Farrer & Purdom 1915 Expedition to "Kansu"

Primula stenocalyx. 
Trying to understand Primula species is more than just looking at herbarium specimens and reading technical descriptions. Delving into the original plant collector's expeditions provides valuable insights into plant locations, habitats and field observations - and often it is pure and simple entertainment. In the course of trying to understand the Blue Nivalids, I traced the route of Reginald Farrer and his companion William Purdom in 1915 through the Datung Alps, now within Qinghai, not Gansu.

From "The Rainbow Bridge"
Surely you have heard of Reginald Farrer: plantsman, explorer and writer of excessive descriptive prose! Farrer wrote about this expedition, a continuation of his 1914 journey, in a series of articles in the Gardeners' Chronicle. His book “The Rainbow Bridge” is a full account of this expedition which started in Sining (Xining, Qinghai) and explored north and slightly east from there. For a few months, Farrer and Purdom made "Wolvesden house" their base and they explored as far to the east as Tien-tang (Tiantangcun) and as far north as Gan Chang Ssu (Ganchankou). Though there is a map in this book, in his “Report of Work in 1915 in Kansu and Tibet” in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society vol XLII, there is a crude map, but with better detailed locations.
"Wolvesden House, I feel, though abandoned again for evermore to mules and muleteers, remains perpetually my property Dear little house, how dull you sometimes were; how desirable you always are. Sitting up there, far away, lost and lone in your deep grove of the great Thibetan Alps. Those who may wish, (in days I hope still distant) to commune with my ghost must take a long journey, to where it will be found cheeping and chittering wanly round the mud-plastered walls of Wolvesden, rather than on the Schneeberg or the Tombia or even Moncenisio." From "the Rainbow Bridge"
The plant that I was investigating is Primula farreriana, but there are other Primula species to be found in the same area and Farrer & Purdom collected most of them. Unfortunately Farrer has an annoying habit of calling the plants sometimes by their Latin Name and sometimes by his own English Name. It can be difficult to decipher which plant he is talking about! Primulas found on this expedition include; P. farreriana (My Own Primula), P. gemmifera (Welcome), P. pumilio, P. reginella (Little Queen), P. stenocalyx (Clusterbeauty), P. tangutica, P. urticifolia (Pretty One), P. woodwardii (Imperial), P. erratica (Lavandine, P. stenocalyx dealbata). However, his articles are certainly worth reading!

The Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalsky (Przhevalsky) had been to this region in 1880 and made several Primula collections which were then described by Carl Johann (Ivanovič) Maximowicz. These include P. flava, P. pumilio, P. stenocalyx and P. urticifolia. There is an interesting map which shows Przewalsky's routes in the area, part of a set made by Filchner in  "Kartenwerk der erdmagnetischen Forschungsexpedition nach Zentral-Asien 1926 - 28". From this you can see that Farrer & Purdom's route overlapped with Przewalsky's.
Farrer & Purdom 1915 route
How well Farrer sums up the feeling of coming back from a botanical expedition : "Indeed, the Rainbow Bridge has long since reached its bourn; we have long been roaming at ease on the far golden shore, and found it barren; now, upon a bridge of sighs we must embark upon a return journey across the abysm of tears towards the desolated shell-holes and slag-heaps of the present days. Yet do not be misled if I seem to grizzle and peeve as I return. For there is laughter in every sigh and complaint, and a twinkle of not unkindly derision that any such should be emitted." from "The Rainbow Bridge".

I am looking for images of Primula species from this area of Qinghai/Gansu. Please contact me if you have any or if you are planning a trip to the area in the future.


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