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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: ]

We return today to Reginald Farrer's final plant-collecting trip, his second expedition to Asia.

Cardiocrinum giganteum, formerly Lilium giganteum
Public Domain,

Mr. Reginald Farrer’s Second Exploration in Asia,
No. 3. – Round Hpimaw. July 12, 1919

The valley head of which I write is about 6,000 feet up. The fort sits on the hill above at some 7,800 feet. For such a latitude such a height should not necessarily convey any sure promise of hardiness in England. Yet even setting aside the notorious paradoxical uncertainty of plants, the peculiar climatic conditions of these parts give the strongest hopes for any parts of Great Britain that are not parched nor torrid. Hpimaw Hill gets a very cold winter, with snow lying for a week at a time; even in the valley below, though rice is widely grown in the widening of the vale, the seed that is sown in April is said not to reach maturity till October. Meanwhile, in May comes the year’s one burst of amiability; and in June the rains break, and rain, and rain, and rain, in an almost uninterrupted succession of fog and gloom and deluges, until October comes round, and the fine clear weather of autumn and winter. And such a climate, so tempered in warmth, so excessively luxuriant in cloud and wet, ought to give most of its plants a much more kindred feeling for the wet and clouds of many parts of great Britain than could fairly be hoped from very much more northerly species even, such as hail from the torrid, sun-beaten river cañone of Kansu, the Saharan heads of the Blackwater, and the droughtiness of Tien Tang Ssû.

There are Chinese and Lissu villages or settlements at the base of the hill, and the local affluents of the Ngaw Chang (left, bending northward, and a few miles below) flow down beneath the slopes and wooded chines of the hill through dense banks of coppice, more homely looking than any yet seen, with Willow and Alder and Poplar, and many another old friend, including wild Plums and Cherries, and peaches which, if not wild, have come to look so, among the rest of the copse. Neillia is here, too, and Leycesteria, and a Vaccinium of the proportions of a small tree, densely hung with blossom. And the local Bamboo is no longer Bambusa polymorpha, of the tropical jungles, nor even B. palmate of the passes. This, indeed, persists here in the highwoods, while a smaller cousin covers the high tops in a brown mantle, which looks encouragingly like bare moorland till field glasses have detected its real covering. But the prevailing Bamboo of the copses and gullies is a graceful feathery thing, not, indeed, with the incomparable grace of A. nitida, but still plumy and desirable. The Htawgaw Rhododendron, too, comes here to its own, and there is a beautiful purpurescent Deutzia so dense in blossom that one day from across the torrent it made me suspect it of being bending sprays of some unusually floriferous Lilac. On the big black boulders are enormous colonies of Polypody, Solomon’s Seal, Dendrobiums of different sorts, and a most curious Vaccinioid shrubling, which forms heavy masses alike on trees and on rocks, and, not content with emitting tubular crimson flowers, has the tips of its young shoots so flaringly crimson, too, that even its blossoms seem dull by comparison, lurking among the ovate evergreen foliage of dark lucent green. Of this tree is also another but rarer species, which weeps from tree-boughs higher up, among the rain-engendered lichen, in long nummularoid sprays of smaller, rounder, finer leaves, with the same tubular red flowers. There are other brilliant parasites, too, one which affects Rhododendron and Cotoneaster and other, forming wide bushy Witches’ Brooms, all lit up along the sprays with vivid orange-red blossoms dimly suggesting Honeysuckle; and yet another, with axillary crimson tubes and long boughs of oval-pointed evergreen leaves in pairs. And there is also Mistletoe, swinging aloft in great golden-green balls from the summit branches of the spindly tall Magnolias.

Cardiocrinum giganteum in habitat, Danyun canyon, Sichuan, China
By Ernst Gügel - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Down by the stream-bed Lilium giganteum is unfolding, and a little creamy Tiarella lights up the darkness under the rocks, while a vividly lilac-purple Cress flares among the boulders. Out in the open there are flatter spaces, burnt for cultivation. Here, in a marsh, a sibicoid Iris is coming up, while in another, that fills a dell, the whole expanse is brilliantly green with the spear blades of a flag iris. And on the black slopes fascinating little rosy Coelogyne is emerging, straight from the bare soil, on a scape of three inches, in such a way as to make one realise how and why it is that these have been so justly called the Indian Crocus. The chief of the Rhododendrons here is not yet in flower, but two very distinct large-leaved ones hang from the darker cliffs above the beck, and give promise of bloom later on. In one of these we may suspect Ward’s R. agapetum, unless this be either of two other tree-Rhododendrons, now fat in bud, one of which has the bracts on the glandular young leaf-shoots of so brilliant a read as themselves to suggest blossoms, while in the other the shoots and bracts and buds are all pale green. But two first-class beauties are now actually in bloom. One is a very near relation of R. bullatum,* with characteristic crinkled thick foliage, clothed on the reverse in a fawn-coloured felt. The flowers, two or three in the loose head, are very large (with large crimson sepals, broader than they are long), pure white but for an external blush of rose, and a basal stain of yellow – and of the most inebriately sweet fragrance. This lovely plant occurs either as a parasitic or terrestrial growth, often appearing as a blossoming trailer far up on the trunk of some giant tree. It seems, also, to flower in alternate years, to judge by the rarity of recent seed vessels (which open in six valves) on blooming bushes, and of bloom on seeding ones. The other ** is even, to my mind, almost more beautiful, and has the romance of having hitherto only once been sighted as a single specimen, that nearly escaped the collecting tin, owing to my orderly’s assertion (he did not want to cross the stream again, and climb a coppiced bluff) that it was the same as the last. On the contrary, it is very different – an erect, rather thin, tall bush, with thin, smooth, pointed leaves, most curiously fitted microscopically with brown on their glaucous reverse. The flowers are very large, pure white, with a golden stain in the throat, and as entrancingly sweet as those of the last, but in a different way, rather with the keen fragrance of Orange-blossom than with the heavy deliciousness of the other scented, white Rhododendrons. Though I do not readily believe in the existence of unique specimens, I must confess that I have subsequently searched all other likely-looking spots hereabouts without as yet coming on any second sample of this precious species, very distinct as it appears to be. But this country is so vast, its heights and depths and distances so incalculable, its coppices such impenetrable forests when you get to them, that he would be a very rash man who would claim to have made an exhaustive search after any given species. Suffice it then for the present to say only that, up to date, our one solitary hope of seed from this remarkable beauty depends on one solitary specimen, already rather too lavishly deflowered by the enthusiasm of the Gurkha. Nor can these azaleoid Rhododendrons be by any means always relied on for copious seed, unlike most other groups in the race. -- Reginald Farrer
*Rhododendron sp. F 842. [ed. note: R. bullatum, from E.H.M. Cox, The Plant Introductions of Reginald Farrer]
**Rh sp F 848 [Ed. note: R. supranubium, from E.H.M. Cox, The Plant Introductions of Reginald Farrer

The pdf version of Gardener's Chronicle was sourced from the Bioheritage Diversity Library, . 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. Gardener's Chronicle does not italicize the genus/species names, so I have not done so either. One last note: I did not locate any public domain images of much of the flora mentioned by name in this dispatch, other than Cardiocrinum giganteum.

Date: 2016-10-18 02:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
He seems to really like the vegetation in that area of the world...he even likes the bamboo! The man has a lyrical turn of phrase indeed.

The Htawgaw Rhododendron, too, comes here to its own, and there is a beautiful purpurescent Deutzia so dense in blossom that one day from across the torrent it made me suspect it of being bending sprays of some unusually floriferous Lilac.

Date: 2016-10-18 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Or how about this: "Down by the stream-bed Lilium giganteum is unfolding, and a little creamy Tiarella lights up the darkness under the rocks, while a vividly lilac-purple Cress flares among the boulders." Of course, he's hoping to stimulate interest in the seeds he sends home and the book I'm sure he planned to write.


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