants grown there were from the UK! The same applies to both the most famous like Kew and to smaller, less-known ones. In the case of Kew, it would be in even more financially difficult than it is now (as government funding for botanical research, on which ALL conservation of plants in the wild MUST be based is increasingly being reduced) without the quite large entrance fee required to enter the grounds - Kew is a tourist attraction. Kew's botanical research (which rightly enjoys an INternational reputation) would suffer without the gardens/grounds for visitors to pay to visit - for the purpoe of admiring the plants growing there. These potential visitors could, instead be offered tours of the herbarium? Don't think there would be that many takers to look JUST at dried pressed specimens and even those few interested enough, might balk at paying £15 (the minimum an adult has to pay to look to enter Kew and admire flowers from around the world). Not much revenue there! Gardeners and those appreciate gardens have always been more interested in seeing specimens from other countries - at some point ALL garden plants originated in the wild. I also don't think too many visitors would be willing to pay £15 to JUST admire British wild flowers! If you visit other countries, gardeners are most interested growing plants in their gardens from other places. Indian gardens are full of plants from OTHER countries. This applies to botanical gardens all over the world - species native to the countries themselves are few and far between. I know of British seed companies exporting seed to India. What is wrong with that or the other way, from India to Britain?

The reality is that the vast majority of visitors to botanic and botanical gardens (in all countries) are most interested in plants with ornamental merit or curiosities. And what is wrong with that? A strictly limited number of visitors are keen on more unusual species. Few are concerned about plant conservation. Just as the vast majority of visitors to zoos or zoological parks have no interest in animal conservation but their entrance fees can be put to good use in that respect! And efforts can be made to educate such general visitors about plant and/or animal conservation. Garden lovers and animal lovers are far more likely to take an interest in conservation and donate to conservation bodies than those who are not interested!

What else can botanic or botanical gardens do beyond displaying plants of ornamental merit from the Himalaya or other regions of the world (which were raised from seed)?

There is the potential to educate visitors as to the uses to which the plants are put in the regions or countries from which they originated - such as medicinal or culinary. If the uses are interesting, it does not necessarily if the plant has limited "ornamental merit".

A sizeable community exists in the UK whose families come from the Indian sub-continent. They may well be interested to view in UK botanic/botanical gardens, plants from the Himalaya (and proud that plants from such places are in the botanic/botanic gardens, even if their families were not from such mountainous districts themselves) - along with learning about the uses of Himalayan plants in Ayuvedic (Indian) and Tibetan Medicine. There are gardens lovers from all of the world. Those from all parts of India, even those from Southern India, a long way from the Himalaya are proud of the world's highest mountains, just as they are of the Taj Mahal or tigers - their families may well live now nowhere near these either.

I and other competent photographers can visit such botanic gardens and photograph the plants, if they are reliably labelled. As for specimens in such gardens originating in the Himalaya (their identifications can be checked by me), then they are of especial interest to me. Such images are a meaningful addition to photographs taken of Himalayan plants in the wild, by myself during my past expeditions (along with any images donated from others who trek in the Himalaya in the years to come - and I hope, contributions from local botanists in the Himalaya). See:

Contributing towards CORRECT identification of plants in cultivation

Around the UK, are NATIONAL COLLECTIONS of different genera of plants, through what was the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) - now Plant Heritage. The idea of these collections is for them to contain as many of the known species within the genus plus any cultivars. Having examples in these collections of specimens of KNOWN PROVENANCE (including those from the Himalaya) is most useful - I would suggest, ESSENTIAL, to be able to compare with specimens grown under the same name in cultivation, to check that they match. If you grow two plants close together you can readily tell if they "match" or are different - perhaps to the extent that in some cases, you question if they are the same thing. Far better than having to rely on written descriptions or photographs in books! This is the best way to "compare and contrast" and underpins traditional methods of plant identification.

My informal research suggests that AT LEAST 50% of plants in cultivation in British gardens under Himalayan names have been misidentified (i.e. they are impostors), so having the GENUINE species from the Himalaya (raised from seed) for comparison purposes is of enormous value. This will contribute to MORE RELIABLE identification of plants in cultivation. And unless plants can be CORRECTLY identified in our gardens, it is IMPOSSIBLE to properly assess which are actually RARE or ENDANGERED in cultivation as a whole. So UNLESS they are, they CANNOT be CONSERVED!! IF FRESH legislation PREVENTS any seed EVER being available again from the Himalaya again (and/or other regions of the world), this would be such a WASTE. It would make no sense to me. It would not only NOT help PROTECT Himalayan flora but 'Endanger' it!

Contributing towards CORRECT identification of Himalayan plants in the wild

As well as helping towards sorting out the muddle which exists with the identification of plants in cultivation, specimens grown from Himalayan seed in botanic/botanical gardens can contribute towards better knowledge/improvement of identification of Himalayan plants in the Himalaya. Strange though this may seem! Both using photos taken in such gardens and made available for use in Chris Chadwell's digital herbarium and by inspection of the living plants themselves. Any specialists in the identification of genera of plants (we DESPERATELY need more of them) that are growing in botanic/botanical gardens and take a look for themselves. Or live plants could be sent to national collection holders or other botanical gardens or seed sent, from which other plants could be grown. Unless any given garden shares material with other gardens, any plant in cultivation could easily die-out. Clearly, not every species from the Himalaya is being or can be grown at Kew (there are thousands). Every botanic/botanical garden can grow some plants well but no others.

This is why restricting the sharing of live plants between botanic gardens/institutions makes no sense to me - let alone a complete BAN on any fresh imports of seed. I was, some years ago, approached by a botanist at an institute in Europe undertaking research into the evolutionary biology of different genera, some of which occur in the Himalaya, as a possible source of seed of Himalayan plants. The main botanic gardens in the UK, apparently, were not permitted (due to rules & regulations) to send them any material - even SOLELY for research purposes! There was no conceivable "commercial" aspect. Though, maybe, by not supplying seed or living material, the research could not be undertaken in that country, thus allowing grants to go to a UK institution. Surely this is not how things work? Is this in the interests of conservation or botanical science.....

I contest that IF you have something out-of-the-ordinary in any garden, every effort should be made to propagate and share it with others to maximise the chance it continues in cultivation. OFTEN plants/species are short-lived in cultivation - even in the world's best botanic gardens. It is entirely possible that some of those plants in UK botanic gardens 'refused' permission to be shared, are now deceased. Isn't that clever. HAD they been shared, I bet, in some cases they would still be alive in the garden of that European Institute, who presumably would have been happy to return material for our best gardens to attempt to grow it again! In fact I KNOW the conditions in the garden I am referring to, is far better suited to growing Himalayan plants than e.g. Kew Gardens - even if it is the most famous in the wild. This makes no sense to me.

Contributing to the ex-situ conservation of 'Rare and Endangered' Himalayan plants

Article 9 of the 'Convention on Biological Diversity' recommends signatories encourage ex-situ conservation of 'Rare and Endangered' species. This means growing them in botanic/botanical gardens - not abroad but in the country itself. A splendid idea you might think. Projects, which are expensive and time-consuming have been undertaken in Europe and presumably some other parts of the world. The ultimate objective is to have stock of genuinely 'Rare and Endangered' NATIVE wild species in cultivation to guard against extinction in the wild and ideally to re-introduce back into the wild, if needs be/possible. Unfortunately, this is seldom what happens in the Indian Himalaya. Firstly, most of those selected are not actually rare, let alone Endangered. What about the species which are genuinely rare? They have been abandoned to their fate. The local botanists are not trained in techniques of seed collection or raising plants from seed. Instead, the typical approach is to dig up large quantities of these supposedly 'Rare and Endangered' species (which thankfully they seldom are), many of which grow in the mountains, transport them down 1-2500m, transplanting them at the worst possible time of the year, into an open garden which is much hotter and drier. As any gardener will tell you, most, if not all are going to eventually to die (many sooner, rather than later)..... How is that helping conserve plants? I have visited a botanic garden where such a project had been undertaken. Just a few years later, there was no evidence that a single species covered was still growing! Complete failure!

Is there a superior way? Yes, collection of seed and growing on from seed (often far better at helping a plant species adjust to/cope with lower altitudes/different conditions). Though the truth is a separate botanic station, at a higher elevation, of the main, lower altitude botanical garden often needs to be established and manned where species originating a higher elevations stand a much better chance of surviving. Ex-situ conservation using seed remains the best bet in most cases - there will be cases where little or no seed is set (or the seed does not prove viable). Sometimes skilled and dedicator gardeners are required to ensure the plants develop well and survive. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Godawari in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal was set-up with help of staff from Kew. Though plants from Nepal's high mountains CANNOT be grown here as the sub-tropical conditions are unsuitable. What an excellent example of collaboration nevertheless - funding needs to be found for follow-up projects (including stations of this botanical garden in higher altitude locations in Nepal). More advice is needed in developing countries.

As Chris Chadwell knows, intelligent collection of seed does not harm wild populations - but local botanists in the Himalaya require improved training Digging up living plants of 'Rare and Endangered' species could easily make the situation worse. Might not the greatest threat to some of these colonies of rare plants be over-enthusiastic botanists attempting to 'Save' them!?

In the 1990s I was a consultant to The Royal Government of Bhutan on 'the Cultivation of Medicinal Plants for Traditional Medicine Project'. In my report covering my second mission to Bhutan, I selected 4 species required The National Institute of Traditional Medicine in large quantities, which were likely to prove the MOST amenable to cultivation in and around the area where plant material is mostly gathered by staff of the institute for use in preparing herbal formulations. It made sense to START with the most promising, not the most difficult, as there was NO tradition of growing plants for use in formulations for medicinal medicine. For each of these I recommend COLLECTION OF SEED and subsequent sowing of seed as the BEST method of propagation - all of them could readily be grown from seed. I also selected 2 species for cultivation, which were considered ENDANGERED within Bhutan - using SEED meant existing populations would not be damaged! The same CANNOT be said for digging up plants!

In addition, I selected a further 10 species, to trial next. SEED COLLECTION and subsequent sowing would have been the recommended method of propagation for these as well.

The OBJECTIVE was to CULTIVATE material of species utilised in BHUTANESE medicine, rather than collect directly from the wild. AN ADMIRABLE OBJECTIVE - which could be accomplished THANKS TO SEED COLLECTION, without damaging/putting further pressure of populations of WILD plants!

I just wonder who is in an ideal position to advise botanists in the Himalaya, delivering lectures, seminars and practical workshops including field trips, about seed collection and growing from seed? Why one Chris Chadwell of course..... And where did he accumulate such knowledge - through travels in the Himalaya, expeditions, collaboration with P.Kohli & Co., who have been cultivating Himalayan plants in nurseries and on farms for in the Himalayan foothills for nearly 90 years plus knowledge gained from cultivation of Himalayan plants in the UK including at botanic/botanical gardens! I am more than willing and would be delighted to have my expertise put to good use ACTUALLY HELPING THE CONSERVATION OF HIMALAYAN FLORA - and I could also help with the essential first step, discovering which are the genuinely 'Rare and Endangered'.

In conclusion, ALL Botanic/Botanical Gardens, should therefore be proud of the plants they grow (ALL originally came from the wild, even the cultivars), particularly those of known provenance. In most cases these specimens will be scattered around the grounds, not concentrated in a formal 'garden' or bed. Separate beds or 'gardens' within the main garden should be encouraged.

These botanic/botanical gardens should not disapprovingly be viewed as the plant equivalent of zoos, where plants are "trapped in captivity" - though there most certainly still is a role for zoos and zoological parks.

So should MORE plants from the Himalaya (and other regions of the world) be grown from seed in botanical gardens in the UK, Europe and North America? Yes. Though those from tropical or sub-tropical climes could not be grown outside in UK gardens, making it very costly to cultivate them. Many Himalayan species can cope being grown outside.

I cover what is actually involved in a 'plant hunting expeditions' past and present in another section, see:

Many of you will be surprised.

Perhaps I am starting to convince you of the merits of seed collecting all over the world? Yes, there are DANGERS to populations of WILD species in the Himalaya (and other parts of the world) but SEED COLLECTION is not one of them, see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/what-are-the-real-risks-to-himalayan-flora. Read through what I have to say on this web-site, in an intelligent manner and decide for yourself.

And then we come to other types of seed of plants NOT grown for garden-worthiness. Is it OK for Indian firms to sell such seed/ export such seed? After all these would also count as a GENETIC RESOURCE. Let me try and explain in: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/plant-genetic-resources-from-india-and-the-himalaya