Seeds from Mount Everest

The Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

Old Hermann Maximilian Carl Ludwig Friedrich zu Solms-Laubach actually made it into the Chinese state media, more than 100 years after his death. Chinese scientists had collected the seeds of various plants on the north side of Mount Everest at around 6,200 meters, the reports said – higher than ever before, supposedly another Everest record. The seeds were now to be dried, cleaned, counted and stored in a Chinese Academy of Sciences seed bank for wild plant species. Among the seeds collected were those of Solms-laubachia himalayensis, it was said.

Never been to the Himalayas

The botanist Hermann zu Solms-Laubach

The plant was named after the German botanist zu Solms-Laubach, who lived from 1842 to 1914. The director of the botanical garden in the town of Göttingen must have been quite a luminary: the suffix Solms-laubachia appears in almost 50 plant names. The scientist travelled the world, for example, he was on the Indonesian island of Java, but definitely not in the Himalayas. Nevertheless, the plant, which occurs in the western Himalayas, Nepal and Tibet, bears his name. Under the synonym Ermania himalayenis, it has also made it into the Guinness Book of Records – in the category “Highest flowering plant”: in 1955 it was found at 6,400 meters on the seven-thousander Kamet in the Indian Himalayas, it said.

Everestianus and khumbuensis

What grows on Everest

This is not quite true. Already in 1935 and 1952 climbers had picked flowering plants on the north side of Mount Everest and also in the Khumbu on the south side at an altitude of about 6,400 meters. Scientists later gave them names in which the places where they were found were immortalized, as in the case of Lepidostemon everestianus or Androsace khumbuensis.

It is possible that climbers on Everest will soon be able to pick flowers at even higher altitudes. Climate change, with its ever-higher temperatures, is not only causing the glaciers to recede, but also vegetation to spread further upwards. Probably at the forefront: Solms-laubachia himalayensis, the hardy little plant with the name of a botanist who died more than 100 years ago and had nothing to do with mountains.

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