Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Myanmar by the Numbers

Posted in Travelogue on January 11, 2016 by Kate Armstrong

Kate Armstrong, Ph.D., is Myanmar Program Coordinator in the New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany. Damon P. Little, Ph.D., is Associate Curator of Bioinformatics in the Botanical Garden’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics.

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Myanmar is a major biodiversity hotspot, yet its flora is probably the least studied in the Northern Hemisphere. As the country emerges from decades of isolation and political upheaval, The New York Botanical Garden is working to document Myanmar’s undiscovered plant life, build the country’s capacity to carry out plant research, and promote the sustainable use of its forests.

We recently returned from a collecting expedition to Hkakaborazi National Park in Kachin State, which borders China. The park, in the far northern part of the country, covers nearly 1,500 square miles of mountainous forest.

To reach it, we first flew to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. From there, we took a turboprop to Putao, the northernmost town in Kachin State, and then motorcycles to a small village. After that, we walked.

This is our trip in numbers:

Days in the field: 28

Days traveling to and from the field: 8

Minimum number of miles traveled by jet aircraft: 19,660

By turboprop aircraft: 2,271

By motorcycle: 168

On foot: 125

Minimum altitude, in feet, ascended without mechanized transport: 32,835

Scientists on the expedition: 4 (the two of us from NYBG and two researchers from Myanmar)

Myanmar Forest Department personnel: 2

Cooks: 2

Porters: 35

Ratio of males to females among porters: 3 to 1

Among scientists: 1 to 1

New York Yankees hats worn: 2

By residents of New York: 0

Number of substances carried by one scientist to repel terrestrial leeches: 16

Number that were effective: 0

Pounds of Myanmar currency (kyat) used to pay cooks and porters: 6.2

Pounds of rice: 1,485

Packets of instant noodle soup: 1,001

Smart phones carried: 6

Days on which cellular service was available: 0

Inches of newspaper (stacked) used to protect and dry specimens: 72

Plant presses: 8

Articles of clothing consumed by marauding mithun (a semi-domesticated bovine): 6

Number of plants collected: 749

Number of herbarium specimens (roughly six specimens of every plant): 3,538

Pounds of excess baggage upon returning from the field: 317

Dr. Armstrong is one of three Garden scientists who lead the Garden’s Myanmar program. She and her colleagues will discuss their recent expeditions to Myanmar at the upcoming Andrew Carnegie Distinguished Lecture, “NYBG Scientists in Myanmar: Tackling 21st-Century Challenges,” on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center. You can get more information about the lecture here

This research was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award 1457702) “Floristic inventory of a neglected biodiversity hotspot: Myanmar’s Northern Forest Complex.” Dr. Armstrong is the Principal Investigator on this grant.

The Garden’s Myanmar Program is also supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.