Two Primulas from Everest Epedition of 1921

In 1921, the British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition set off to explore possible routes up Everest. Since Nepal was closed to foreigners at the time, the expedition approached through Sikkim, into Tibet's Chumbi valley, then west to Tingri Dzong (north of Everest), which they used as a base. From here members explored south for routes up Everest including the Rongbuk valley, and Nangpa La. The expedition naturalist, A. F. Wollaston (image above, standing, at left) collected flora and fauna specimens which included two new Primulas; Primula buryana named for one of the expedition members, C. K. Howard-Bury, and Primula wollastonii named for himself. The route he travelled was a loop to the west of Mount Everest, first to Nyenyam (Nyalam) and then through Lapche to the Rongshar valley.

Primula wollastonii
In Howard-Bury's book "Mount Everest the reconnaissance, 1921" on page 298, Wollaston wrote about this side-trip and provided notes on the Natural History of the area. He writes of the discovery of the two Primulas;
"Crossing a pass to the East of Nyenyam, we camped on a level spot covered densely with white primulas (P. buryana) six to eight inches high; and inch or two of snow fell during the night, and so white are these flowers that it was difficult to see them against the snow. Near the top of another pass we found at about the same altitude, 15,000 feet, another primula (P. wollastonii) with three to six bells on each stem, the size of a small thimble, of a deep blue color, and lined inside with frosted silver."
Primula buryana
Using Wollaston's diary (Letters and Diaries of A.F.R. Wollaston) for July 20 (Nyenyam) to July 25, and a map of the expedition (Preliminary Map to illustrate the route of the Mount Everest Expedition 1921) plus more modern maps (NH 45-14 Tingri Dzong), it is possible to find the type locations for these two Primulas. The Tibet Handbook, page 263 describes the route in detail between Lapche and Trintang which where the Primulas were found. Wollaston incorrectly refers to Trintang as Rongshar. The route starts at Lapche (28° 6'56.56"N 86°10'17.96"E), heading NE up the main valley for about 6kms before turning into a side valley going to the SE. Wollaston camped at 15,200ft up this valley where he found Primula buryana. The next day he crossed the Kangchung La (28° 5'35.55"N 86°14'28.97"E) descending into an area of broken up glacier covered in moraine before going over the Kanchen La (28° 4'32.97"N 86°15'9.07"E), where he found Primula wollastonii, eventually crossing "two steep spurs" which are named Oodungpa La and Sobje La and are separated by a small lake. The route then descends directly down to Trintang.

Map of area Lapche-Trintang
The type for P. wollastonii is in Kew K000750421, with a syntype on the same sheet and the type herbarium sheet for P. buryana is also in Kew K000750442. Both are species in section Soldanelloides, which are high alpine species, with bell shaped flowers and pubescent leaves.

Primula buryana var. purpurea
A purple variety of P. buryana was discovered at Michet, Nepal by Sharma July 9, 1932 (#E345a). The collection can be seen at BM BM000521890 or at E E00024733. It Is possible that this represents a distinct species. 

Pam Eveleigh © 2018


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