At the winter meeting of the American Rhododendron Society in Portland on Jan. 30, 1947, action was taken to proceed with a plant hunting expedition for new rhododendron species by F. Kingdon Ward, famous plant hunter and explorer, in Northern Burma. Many individuals and organizations from all over the world have offered to aid the venture. Details of the proposed expedition are outlined in full in the following letter recently received by the Society from F. Kingdon Ward.
C/O Grindley, Ltd.
Church Lane, Calcutta
Brooks, Oregon, U.S.A.
Dear Mr. Henny:
The Council of the R. H. S. London, has asked me to write to you on this subject and to answer the following four questions:
(1) Would I be willing to undertake such an expedition?
Provisionally, yes, if funds are forthcoming and I am given a reasonably free hand as regards territory, time to be spent in the field, and the collecting of other plants.
(2) What territory would I suggest?
Probably the only accessible territory at the moment is the Naga Hills - Manipur Area of North Eastern Assam. North Burma is the least explored and most promising area, but is still disturbed. The Northeast ranges also are very little explored and the 10,000/ 12,000 ft. peaks on the Assam-Burma frontier if they can be reached (and I think they can) promise new species. So far R. elliottii, R. macabeanum, R. manipurense and a new species I found at 8,000 ft. early this year are the only ones collected from that region. There must be many more. North Burma, between the two branches of the Irrawaddy, with its 11,000 ft. peaks, promises even better results. I have myself collected nearly 100 species in North Burma, most of them new. The dwarf alpines of all colors from these mountains are particularly fine.
This mid-Irrawaddy country, where I have not been, might be accessible before very long, even if one had to do the long way around via Sadiya and the Lohit Valley to reach it. I would willingly try. I have explored a small bit of the Assam Himalaya east of Bhutan. There are many fine rhododendron there, trees, bushes, dwarf under shrubs, but perhaps not so many new species as in the regions further east, beyond Sadiya.
At the moment I think the Naga Hills area offers the best chance, especially the high isolated peaks along the Burma frontier above the Chindwin River, which I think I could reach. But the exploration of North Burma should be continued as soon as practicable. It may be safe in a few months.
(3) When would I suggest starting? and finishing?
At present I am engaged on some explorations in the Khasi Hills (Assam) for the Indian Tea Assoc'n, but I expect to be through with that early in December. It would be possible to get going about March or April, 1947, in, which case I should carry on 'til about Christmas. Or starting in October 1947, 1 should carry on 'til about June 1948. If I could reach North Burma it would be worthwhile to spend a full year in the field.
(4) An approximate estimate of the cost?
This is a difficult question to answer. Everything out here is at least twice pre-war cost, and many essential things are still almost unobtainable and hence prohibitive. However, on any mountain expedition off the map the main expense items are (when gaps in equipment have been made good): road/rail/steamer transport to starting point; coolie transport (mule, etc. if used) in the mountains; servants, including guides, interpreters, and temporary assistants as required; rations, presents and bribes to village headmen, tribal chiefs, etc.
I estimate the cost of an expedition lasting about eight months, possibly ten months, at Rupees 9000/ or roughly $3000.00 at present exchange (rather less I believe). This is exclusive of salary.
Knowing the flora of these regions as well as I do, I think the best plan is to cover as much ground as possible and I should plan a fairly ambitious tour of the area chosen. It is no longer necessary for me to see a rhododendron in flower in order to assess its value with some accuracy, although naturally it is an advantage to see it in flower.
I think that is all I can say at the present. I take it that plants probably hardy in the British Isles are likewise probably hardy in Oregon, Washington and other North Western States?
F. Kingdon Ward