Following Vavilov's footsteps in the ice of the Pamir mountains-- and other Saudi Aramco-iana.
August 31, 2012 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Seed collectors themselves are a bit like foraging animals, wandering far and wide in search of the same plants, and [Sergey] Shuvalov, the expedition's chief logistics planner, translator and route finder, often has to whistle them back to the vehicles. He is aware of the honor of following Vavilov's footsteps, but doubts that he will have time this trip to collect anything near the 200 species and varieties that his compatriot did here 100 years ago.

Professor Aknazarov is the consummate academician, educated in the rigorous Soviet system at the Komarov Botanical Institute in St. Petersburg. His desk is piled high with books and dried specimens, and he can cite the Linnaean taxonomy of his rarest accessions with ease. Yet he is also a soft-hearted nostalgist for the food pleasures of his past. "My first memory of the family garden," he says, "is stuffing myself with ripe mulberries. My friends and I would climb the trees and eat until our faces and fingers were black with juice. We called each other monkeys, although we had never seen a monkey in our lives. Wheat bread may be the Pamiris' first food, but tut-pikht—mulberry bread—is our second."

When asked about a line from the Travels of Marco Polo about the Pamirs— "Good wheat is grown, and also barley without husks. They have no olive oil, but make oil from sesame, and also from walnuts"—he concurs, remembering how, as a child, he stole walnuts from his neighbor's trees, and couldn't deny it when he was questioned because his fingers were stained and sticky with walnut juice. But he notes that Marco Polo forgot to mention apricot oil, made from the fruit's kernel, which is a cure for high blood pressure if taken with warm milk. And the "barley without husks"? It is called naked barley, Hordeum vulgare var. nudum, he agrees, and is common in the Pamirs.

Aknazarov accompanied American ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan on the tour of the Pamirs in Vavilov's footsteps that Nabhan recounted in his book Where Our Food Comes From. The Pamirs, like the Caucasus, are a veritable "mountain of tongues," as the Arabs called the latter: Each valley has its own language, all of them from the Eastern Iranian family, such as Wakhi, Shugni and Ishkashimi.

One of a great many incredible pieces of journalism produced by or for Saudi Aramco, this one looked at a modern seed hunting expedition and the storied footsteps it followed in...

Discovery! The Story Of Aramco Then (Part of: Aramco History)

Fellow Adventurous chair-based researchers may wish to explore the deep and rich archives, facilitated by several mechanisms of sorting.

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posted by infinite intimation (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Ah, this is excellent. Thank you very much; much time will be lost in these archives later on.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:02 PM on August 31, 2012

Volcanic Arabia. Glaciers in Arabia? There were glaciers in Arabia - one in the vicinity of Qasim in the north-central part of the kingdom - and last year the Aramco geologist who first wrote about it came up with, well, rock-solid evidence to prove it.
at random with bias (ctr/mand-f).
posted by infinite intimation at 9:50 PM on August 31, 2012

The seed collecting article is great.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:02 AM on September 1, 2012

Haven't got the time at the moment, but will revisit this later to read through.

My father worked for Saudi Aramco for nearly 30 years, and i spend many a school holiday at the Camp library reading through the back editions of Saudi Aramco World.
posted by lloyder at 6:57 AM on September 1, 2012

I like to grow weird southern African and Mexican succulents from seed and I am always amazed at the dedication and detail of the seed collectors. I often know down to very small regions exactly where my seed comes from and would know precisely if it were not for the collectors deliberately obscuring the fine detail to discourage unscrupulous collectors from taking the plants rather than just some seed.

The amazing part is that the same species of plant can be very different in appearance when collected from a habitat just a short distance away (not to mention the variation within the same location just from sexual reproduction).

To give you a sense of what is out there, here is a list of the seeds for one species of Titanopsis - Titanopsis Calcera available from Mesa Garden:

Titanopsis, /B,17-18/ low thick warted leaves
1870-calcarea /18/ blue grey leaves, with grey/white warts .90 2.80 8.00
1870.04-calcarea Benotheidsfontein, big white warts 1.00 3.50
1870.05-calcarea /17/ ex Cole, nice white carbuncles 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.06-calcarea 35 k nw Brandvlei, outstanding blue form 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.061-calcarea Campbell, w Kimberley, very grey 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.07-calcarea Enkele Koppie, bold bumps in rows 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.09-calcarea Groblershoop 1.00 3.50
1870.097-calcarea Kalkgas, flat rosettes 1.00
1870.1-calcarea Koffiefontein, OFS, robust 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.12-calcarea Luckhoff, tufaceous rosette 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.125-calcarea 13 km SW Luckhoff, white bosses 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.13-calcarea /18/ Majeng, N Kimberley, crusty, not lefty 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.14-calcarea n Hopetown, ornate warts 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.15-calcarea Oorlogshoek, beautifully ochre 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.151-calcarea Grootdoring, lovely colors 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.1511-calcarea Groblershoop, big bold bumps 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.152-calcarea Kraanvogelfontein, outstanding form 1.00 3.50
1870.2-calcarea SB1111 /18/ Magersfontein, concrete color 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.22-calcarea Hopetown, knobbly grey with pink warts 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.3-calcarea SB1311 /18/ Kimberley, distinct 1.00 3.50
1870.4-calcarea 20 k n Kimberley, alligned white warts 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.5-aff. calcarea Ghams, Upington, bronze leaves, deep yellow fl. 1.00 3.50
1870.8-calcarea Stinkbrak, e Abrahamsdam, lovely pale form 1.00 3.50 11.00
1870.822-calcarea Pampoenpoort 1.00 3.50 11.00

This same level of detail is available for just about every kind of cactus and succulent and it is almost all done by hobbyists and collectors rather than by funded institutional researcher.
posted by srboisvert at 5:05 PM on September 1, 2012

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