Christopher’s corner

In this web section, Marimurtra serves as an informative channel between the knowledge and life experience of Christopher Witty and the reader, especially to introduce the wild flora of Nepal with the purpose of encouraging interest in the world of botany.

Christopher Witty portrait

Christopher Witty is a member of the board of trustees of the Carl Faust Private Foundation, manager of the Marimurtra Botanical Garden, and has been photographing wild flowers in situ around the world for more than 50 years. But his work focuses mainly on Montseny (where he lives), the Pyrenees and the mountain ranges south of Málaga and Cádiz.
A lover of mountains and nature, Christopher has made six trips to Nepal between April and July and has photographed many flowers from 1,500 meters to 5,400 meters of altitude. Attracted first by the beauty of nature, he has learned throughout his career the vital role that plants play in relation to the well-being of the planet and the human being himself.

The main engine of the Marimurtra Botanical Garden is science. Although C. Witty is not a scientist, he understands that without the understanding and support of the public there can be no science. For this reason, he has developed a divulgative task over the years, with guided excursions, talks and photographic exhibitions of the flora he has photographed; and all with the aim of transmitting his passion for nature, to encourage interest in botany and to make records.

Nepal is a kind of sloping rectangle about 880 kilometers long and between 100 and 200 kilometers wide, with China on the northern border, and India on the south, east and west. In the north there are eight mountains of more than 8,000 meters, while just over 100 kilometers to the south we are below 1,000 meters. The variety of climate is almost infinite and therefore so is its flora.

This section will focus on introducing the wild flora photographed by Christopher Witty in different areas of Nepal.

  • Rosa sericea (3500m, may 2001 and 1998 – Central Nepal central): Cultivated multi-petal roses are probably the best known and most loved flowers. Wild species, on the other hand, are less well known. Normally, they have 5 petals, but this particular species has four white or cream colored petals, with many small, serrated leaflets. They have red fruits (hips) on fairly dense bushes of 1 to 2 meters.

    This information is taken from Vol.3 of the Flora of Nepal, published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which includes several small variations, one of which is R. sericea var. omeiensis. But there is another reputable source that records the species as, R. omeiensis, along with a host of variations. This flower shown here is an excellent example of how complicated nomenclature can be in botany

    • Podophyllum hexandrum (4000m, 1994 – Langtang Nepal): This flower was found in a rock crevice in the upper Langtang Valley, but the author did not discover its family and species until he visited in the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London. The flower reappears each year by pushing up two large leaves at the top of the stem, which can reach 50 cm. At first, the leaves are down – as you can see in the photo – and, thanks to the sun, a single white or pink flower opens and closes. The leaves open, the petals fall, and a fruit develops into a red plum, which hangs as it grows, protected by the large leaves like a parasol. This is an important medicinal plant in the treatment of cancer. Almost all other species grow further east towards China, with the exception of one species native to the eastern half of North America. Like other high altitude plants, it survives extremes of heat and cold and strong winds.
    • Morina longifolia, 3500m (1998 – Nepal central): Found it in a lush green meadow on the lower slopes of Mount Dhaulagiri, 8,167m, you can see the spiky leaves and elongated pink flowers that emerge from the thistle-like head of the plant. An example of how not all thorny plants are thistles. This species used to have its own family, the Morinaceae, but now belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family. The whole plant is used in Tibetan medicine for stomach disorders such as indigestion, and is also popular as a garden plant.
      Photographing flowers at this height during the monsoon months makes it very interesting because of the abundance of leeches that seem to be waiting especially for you!
    • Epipactis royleana, 3500m (2008 – Manang, Central Nepal): There are more than a dozen species of Epipactis in Catalonia, but only four in Nepal, including E. helleborine, photographed at home and in Nepal. The species of the genus Epipactis usually like the shade and must be observed closely to be able to appreciate their details. This large colony was found while Christopher was looking for a quiet corner to have a picnic, well away from the paths, in full sun, showing off its red flowers. A small group was later found much higher in the upper part of its range at 4000 m. This is a much drier area and not much affected by the monsoon, so no leeches.

    Plant names indicate geographical locations, Sikkim and Nepal. Although both flowers can be found across the Himalayas and beyond. Sikkim is an Asian kingdom, located between Nepal and Bhutan with China to the north and India to the south. Until 1973, it was an independent country, but then it became part of India. When Christopher was there in 1996, he needed an additional visa to visit. Small, quiet and beautiful, sharing with Nepal the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga on its western border.

    • Primula sikkimensis: approaching 4000 m they encountered a large group of these primroses which they recognized immediately. Long before Christopher thought he could go to this part of the world, he bought the book “Flowers of the Himalayas” by O. Polunin and A. Stainton. He especially remembered this flower, by its name and its shape, which is different from the primroses of Europe. They are one of the tallest primroses, reaching up to 90cm tall, when they are usually 25-30cm, and they grow right in the Himalayas, from northern India to China.
    • Lilium nepalense: These are large flowers of up to 15 cm and stand out among the mass of vegetation found in the monsoon season, growing between 2300 m and 3500 m in an area similar to Primula sikkimensis. Christopher I have also been able to observe and photograph two other lilies with a similar name, the Lilium columbianum in Canada in the province of British Columbia and the Lilium pyrenaicum in the Pyrenees itself.

    Plants are typically known by the name of the genus with a capital letter, followed by the species with a lowercase letter. Species are often descriptive, such as “angustifolium” for narrow leaves, or may refer to a location or a person’s name. Here, two significant figures in the botanical world are mentioned, Nathaniel Wallich, 1786-1854, and John Dalton Hooker, 1817-1911.

    • Euphorbia wallichii : species of Euphorbia can be found in nearly every corner of the world, 2040 in total. There are plenty here on the Mediterranean, but perhaps the best known is one with bright red leaves which is presently being sold as a Christmas decoration, Euphorbia pulcherrima or Poinsettia. It is however a native of Mexico and Central America. The distinguishing feature of this E. wallichii are the leaves with clear white veins and what seem to be flowers of bright golden yellow, making a wonderful sight on a Himalayan hill on a cloudy day. This particular species is also a popular garden plant in England and elsewhere.
    • Pleione hookeriana: This beautiful flower is the epiphytic orchid that grows highest in Nepal, reaching up to 3,500 meters, and uses thick moss that grows on rocks and trees as its bed. The first ones Witty saw were by the side of the path, but as he explored the forest, he came across some tall trees with trunks and branches covered with them, seeming to disappear into the low clouds.

    There are nearly 300 species of orchids in Nepal from 80 different genera. While in Europe only terrestrial orchids grow, in Nepal there are terrestrial and epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants or objects without parasitizing them nutritionally.

    • Dendrobium amoenum: photographed in late May by the side of the trail at just over 1,000 meters on the first day of the walk. They are up to about 2,900 meters of altitude. With the sale even in supermarkets of exotic orchids, the public is becoming more familiar with these plants. Cultivated flowers of the genus Dendrobium are very popular.
    • Habenaria pectinata: photographed in July, monsoon season, at 3,000 meters among a lot of vegetation below Dhaulagiri mountain at 8,167 m. There are almost 900 species of this terrestrial orchid genus in the world but none of them in Europe. Even so, there are other genera of terrestrial orchids that can be observed in Europe and that, in addition, have some species present in different regions in Nepal.