Notes from the Field: Yunnan, China

Dr. Peter Fritsch, BRIT’s VP of Research and Director of the Herbarium, is on a visiting scholarship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, based at the Kunming Institute of Botany in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. Peter went on a brief (8-day) field trip in late October-early November to far northeastern Yunnan Province and the bordering area of Guizhou Province. Below are some photos from his trip.

1yunnan

The arrow on the map above shows the location of my field work, in Weixi and Yiliang counties.

 

2river

Typical scenic shot in this region—limestone mountains blanketed with native forests in the least accessible parts.

 

3symplocos

One of my specialty groups, Symplocos of the Symplocaceae (sweetleaf family). It’s mainly a tropical family—we have one species in Texas, S. tinctoria. This one is S. setchuensis. Flowers resemble that of a small version of Camellia, but are usually white instead of pink.

 

4cornfield

Hazy but otherwise beautiful day. Overlooking a valley, with corn in the foreground (no rice grown in these parts).

 

5pass

Pass between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Apparently the weather is always like this here. So, unknown to us, it was one of the more brutal and rather dangerous “hikes” (actually climb) that I have done in a while. No real trail, average 70% slope. One false step in some places…

 

6dovetree

A real treat to see this, the Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata in the dogwood family Cornaceae), one of the only places left where it occurs in the wild. Spectacular when in flower.

 

 

Another rare treat: Rehderodendron macrocarpon, in one of my pet families, the storaxes (Styracaceae). Has one of the oddest fruits you’ll see, football shaped and ca. 2.5 in. long. Inside is a hard bony center surrounding the elongated seeds, with radiating parts to the edge, and in between is a corky material. I can’t imagine what disperses this, and we found all the fruits dropped right under the tree.

 

10lowhills

Low limestone hills. The beginnings of what farther east will become the bizarre landscape of Guilin. I guess Guilin will have to wait ‘til next time!

 

11fieldteam

Field team, out of the cold—and onto those short stools (you need good knees in Yunnan). From left to right, Ren-Fu Lu, Hong-Hua Liao, our driver Ting-Xun Liu, and Dr. Lu Lu, my colleague from KIB. Ren-Fu Lu is Dr. Lu Lu’s father, and he’s a sharp-eyed plant collector and incredible mountain climber.

 

12dinner

Colorful dinner—the plants in the upper left dish are grape ferns (Botrychium). Sorry, tasted terrible. Those in upper right are fungi—much better.

 

img_8876

Me at the Kunming Institute of Botany herbarium in Yunnan, China, where I’ve just finished annotating their Styracaceae (storax family) collection. About half the specimens were mis- or unidentified—the family is a challenging one taxonomically, but I’ve been studying these plants for over 20 years and know them well. The annotated specimens extend in front of the image to all the way to the back wall behind me, and total around 800 specimens, including some rare and endangered species. The work took five days and was conducted as part of a visiting scholar fellowship gratefully received from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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