Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Plant Exploration in China: Travelogue Part II

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 the trip is to document paperbark maple (Acer griseum) across its natural range and study its genetic diversity.

“It's Monday afternoon and we just finished our last day in the field. Sunday was pretty low key and I think we all needed a day to relax, especially Kang. Saturday was a late one and we did not get to our hotel until close to midnight. We were staying in Louyang, a city of 1.8 million people in Henan province, a very cosmopolitan and modern city, which was an interesting change after several days in the countryside. One remarkable thing about our travels is that you get cultural whiplash, moving from villages with very simple lifestyles, to large modern cities in the matter of a few hours.

So far we've driven close to 2,000 miles on the trip. We are now in southern Shanxi, very close to where we collected in 2002. The landscape looks familiar, but we're not sure what town we stayed in back then, and even if we were, things have changed so much that the town probably would not be recognizable. We are here for two nights and then head back to Xi'an, where we will celebrate Kris's birthday, among other things.

We continue to have success in finding the populations of Acer griseum, which I call the red-barked needle in the green-leaved haystack. Even at best, there are a few dozen trees scattered throughout the hillsides, and we've learned to ask the local farmers if they know the tree that we are looking for. They usually do because of their close connections to the land and have been able to lead us pretty much directly to the trees. All of the locals have been very friendly and helpful, and without their help the trip would have been much less successful.

Since I last checked in, we visited two populations in Henan province. The first was at Bao Tian Man Nature Preserve, a beautiful location in the mountains, filled with streams and waterfalls. The population of paperbark maple that we found there was by far the most robust of the trip, with 60-75 large trees lining both sides of a valley. Among these larger trees were numerous seedlings, something that we had not seen before this location. The second area in Henan was a rural location, set among villages where much of the woodlands were harvested for fire wood. Still, we were able to find a good number of larger trees and again, a number of seedlings.

So today, we headed to Mang He Nature Preserve, where there is a native population of wild macaques, along with the northernmost paperbark maple. We had another successful day, collected samples from eight trees from another beautiful location.

Overall it's been a very successful trip and we've found Acer griseum at eight of the nine locations that we've visited. We've sampled 64 trees, including seed one from paperbark maple, and have also made another seven seed collections, including Hydrangea aspera, Acer oblongum, and Cephalotaxus fortunei.

Tomorrow we head back to Xi'an, where we will pack up our samples and seed so that they can be shipped back to the U.S., and do a little sight-seeing in Xi'an before returning to the U.S. on Friday.”

Read Travelogue Part I here.

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