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Projects

Inventory of the Plants of Pakistan

Main | Intro | Project | Bibliography | Volumes | Database | Links

THE Flora of Pakistan PROJECT

---- Botanical Collecting in Pakistan ----

Stewart (1972, 1982), Hedge (1991), and others have reviewed the history of botanical exploration in Pakistan fairly extensively. Starting in 1820 with an expedition to Kashmir by William Moorcroft, many European (mainly British) botanists visited Pakistan, eventually collecting plants from virtually all parts of the country. The coverage was modest in the mountainous areas in the north, inhabited by often-hostile tribes and naturally inhospitable as the nexus of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Himalayan ranges. The results of these collecting activities contributed to the two great floras of the region, the Flora Orientalis (Boissier 1867-1888) and the Flora of British India (Hooker 1872-1897). Collecting continued in the early twentieth century, rendering much of those great 19th century floras out-of-date. One important aspect about the collections made in Pakistan prior to the country's establishment in 1947 is that virtually all of them were housed either in Europe (mainly BM, E, and K) or in India, at Calcutta or Dehra Dun, in both cases inaccessible to botanists in Pakistan (Stewart, 1972). The largest plant collection in Pakistan in 1947 was that developed by Ralph Stewart at Gordon College in Rawalpindi.

A comprehensive and accessible flora of this region is essential to our understanding of the plants of south Asia generally, and will be particularly useful in relation to floristic projects such as the Flora of China, the Flora Malesiana, and ongoing work in India and in the central Asian region. Many local Floras exist for parts of Pakistan (Stewart 1982), but these have been superseded by the Flora of Pakistan. The Flora of Afghanistan (Kitamura 1960) is actually a synoptical checklist in format, covering the results of expeditions to the Karakoram and Hindu Kush by Japanese botanists in 1955. A later report from the same expedition (Kitamura 1964) enumerated plants from the part of the region in Pakistan. This region where the Western Himalayas meet the Karakorams and the Hindu Kush in northern Pakistan and the northern Baluchistan region are rich in endemic plants, and many genera of agricultural and horticultural importance occur in Pakistan, yet our knowledge of them and access to information about them is limited at the present time.

---- History of the Flora of Pakistan Project ----

As the new nation of Pakistan began to develop universities and a scientific infrastructure, it became obvious that a first priority in the area of botany would be production of a Flora for the country. In 1960, Stewart retired from active work at Gordon College, and turned over his herbarium, then numbering about 50,000 specimens, to his collaborator Prof. E. Nasir. The "Stewart Herbarium" was later presented as a gift to the nation, and formed the nucleus of the National Herbarium of Pakistan (Ali & Ghaffar 1991). This collection, and those established at other institutions, particularly at the University of Karachi by S.I. Ali, provided the necessary foundation for writing the Flora. During the 1960's, the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed a scheme to use PL480 funds, which had to be spent within the country, to collect plants in Pakistan. That program ultimately did not survive, but the funds were still available and a new proposal was developed. The Flora of Pakistan project was initiated in 1968, with Nasir and Ali appointed as Joint Editors. They set to work immediately, and in 1970, the first fascicle (Flacourtiaceae) of the Flora appeared. Another of the early publications of the project was the "Annotated Catalogue of Vascular Plants of West Pakistan and Kashmir" by Stewart (1972), intended as a preliminary checklist of the plants of the region and a guide to the developing Flora project. Stewart included 5,783 species in his catalogue, and Flora treatments published subsequently have not changed that overall estimate appreciably (Ali 1991), although new treatments for individual genera/ families differ, sometimes substantially, from those by Stewart.

By 1995 the Flora project had produced 197 treatments (one per family), ranging in size from a few pages to nearly 500 pages (Poaceae). Nasir (replaced by M. Qaiser after his death) and Ali or their colleagues and students wrote many of these treatments, while others have been completed by specialists worldwide working with them. Even though the herbaria within Pakistan have developed accordingly, the authors have had to consult extensively with British and other foreign herbaria since they contain large historical collections and the type specimens of most species in Pakistan. The USDA funding supported the publication of most of these treatments, but the PL480 program ultimately came to an end, and work on the remaining volumes needed to complete the Flora since 1995 has been hampered by lack of funding. The total number of species included in the 202 published treatments (see List) is about 4,200, which leaves some 1,500 species in 11 families (c. 25% of the entire flora) still to be treated.

---- The Flora of Pakistan: Current Status ----

In 1999, at the XVI International Botanical Congress, S.I. Ali (University of Karachi and principal editor of the Flora of Pakistan) proposed a plan to Peter H. Raven (Missouri Botanical Garden) for completing the Flora in five years with the Missouri Botanical Garden as co-publisher. Following negotiations, in February 2000, the University of Karachi and the Missouri Botanical Garden signed an agreement to co-publish the remaining volumes of the Flora of Pakistan over a period of five years. This initiative has several strong positive features:
  1. It will complete a Flora of an important and insufficiently known region;
  2. It connects geographically and floristically with the Flora of China project headquartered at the Garden (many taxa in common, often requiring a coordinated approach);
  3. It provides the best opportunity to develop a database of plants for south Asia, which can connect with comparable databases for China and elsewhere and can serve Pakistan as an important biodiversity management tool; and
  4. It will provide a source of new collections from that region, which is poorly represented in American herbaria.

The family treatments remaining to be prepared, comprising c. 25% of the species in Pakistan and some include some notably complex and speciose groups, are as follows (approx. number of genera/species): Cactaceae (2/7), Chenopodiaceae (29/112), Compositae (130/615), Crassulaceae (8/37), Cyperaceae (9/118), Liliaceae (25/63), Myrtaceae (7/13), Polygonaceae (12/110), Rosaceae (26/159), Salicaceae (2/40), and Scrophulariaceae (37/162). Of these, Chenopodiaceae, Polygonaceae, and Salicaceae are in various stages of revision or editing (as of 1/1/2001) and will appear first. Treatments of Compositae tribes Anthemidae (7/89) and Inuleae (23/88), Crassulaceae, and Cyperaceae are in various stages of preparation. The remaining treatments are as yet unassigned, and will be prepared by Ali and/or other authors from Pakistan or abroad. This work will require fieldwork and travel to foreign herbaria (especially such large holdings as BM, E, K, and W) for viewing types and important collections, as well as preparation and editing of treatments.

This project calls for collecting expeditions in order to 1) collect material directly relevant to finishing the remaining Flora of Pakistan treatments (especially Cactaceae, Myrtaceae, Liliaceae, Rosaceae, Scrophulariaceae, and Compositae); 2) improve collections from areas of Pakistan that are relatively under-collected, ecologically significant, or particularly threatened; and 3) address specific collecting requests from botanists with interests in the region. Depending on the needs of the Pakistani botanists and institutions, the first two sets of duplicates (and any holotypes) will be left in Pakistan (KUH in Karachi and RAW in Islamabad). Additional sets of specimens will be made available to American institutions and to specialists working on plants of the region. Requests for "special" collections (anatomical, molecular – fresh or in silica gel, living, etc.) will be considered if time and resources allow, and in accordance with any protocols and/or permit requirements established by the Pakistani government.

---- Checklist of the Plants of Pakistan ----

The third "product" intended to derive from this project is the Checklist of the Plants of Pakistan. Just as Stewart's (1972) "Catalogue" was intended to summarize existing data and stimulate new research, so too do we intend for the Checklist to be a stimulus for future work. The format of the Checklist will be similar to that of the recent Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Ecuador (Jørgensen & León 1999) and will present a synopsis of the entire flora of Pakistan. For each accepted name, this format will include author and citation, synonyms, abbreviated distribution statement, one verified voucher (and/or the type specimen, if from Pakistan), and references to major literature on the taxon. Introductory chapters will briefly summarize information about Pakistan's geology, paleoclimate, geography, climate, vegetation, and history of exploration. It will be based on the Pakistan Database, and will be available both electronically and as a published volume. However, all treatments will be reviewed and compared with current taxonomy and nomenclature, especially by reference to treatments in Flora Iranica, Flora of China, and recent monographs. Whenever possible, the family treatments for the Checklist will be sent to specialists for review. This type of revision will be particularly important for fascicles published early in the Flora project, and for groups in which current research is particularly active.

---- Database Development ----

The database for the Flora of Pakistan project is being developed on the same model as that for the Flora of China project (http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/china). Ali and colleagues will provide the remaining treatments (starting with Iridaceae) as Word documents, which will be parsed (paragraph-delineated) and converted into an Excel database. All earlier treatments will be scanned using an optical character reader (OCR) and saved as Word documents, edited for accuracy against the original, parsed, and converted. Each element of the Flora treatments – family descriptions, notes, and keys; generic descriptions, synonymies, notes, distribution, and keys; and species names, place of publication, types, synonymies, notes, indigenous uses, distribution, phenology, cited specimens, and illustrations – will be included in this interactive database. Ultimately, users will be able to search the database using a variety of queries. More than half of all species in the Flora of Pakistan are illustrated, and these drawings and photographs will be scanned and made available electronically.

The specimens cited in the Flora of Pakistan, which include full available label data, are arranged according to a grid system (see map in DATA, which is included at the front of each volume of the FOP) rather than by province or district. Each grid unit corresponds to a "square" measuring 2° on each side. As a result, every cited specimen can be mapped to within 1° accuracy by using the central point in each grid unit, even though very few include latitude/longitude readings. So a specimen listed as "D-5" (corresponding to 30°-32° N/68°-70°E) can be mapped to 31°N/69°E. Eventually we intend to have coordinates for all localities in Pakistan, but until that system is in place, we already have a geographical basis for the database.

The main database will be housed at the Missouri Botanical Garden as it is being constructed, and the web site will reside on a Garden server, at least initially. As soon as the University of Karachi has the capability to host the site, a mirror site will be installed there, making the information much more readily available in Pakistan and the surrounding region.

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