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[This is one in what has now become an almost-weekly series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

For today’s Mimpish Monday, I offer you the second of Reginald Farrer’s dispatches to the Gardener’s Chronicle describing his second exploration in Asia. This one had no illustrations of its own, but it was by no means lacking in botanical names. I like his description of the brambles as “defeating any beater who was not armed from head to foot in coat of mail.” He does say that the huge and hideous bramble that is the largest of all does produce delicious fruit in riotous abundance.

Farrer does not seem to find any plants worthy of great rhapsodies in this dispatch, but he does have complimentary things to say about several. As he does not give a species name for the bulk of them, I cannot offer photos of those – but I did find photos, and one botanical illustration, of three.

Do not try to follow his rambles on a map – as usual, he makes up his own nomenclature for place names.


Anemone obtusilobia By M.S. del., J.N.Fitch lith. - Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 141 [= ser. 4, vol. 11]: Tab. 8636 - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9464030

Mr. Reginald Farrer’s Second Exploration in Asia,
No. 2.—The Valley of the Ngaw Chang. No. 6969.—Saturday, June 28, 1919.


Even from the wooded passes that cut across the divide between the Nmai Hka and the Ngaw Chang, one still gets no hint of any great alpine range coming near to land. High and higher, indeed, rise the chains of hills that tortuously envelop the winding courses of the river far below; but the whole scene is one vast crumped verdure of forest, except where a burnt hillside has spring up again in coppice more vividly green than the rest. But, though the tropics even here subsist, in Gesnera and Begonia, signs begin to appear of homelier things. Anemone obtusiloba springs to light, charming and delicate in its young stage, though ultimately the universal plague of alpine Asia; and all the Wilsonian brambles wave riotously about in every direction. They are truly an amazing crew, vast and violent weeds that inspire one anew with sympathy for the catalogues that had to try and discover some saleable beauty in each. Some indeed, do have a single point of attractiveness – a stem of burnished mahogany brown, or milky whitewash; one has a really fine white flower, and another a really handsome vine-like leaf. But in no case is this single attraction enough to redeem the plant’s terrific habit, or give it any shadow of claim for admission to the garden, or to anything except the wildest woodland – where, as a matter of fact, they would make only too successful covert, defeating any beater who was not armed from head to foot in coat of mail. So far one only, the hugest and most hideous of all, has shown me signs of fruit. This, in appearance suggesting a gigantic mounded-up Blackberry, produces in riotous abundance, very heavily-laden terminal bunches of fruit, ripening sporadically in the clusters, and resembling rather small Raspberries of a golden-orange colour. But these are really delicious, and not unlike Raspberries in their crisp sweetness; a garden hybrid between this and Rubus Idaeus or R. fruticosus, might well produce something of market value, if the size of the fruit can be thus improved, and the overwhelming crop maintained. But who can tell me if this particular Wilsonian treasure has even condescended to fruit with us at all? In any case, let those interested be warned; even if I myself am tempted to send any of these plants, I shall consider the minutest quantity of each as quite sufficient to burden any garden with.


Anemone obtusilobia Av Hedwig Storch - Eget arbete, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10877205

Afar, in a bend and junction of rivers, the military post of Htawgaw rears its proud head to something over 4,000 feet. On this eminence, accordingly, two new Rhododendrons at once appear sparsely amid the sun-baked coppice beneath an aromatic canopy of a thin, tessellated-trunked Pine, whose fine green and hot scent translate one immediately to the Italian Riviera and P. maritima. Of the Rhododendrons one, R. quinquefolium, is here very rare, forming a bush of six feet or so, with small Azaleas of magenta lilac; the other is, I fancy, a lapponicum, stunted here, on this lonely outpost, but becoming a tall pillar of 12 or 14 feet in the half-open, half-shady places up the wooded banks of the Ngaw Chang, as far as the foot of Hpimaw Hill. Though its tiny scentless flowers are so pale as to be almost white, with minute carmine frecklings, and they have preposterously far-exserted white stamens, their multitude is so lavish as to give the plant definite value as a solid mass of pale colour. These two are the advance-guards of the Alps; for, from Htawgaw Fort, looking north-east, high alpine jags of snow and dark rock at last appear over the distance, looming above the far windings of the river, and the crumpled enormous chaos of the wooded ranges. But the road now descends to the depths of the Ngaw Chang vale again, on the other side of Htawgaw, and for three more days continues its course circuitously, round and about the innumerable sharp spurs that sink so steeply to the river that only very occasionally are there a few narrow stretches or bays of flatness sufficient to grow Rice. The forest is thinner now, though not so tall and tropical; there are great stretches of the road like an English park, with an Oak of vivid green dotted up and down the arduous slopes of grass and Bracken. But even here the tropics persist; on Htawgaw Hill there is still a Derris like a rose-pink Wistaria; and a horrible magenta Lasiandra thing that luxuriated in the hottest jungle long before the railway reached Myitkina; to say nothing of Orchids – Coelogynes and Dendrobiums – on the trees, and great black boulders in the green twilight of the way; though, indeed, these had hitherto rather surprised me by their scarcity.


Rhododendron quinquefolium By Σ64 - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10496351

Meanwhile the Ngaw Chang flows very deep in its bouldered bed, under a heavy tangle of dense growth on either side. In the opener places the little Htawgaw Rhododendron makes blots of pallor on the somber weight of green; and there is another beautiful one – a taller, thinner bush, with medium sized Azaleoid flowers of vividest pure cherry-rose, conspicuous from afar, where it juts from some shady precipice in the woodland. But in the close sheltered atmosphere of that gorge the warmth must be such that I can have scant hope of hardiness for the most beautiful of the Ngaw Chang’s early Rhododendrons – a magnificent evergreen white-trumpet, which overhangs only the darkest, deepest, and most difficult cliffs in those deep and difficult chines. March- and April-flowering Rhododendrons from the warm gullies down in these ranges are not particularly likely to bring their blossoms to perfection in an English March or April, even though the plant itself may very well be hardy. In both respects I have my doubts of the Ngaw Chang beauty, with its lovely big white blossoms, flushed in the bud with rose, and at the base with yellow, and possessing a delicious fragrance. I did, indeed, at last secure a specimen growing in open light on a sunny boulder. But even this did its best to prove the plant’s proclivities by being sickly and stunted and starved. The best beauty of that particular gorge was a very fine Iris of the tectorum type, that occurred copiously among the scrub at the mouth, and was a magnificent sight, with three-foot candelabras of golden-crested lavender blossoms, with purple-velvet mottlings round the crest. I cannot remember ever having seen I. Milesii represented as having such fine flowers – fully the equal of I. tectorum, allowing for their much greater number; but, if not I. Milesii, this looks like another and a better member of the same group – and possibly, of the same unsatisfactoriness in our climate.


Iris milesii in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris
By Denis.prévôt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15147055

But now, though the vegetation in the valley shows little change, the high alps are heading into sight at the top of the distance, in a great barrier of austere brown-and-black pyramids whose dumpy lines reveal, alas, the absence of limestone, and whose forested flanks are riven and corrugated by innumerable corries that look mere wrinkles but are, in fact, huge rifts disguised in unnegotiable forest, converging to deeper gullies, yet at the foot of the peaks, concealed in forest more unnegotiable still. And, in front, far above us, on a bared high spur projecting from the alpine amphitheatre behind, appears a tin-roofed settlement of long, low wooden shanties; that is Hpimaw Fort, the last outpost of Britain in this remote no man’s land (that ceased to be Burma long ago, even before we reached Myitkina), existing only to guard the pass, up behind, from a steady influx from China, which might otherwise make good its footing and establish the ancient claim of china to this uncharted wilderness of barely populated alps which, however valueless in itself, would serve as too wide a gate into Burma.
--Reginald Farrer



The pdf version of Gardener's Chronicle was sourced from the Bioheritage Diversity Library, http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/48390#/summary . I am transcribing the dispatches because they are difficult to read in pdf and the OCR has enough errors that it's simply faster to keyboard. Ultimately, I hope to produce a Word / pdf document out of the dispatches, possibly with the images, for my personal use and the edification of any friends who want it. One last note: Gardener's Chronicle does not italicize the genus/species names, so I have not done so either.
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