Dr. Joseph Rock Expedition
While Dr. Rock was in China under the Auspices of Harvard University he signified willingness to undertake another, possibly his last, expedition for the collection of seeds. As is usually the case, time was the great factor, and this opportunity to send a collector for rhododendron seeds found the Society totally unprepared for such a venture. Many months of work had already been expended on the tentative Kingdom Ward expedition, and the facilities for publication of a new expedition with only a month of time remaining for a definite answer was beyond the powers of the Society, especially with such great distances involved, and mail delivery in China slow, and uncertain.
It was decided very shortly after Dr. Rock made his offer to underwrite the expedition which was to cost about $2,500 with private funds. At a meeting in Portland, Oregon a syndicate was formed, with ten equal shares at $250 per share being the basis for raising the needed capital. The ten subscribers, readily understood that such an expedition, if started from here could very easily cost over $25,000 and plans were made immediately to give Dr. Rock his instructions, for the necessary time had almost lapsed.
As the succeeding letters of Dr. Rock trace the expedition to its fulfillment nothing further will be mentioned about the actual expedition here.
The seed packages and bulbs have arrived and the gigantic task of dispensing the seed has been undertaken by Mr. John Bacher. The very abundant collection of seeds sent back has left the underwriters with a surplus. At a meeting it was decided that anyone wishing to purchase seeds could do so at the rate of one dollar a packet, or twelve packets for ten dollars. Half the money so raised will be turned over to the American Rhododendron Society and the remainder used to defray the cost of packaging and shipping. If any residue of funds be left they will revert to the original subscribers.
Members of the Society and all lovers of rhododendrons are urged to grow these fine species collected by Dr. Rock. The succeeding list of numbers given by Dr. Rock will remain with the plants, and after identification of the herbarium specimens the names of the species will be assigned, and the species will be catalogued.
Letter No. 1
June 26, 1948
Dear Mr. Grace:
Your letter of June 12 awaited me here on my arrival the other day. I am glad to know that the Rhododendron Society has agreed to the collecting of rhododendron seeds on the terms proposed by me.
However, I note that you want herbarium specimens and other plant material including lily bulbs, etc. The collecting of herbarium material entails a great deal of work and a lot of paper. In the rainy season it is most difficult to dry such material and the cost becomes prohibitive on account of mule transport, extra men to dry and press the plants, to say nothing of shipping the wooden boxes which must be waxed in which they are sent. Furthermore, only airfreight is available. Lily bulbs are also heavy and troublesome to collect.
Photography is also very expensive. There is heavy duty on films and, in fact, photographic material as it is considered a luxury. I could only send photographs of rhododendrons made on previous expeditions.
I wrote to you last year that we would collect small branches of the fruiting and if possible flowering specimens of the rhododendrons of which seeds have been collected in order to identify the seed, but to send regular herbarium specimens such as we did on former expeditions is prohibited from entry in to China when we had $15,000 is out of the question. Primula seeds and lily seeds plus all the rhododendron seed we can collect will be sent but not regular herbarium specimens, lily bulbs, etc. This is impossible with the funds the Rhododendron Society allots.
With best regards,
(s) J. F. ROCK
P. S. Please let me remind you that I am giving my services entirely free, and that the work which the collecting of seeds entails as well as packing, etc. is considerable and will take a good deal of my time.
The men will have two month a journey from Likiang and that they will have to have tents, food supplies, mules, etc. It is only possible to have this done because I shall be there and can supervise everything. I am paying out of my own pocket the charter cost of a plane to take me into Likiang which alone costs about $750. This is an opportunity for an expedition that would ordinarily cost now $20,000.00 or more. I agree to send the Rhododendron Society herbaceous primula and lily seeds but not heavy regular herbarium material and heavy plant material such as lily bulbs that could not be done for $2,000.
Please send plenty of seed envelopes, also cotton bags for seeds in quantity by air freight to care of American Consul, Kunming.
I am leaving today by special plane to Likiang.
Editor's note: 400 cotton bags were purchased from the Chase Bag Co. and sent airfreight to Hong Kong immediately after Dr. Rocks request was received. The bags never did reach Dr. Rock although the Air Freight Company proved delivery to China.
Letter No. 2
Likiang, Yunnan, Tze-chung, on the Upper Mekong
August 5th, 1948
Dear Mr. Grace:
The expedition is under way; I am sending this letter to Likiang from Tse-chung on the Upper Mekong, to remind you as I had forgotten to mention it that you must obtain U. S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine tags for the import of seeds and bulbs into the United States as the plant material would otherwise be confiscated on arrival in San Francisco. These tags may be obtained from the Department in San Francisco, California, room 2, Agriculture Building.
We will also collect lily bulbs for your Society, also seeds of the fine species of Magnolias found in the Upper Salwin, besides many, many rhododendrons, but only single fruiting specimens (Herbarium) of such species of rhododendrons, of which seed has been collected to identify the species, of lilies this will not be possible, but of these I will be able to furnish you the names. So you will receive seeds of Rhododendrons, Primulas, Magnolias, Lilies, both seeds and bulbs.
Please secure the tags as soon as possible and send them to me here in Likiang. I would also kindly request you to send me cotton and paper seed envelopes. Cotton cloth, any cloth as a matter of fact is fearfully expensive and I had to have hundreds of cotton cloth seed bags made in Likiang as paper seed bags are useless in these rain belts such as the Upper Mekong and Salwin Mountain ranges, they would melt in a day. Ordinary cotton cloth costs the equivalent of 25 cents U.S., a foot, and you can figure out how much a hundred bags would cost, please do not fail me and send me both cotton and paper seed envelopes. After our return from the Salwin we will go to Yougning, Muli and Erh-yuan to collect more Rhododendrons and lily bulbs. No rhododendrons have been previously collected in Erh-yuan where there is a very high mountain called Lo-p'ing Shan, where I found a new beautiful trumpet lily last year.
I have also sent money to the far province of Kansu to Minchou to engage men to collect seeds of the beautiful Rhododendron kochii, hitherto not introduced into cultivation, it grows on the Szechuan-Kansu border, but in Kansu, and the place is easy to find.
Hoping to find both tags and seed bags and envelopes on our return in November, I remain with kindest regards,
Very sincerely yours,
(Signed) J. F. ROCK
Letter No. 3
November 26, 1948
Your letter of October 15th just at hand. By special courier (There is no more parcel post in this Province) I am sending one box of lily bulbs to Kunming. They will forward by air freight to Hong Kong and thence to your city by P. A. A.
I have not yet received any permit tags from you (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture import permits) and I don't know if Mr. Tse will be able to forward the box or not.
My men have gone to Eu-ch'-uan Shan from the Salwin and they will not he back for another 14 days. I returned earlier due to other pressing matters.
The lily bulbs I am now sending are from the neighborhood of Likiang Erh yu'an and from Hsi-k'ang. The rhododendron seeds etc. will be sent later. We found what I think is a new rhododendron tree on the Western slopes of Loping Shan four days south west of here. There will be additional lily bulbs as soon as my men return with their booty from the Tibet border and these will be sent by air freight to you. I only hope you will have the permit tags, I would advise you to take the matter up with the U. S. Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine, Room 2, Agriculture Building, San Francisco, California. Wire them if necessary as the bulbs go by air as fast as a letter.
I have had no word from any bank as yet saying you had deposited the funds. It is very difficult to arrange for money here especially with the new so called gold yu'an. No one wants it here on the border, and only silver can be used, even the Government Tax Bureau refuses its own notes and demands payment in silver.
I had to ask Mr. Tse to wire you please remit funds. I had to advance so much, all in silver and still have to, yet I can only get these wretched gold yu'ans for my U. S. dollars, and yet the local silver dollar is quoted at 15 gold yu'ans. I had to change at 4 gold yu'an to one U. S. dollar and yet the local silver dollar is quoted at 15 gold yu'an.
This makes my American dollar worth about 25 cents local silver. You can imagine what I am losing. The new money I hear has now been stabilized at 20 G. Y. to one U. S. Dollar.
I hope the lily bulbs will arrive safely, as I said there is more to come.
With best regards
P. S. I will send a list with the field numbers in my next letter.
Editor's note: Mr. Grace had obtained permits from the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture many weeks before and sent them to Dr. Rock. The cash also had been deposited, but evidently Dr. Rock did not receive the correspondence Mr. Grace had sent.
Letter No. 4
Likiang, Dec., 5th, 1948
Mr. George D. Grace, SECRETARY,
The American Rhododendron Society
Portland 7, Oregon
Dear Mr. Grace:
My men have returned a few days, ago from the Yunnan Tibetan border, the Salwin Irrawadi divide, Salwin Mekong divide and the Mekong Yangtze divide, I accompanied them to the Tibetan border but could not spend the entire time with them; however I directed and planned their collecting activities, and am able to report that we have had a very successful expedition.
The summer has been an unusually wet one, pouring rain for months which made travelling and collecting most difficult. The further west you proceed the wetter the territory till the Assam border where precipitation was greatest. We were unfortunate this fall on account of the setting in of an early winter, when at other times the passes over the various divides would he open till the first of November, this year heavy snowfall closed the passes about 14 days earlier. My men had to return from the Salwin Irrawadi divide sooner than planned as otherwise they would have been marooned in the Salwin valley until next June, which, without funds for such a long time would have meant starvation; as it was, there was a famine raging in the Salwin valley, and the native Lissu, who are poor agriculturalists at best, dug for wild lily bulbs to keep body and soul together. All food supplies had to be taken into the Salwin valley as nothing could be bought there. Had the weather conditions been more favorable, the result of the expedition would have been more satisfactory, however we collected seeds of 168 species of Rhododendrons, 32 species of Lilium and Mocharis, of which many are represented by bulbs, 5 species of Magnolia and seed of many species of Primula, Meconopsis and other plants.
Every species of rhododendron is represented by an herbarium specimen to permit identification of the species (seed), as are the Primulas, Meconopsis, Magnolias, etc. I am forwarding to you by special courier from here to Kunming (parcel post has been suspended in the interior of China), and from there by airfreight to Hong Kong for transshipment by P.A.A. (airfreight.) One box of Lilium and Nomocharis bulbs, one large box containing all Rhododendron and other seeds, also two boxes of Herbarium specimens, the latter will have to go by air to Hong Kong as there is no other way but from there the two boxes will be sent by parcel post to your address.
I am disturbed by the fact that so far I have not yet received the U. S. Dept. of Agr. permit from you, However I am forwarding the boxes as I do not want to take the responsibility of keeping them here, the political situation is very grave and so is the economic one. It is impossible to predict what may happen in the near future it is possible that we may all have to be evacuated soon; therefore I thought it wise not to wait but to forward the boxes to Hong Kong permit or no permit, I would advise you to get in touch at once with the U. S. Plant Quarantine Service so that the material will not be held too long in Hong Kong. We have fulfilled our obligation, and it is up to you now to see that the material is not held up for want of permits.
I am sorry that we could not secure more rhododendrons but one cannot order the weather, there are no roads, and once a pass is over snowed there is no way of getting across, and there are six distinct passes all over 15.000 ft. between the Irrawadi and the Yangtze loop in which Likiang is situated. If you wish to get an idea of the territory in question I would recommend that you consult my two volume work on this region, published recently by the Harvard University Press. The work consists of 500 pages of text, 257 Plates and four maps covering the territory in question, you will find it useful in locating the places whence the rhododendrons, etc., were collected. Enclosed please find a list of the plants collected, every number is represented by seed bearing the same number as the specimens.
Hoping that all will arrive safely, I remain with kindest regards,
Very sincerely yours,
J. F. ROCK
P. S.: I have received neither paper nor cotton seed bags, the cotton bags I had made here hundreds of them. But paper bags are not available here, and had it not been for the good office, of my friend Mr. Andrew Tse of the Gloucester Arcade Hong Kong, who has also kindly consented to forward the boxes by air freight, etc. to your good self, and who furnished me with paper bags etc., I don't know what I would have done. There is now no necessity of forwarding any bags or other material as it is now much too late, all the collecting having been done, and everything has been packed and is ready for shipment.
I hope that your Society will have great success in raising sturdy plants from the seeds sent to you from these far places, and that occasionally we will be remembered, for collecting the material entailed great hardship and risk; it was a labor of love, the service of myself having been given free. -- J. F. Rock
P. S.: I would be very pleased if you would kindly send me a list of the determination of the various species of rhododendrons, etc. I am keeping a duplicate list of the numbers. -- J. F. R.
Letter No. 5
Dec. 27, 1948
SECRETARY AMERICAN RHODODENDRON SOCIETY
Owing to the very serious situation in China, although the real Red Army is still a long way off from here - robber bands have risen to the East, South and in the Central part of this province. I have decided not to await any letters or permits from you, and am sending tomorrow, by special courier (caravan) three boxes to Kunming.
It is very likely that the roads may be closed altogether, and I do not with to keep the boxes here. They are much too valuable. One box contains the seeds of all the rhododendrons, Primulas, Lilies, Meconopsis and Magnolias. There is enough rhododendron seed to plant the whole of Oregon.
I have instructed my agents at Kunming to forward them air freight to Hong Kong and then Hong Kong to forward them to the only address I have i.e. that on your stationary.
Please deposit the agreed amount to my Bank in New York.
The lily bulbs have been sent some time ago. Hoping that all will arrive safely I remain.,
Very truly yours,
J. F. Rock