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SFAR in the service of scientific research
Excerpt from: Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, 1939 to 1970. Published in Zurich in 1972
Whenever anyone stumbles upon prestigious old herbaria amongst the plant collections, they note with astonishment that polar travellers and mountain climbers have pressed flowers from the very earliest times, and that these flowers have often found their way later, by convoluted paths, into scientific herbaria. Swiss collections have also acquired many plants from polar regions and high mountains outside Europe in this way.
Botanical research in Switzerland can look back over a long tradition. The old herbaria at the University of Basel, the plant collections at the Botanical Gardens in Geneva, the University of Zurich, and the ETH, with its associated Rübel Foundation geobotanical research institute, are all well known to experts world-wide. The long series of classification books, regional plant catalogues and works on flora demonstrate the popularity of the “friendly science”. As well as the trained and expert botanists, many ordinary members of the public in Switzerland are also devotees.
During the second half of the twentieth century, Swiss experts have carried out pioneering work in the new research fields of plant sociology and plant geography. The Foundation has supported a whole series of botanical works in connection with its expedition activities.
As part of the Barnnland Expedition in 1955, Fritz Hans Schwarzenbach continued the botanical investigations he had started when he took part in the Danish East Greenland Expedition from 1948 to 1952. His observations are set down in a comprehensive manuscript. He later published details of an experimental project involving viviparious meadow grass in Greenland.
Otto Hegg made a further contribution to botany in the Arctic. He set up comparative observations between Arctic and high Alpine vegetation on the expedition to Axel-Heiberg Land.
A special place is accorded to botanical works carried out in the Himalayas. The Everest Expedition undertaken in the spring of 1952, and led by Dr. Edouard Wyss-Dunant must be mentioned first. This included a scientific working group from the University of Geneva. Albert Zimmermann, who worked at the City of Geneva Botanical Gardens took part, and set up a comprehensive collection that was studied by experts in the course of subsequent years.
In 1960/61, a small British/Swiss expedition led by Kenneth Hewitt worked on the Biafo glacier in the Pakistani section of the Karakorum. The Swiss participants in this expedition included Emil Reiser, a gardener at the Botanical Gardens in Zurich. Together with other members of the expedition, he over-wintered in the working area, and thus gathered valuable data on the meteorology and climatology of this glacier region. In the spring of 1961, the expedition was enhanced by two further Swiss scientists. The geomorphologist Gerhard Furrer mainly devoted his attentions to glacial/morphological observations, and investigated peri-glacial phenomena in comparison with the Alps and the Arctic. The results were published in the habilitation work, which appeared in 1965. The botanist Hans Hartmann-Frick collected plants in the plain zone, investigated the vertical distribution of the different species as far as the limits of vegetation, and dealt in depth with ecological and plant sociological investigations. His field observations about the steppe-like character of this pioneer vegetation were later confirmed by scientific ground tests on the ground samples he brought back. Hans Hartmann published the results of the botanical investigations in part.
In the summer of 1970, we helped Hans Hartmann to take part in a research trip to Spitzbergen by the Geographical Institute of the University of Zurich, led by Gerhard Furrer. This gave him the opportunity to draw comparisons between the pioneer vegetation in the Arctic, the Alps and the Himalayas.
The Foundation for Alpine Research provided support in a quite different way for the scientific work of the highly-talented botanist Hans Ulrich Stauffer, who unfortunately died far too soon. On the recommendation of various experts, Arnold Heim chose this young botanist to accompany him on his research trip to the Virunga volcanoes in Africa in 1954/55. Following this expedition, Stauffer was very soon recognised and supported by his professional colleagues as an outstanding plant photographer, as a critical expert on tropical mountain plants and as a tireless worker. These colleagues encouraged him to write a critical monograph on certain types of genus of the sandalwood plant. Since there are very many types of this genus in tropical and subtropical areas, Stauffer decided to undertake a trip around the world to collect sample material and to study these types in their natural environment. The Foundation for Alpine Research provided help with the planning and preparation for this enterprise in an attempt to smooth the path for Hans Ulrich Stauffer. The world trip was carried out according to plan in 1963. Unfortunately, the young researcher succumbed to an insidious illness shortly after his return to Switzerland. His collection was rich and carefully documented, and was handed over to the Botanical Museum at the University of Zurich. A proportion of the material was processed by specialists from the Botanical Gardens and published in part (Markgraf and Stauffer).