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table of contents   
The Science of Systematics
Flora of China
 PROFILE: Ihsan A. Al-Shehbaz
Ihsan Al-Shehbaz In addition to his work coordinating and editing the Flora of China, curator Ihsan Al-Shehbaz studies the systematics and evolution of Brassicaceae, the mustard family, on a worldwide basis. He has described more than 70 species and 10 genera new to science.
Photo: Trent Foltz

To Know, To Protect

Ihsan Al-Shehbaz, co-director of the Flora of China, pages lovingly through an old book filled with beautifully rendered botanical drawings. You don't have to be a scholar to appreciate the craftsmanship or to recognize the priceless value of these finely detailed illustrations.

Chinese botanists have been working for decades to catalog the vast wealth of knowledge about their native plants. Since 1959, 129 books in 80 volumes have been published as Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae (FRPS). The key to unlocking this storehouse of knowledge lies in the production of a concise, up-to-date English version, a monumental tast in its own right.

"This is an endeavor of tremendous scientific importance and impact," says Al-Shehbaz. "By unlocking the knowledge of China's great botanical treasures for the rest of the world, the project brings together hundreds of Chinese and Western scientists for an invaluable exchange of ideas, training, information, and plant specimens. It is an enormous advancement for systematic and applied botany."

Information from the project is important in conservation, land management, horticulture and medicine, both in China and around the world. International awareness of China's biological resources comes none too soon, as pressures from development in China are placing its remarkable plant diversity at risk.

"We're in a race with time to document what's there before it's gone," says Al-Shehbaz. "If we want to have a peaceful world, to live in harmony, we have to know how to cooperate, both with humans and with other species. China's plant species represent a significant percentage of the world's total. If we don't do this kind of research, how will we know what we have and how to protect it?"

Lian Hua Shan Lian Hua Shan seen from Mu Ge Cuo Park, Kangding Xian, Sichuan Province, China.
Photo: Bryan Dutton
Rhododendron Rhododendron arboreum subsp. delavayi, Yunnan Province, China.
Photo: David Boufford

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Text and photos from "The Unseen Garden" available from MBG Press.
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