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The successful expedition to Altai

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For the first time I visited Altai in 2000 and felt in love with this wonderful region immediately. It was a trip to the fairy tale. The beauty of the lovely Altaisky krai is painted on splendid pictures artist of N. Rerih.

The area of southern Siberia is very rich floristically. And this territory has rather high percentage of endemic species. The total amount of vascular plants is more than 2,000 species, a half of them being rare. Russian Altai is situated at the south-east of Western Siberia. The Altai mountain system protrudes as well to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Many famous Russian and foreign scientists and naturalists worked there. In Paris Museum of Natural History the herbarium collected by French geologist Patren from Siberia. German botanist Ledebour worked here during several years with his followers students. Bunge and Meyer. They discovered and described many new plants, and there were irises among them I.bloudowii, I. glaucescens, I. tigridia and others. Many plants were collected by Russian traveler G. Potanin. C. Maximowicz described I. potaninii after him.

I have been lucky. The scientific leader of botanical expeditions on Altai has been Prof. Rudolf Kamelin, well known researcher of flora of Central Asia and Altai. He recommended me to go to expedition to meet with local irises in the wild and under cultivation. By the way, there are 22 species and 2 subspecies of this genus in the flora of Siberia, this is more than a half of total Russian irises. The detachment is formed at the botanic garden of Gornoaltaisky University. The Director of the Garden is Prof. Alexander Shmakov, he is an experienced organizer of field research. He has everything for the successful expedition throughout the southern part of Western Siberia. So, there are all conditions for positive research work.

That time all things were very interesting and helpful for me. The students of Barnaul University and I made three trips to the Western Altai, to the area of Cherny Kamen (Black Stone). I was successful for the first time to see and collect I. glaucescens Bunge, as well as I. halophylla Pall. and I.ruthenica. We visited also the district of Bolshaya Moralikha (Large Moralikha), where I collected also I. bloudowii and I. potaninii. During three weeks of expedition we made intermediate stops picking herbarium specimens, and Prof. Kamelin was identifying it. Totall more than 1,000 sheets were collected, and this was about 400 species. I picked living plants to plant at the Iridarium of botanic garden in Saint-Peteresburg. We discussed the possible ways of further research of irises growing at Russia, as well as questions of its introduction and conservation. The expedition was coming to an end, and I was in hurry to my home in order to plant collected irises and to check the literature data for further research work. Later in the city of Barnaul living specimens of I. ludwigii and I. humilis were presented to me. I had strong desire to visit this place again. I was thinking that my husband would agree to go with me next year. He is a passion fisherman, and there are many rivers at Altai with clean water, and with large and delicious fish.

The year has passed imperceptibly. On 30 June 2001 my husband and I reached Barnaul botanic garden. I gradually began more and more to understand irises, and to enlarge my knowledge, at least for those species which I collected and cultivated by myself. During the winter the title of my research project was identified as “Species of genus Iris L. in the flora of Russia. Problems of In-situ conservation and introduction”. This time of route passed through the very extreme edge of Mountain Altai along the border with Mongolia. On the way we collected I. potaninii, I.ruthenica, I. pallasii, I. humilis, I. tigridia, I. glaucescens and I. ruthenica. While picking I. potaninii at the upper reaches of the Chuya River near Boguty Lake, at the stony macroslope (2,500 m elev.) I paid attention that certain specimens were differing from other ones. Having picked herbarium, living samples and seeds, I thought that in Saint-Petersburg I should carefully examine all type specimens of I. potaninii kept in our Herbarium (LE), to consult with literature data and to study all relative species. It would be urgent to cultivate this collected material and to maintain it till the flowering state.

On May next year, 2002, this iris was in bloom, like the rest collected irises during that expedition. From I. potaninii Maxim. and I. potaninii Maxim. var. arenaria Doronkin the specimen differed by roots. There were covered at the base by membranaceous sheaths of leaves (not fibrous or fibrous-splitted ones), also by the blade of interior circle of petals: roundish-elliptical, with deep hollow at the top, unexpectedly narrowed to the linear nail (not obovate-ovoid and continually narrowed one), and by exterior circle of petals: with thick net of prominent violet nerves (not poorly developed ones). Large roundish at the top above-stigma combs looked very effectively and decoratively. The flower had a pleasant delicate aroma.

In Autumn 2005 I successfully finished my research project, and since then I had a free time to check and once again to compare the discovered at Altai specimen with literature data and to examine the herbarium collections another time. I made a conclusion that this was a new species, not yet described. Its description is given below.

I. kamelinii Alexeeva, 2006, Nov. sist., v. 38, p. 116-119. Perennial, 15-25 cm high. The rhizome is short, covered by membraneous sheaths of leaves, forming more or less friable turfs. Roots are cord-like, thickened. Stems are short, till 10-15 cm long. Leaves are arranged near roots, in bundles, glaucous-green, linear, long-acuminate, usually longer the the flower stalks, 15-25 см long, 2.5-3 мм width. Leaves of the stem are 3-4 in number, usually not reachin the flower, leaves of involucres are 2 in number, membraneous. Flowers are single, terminal, yellow, with thick net of prominent violet nerves; the beard of outer petals consists of elongate multi-cellular hairs. The blade of outer petals is 3.5-4 cм long, 0.8-1.1см width, oblong-obovate, roundish at the top, continually narrowed into the nail; the interior petals are nearly of the same length as external ones, 3.2-3.7 см long; the blade is roundish-elliptical, 1.4-1.6 см long, 1.4-1.6 см width, with deep hollow at the top, sharply narrowed to linear nail, wings of style are widely roundish. Seed pods are 3.5-4.5 сm long, 2.5-3.5 сm width, open by side cracks. Seeds are large, brown, 3.5-5.5 мм long, 3-3.5 мм width, with yellowish arillus. 2n=22. The species is named after my superwiser Rudolf Kamelin.

I. kamelinii Alexeeva. – kserophytes, 6 years ego I collected it in expeditions and sent to AIS (may be through James Waddick) as I. potaninii non. It was described in 2005 в Novosti Systematiki Journal, N 38, p. 116-119. Flowers early in spring. Prefers organic fertilizers after snow melting, before flowering. The second fertilizing should be done after flowering. Full sun, good drainage.

Alexeeva N. Successful Expedition to Altai // SIGNA. Molalla (USA), Spring, 2007. N 78. P. 3908-3909.

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