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 Plants of northwestern Yunnan, China Plants of northwestern Yunnan, China

Scanned Images: Strauss, Lyubov 

This photo essay contains pictures from the trip to northwestern Yunnan, a province in China

In June 2002, with MBG colleagues Michele Funston and George Yatskievych, I traveled to Beijing, China for a meeting about the Flora of China fern volumes. After the meeting, George and I flew southwest to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, for a field trip to northwestern Yunnan to find, among other things, Boschniakia himalaica, a member of the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae) and a root-parasite of Rhododendron species. George and a colleague had been studying the related B. strobilacea, from western North America, and wanted a DNA sample with which to make comparisons. The mountains of northwestern Yunnan are part of the larger Hengduan mountain range, which also spans eastern Xizang (Tibet) and western Sichuan provinces. This whole area has the richest temperate flora on earth, with an astonishing diversity in habitats ranging from warm-temperate, evergreen, broad-leaved forests to glacial alpine heights. Our field trip in June was well-timed for the flowering of many montane and subalpine plant species.

The trip began at the Kunming Institute of Botany on June 6, when George, Prof. Wu Sugong from the Institute, his Ph.D. student Xiang Jianying, a driver, and I all crammed into a jeep and headed west out of town, first to Dali then north to Jianchuan, a distance of about 250 miles (400 km). A little to the northwest of Jianchuan is the nature reserve of Lao Jun Shan (Old Monarch Mountain). We spent the first night there in the ranger station and spent the next day exploring the forests above and below. Back in Jianchuan, on June 8, we continued north, eventually to the ethnically Tibetan town of Zhongdian, but taking a less direct and much more spectacular route through the Hu Tiao Xia (Tiger Leap Gorge) of the Jinsha Jiang (Golden Sand River, the upper Yangtze) and also stopping at the extraordinary natural tufa terraces of Bai Shui Tai (White Water Terrace). On June 9, from Zhongdian we headed north to Da Xue Shan (Big Snow Mountain) close to the border with Sichuan Province. The following day we went southwest from Zhongdian to the aptly named mountain lake of Tian Chi (Sky Pond). On June 11 we started our journey back to Kunming, taking the direct road south from Zhongdian, joining the Jinsha Jiang just upstream of the Hu Tiao Xia and then to Dali via Lijiang, the “capital” of the Naxi ethnic minority at the base of the 18,355 ft (5596 m) Yu Long Xue Shan (Green Dragon Snow Mountain).

George found the Boschniakia in two places at Lao Jun Shan, at a high mountain pass at Da Xue Shan, and by the lake of Tian Chi. Only the dried and partly decomposed remains of the previous year’s fleshy flowering spikes remained, but he did collect the subterranean, tuberlike structure that grows on the Rhododendron roots before the flowering stem develops. This provided the DNA required. A rusty colored slug stowed away with one of the samples and surprised us later (see photo).

Of course we found many other plants beside the Boschniakia, and the following photographs are only a sampling of just how much exists in this amazing region.

Feedback on the identities of the species illustrated would be welcome: Nick Turland.

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