Thursday, September 10, 2015

Plant Exploration in China: Travelogue Part I

Pictured left to right: Tony Aiello of Morris Arboretum, Michael Dosmann of Arnold Arboretum, and Kris Bachtell of Morton Arbortetum with Acer griseum - paperbark maple

Tony Aiello, our Director of Horticulture & Curator of the Living Collection is currently in north-western China on a month-long expedition. Traveling with colleagues from Beijing Botanical Garden, the Morton Arboretum, and Arnold Arboretum, the mission of his trip is to document paperbark maple (Acer griseum) across its natural range and study its genetic diversity. 

“It has been a hectic trip so far and we have really been on the go. Basically, we've been staying in one place each night and then moving every day, so it's been hard to catch up. We are now in the town of Ankang, Shaanxi Province, and plan to stay here for two nights, which feels like a real luxury.

The trip has been a success so far. On our first day of collecting we found the solitary Acer griseum tree that we had seen in 2010 in Hong He Gu (Red River Valley) in Tai Bai Mountain near Xi'an. The next day was not so successful, when, after some long driving on dirt roads, we found the area where Acer griseum is reported but were not able to find the plants, even after climbing some steep terrain. 

This was discouraging and on our minds the next day as we drove 10 hours south to Sichuan. After a morning of driving through road construction and finding many other interesting plants, in the afternoon we found the trail that we had been looking for and began a strenuous hike up the mountain side. This was well worth it and that day we came across seven trees, including some large and magnificent old specimens. One of these had seed that we were able to collect.

After another day of driving, we ended up in a small village in Chongqing (a large municipality and not technically a province), where we stayed in small local hotel, the Chinese equivalent to a b&b (Kang calls these family hotels). We were in a remote location and made a big sensation in this small town, with many of the locals, especially the kids, coming to see us and help us clean seed. We found a local farmer who knew about the trees that we were looking for, and again, after a rigorous hike (to put it mildly), we found a large population, and sampled 22 plants in an area smaller than a football field.

We are now in Shaanxi province, in the city of Ankang, which it turns out, is the namesake of our intrepid host and guide from Beijing, Kang Wang. Today we drove three hours to find the "holy hannah" behemoth of a tree that Rick Lewandoski had seen in 1995. Thanks to Rick's excellent notes, we found the same plant, and were equally impressed by its age and size. This tree is certainly the largest recorded in China, and we were all amazed to be in its presence. In the same area we saw what was by far the largest Corylus fargesii (Farges filbert) that any of us have seen and made a seed collection from it.

Tomorrow we head to Henan province to look for three populations of paperbark maple.”

Read Travelogue Part II here.

Follow along on this amazing horticultural journey on our blog and learn more about Morris Arboretum’s Collaborative Plant Exploration Program with China here.

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