A NACPEC expedition in North America

by Jared Rubinstein, Living Collections Fellow

September 9, 2019


A NACPEC expedition in North America


A 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition map.

For nearly 30 years, the North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) has worked to foster partnerships between North American and Chinese public gardens and to sponsor plant exploration and collection expeditions. Since its inception, NACPEC has sponsored 18 expeditions with representatives from North American member institutions working with Chinese collaborators to collect over 1,500 plants from all over China. This year, for the first time, NACPEC and the Arnold Arboretum are sponsoring representatives from Chinese member institutions to collect plant material from the United States.

The last few decades of plant collection in East Asia have resulted in remarkable and equal partnerships between North American and East Asian institutions. The 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition represented the first North American plant collection expedition in China since the Chinese Revolution in 1947 and signaled a new sense of cooperation among botanists in both countries. Five American institutions, including the Arnold Arboretum, worked with the Institute of Botany, Beijing; the Jiangsu Institute of Botany, Nanjing; the Wuhan Institute of Botany; and the Kunming Institute of Botany to explore western Hubei Province. The expedition resulted in hundreds of collections, including the rare Zen magnolia (Magnolia zenii) and the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), and a new floral inventory of the area.


He Lin, Lawrence Lee, and Peter Bristol examine herbarium specimens at the Nanjing Botanical Garden in 1991, during the formation of NACPEC. Photo taken by Paul Meyer, published in Arnoldia, 2010.

In 1982, several American botanists, including the Harvard University Herbarium’s David Boufford, guided a group of Chinese botanists through the Appalachians, from Georgia to Canada, in what was likely the first ever North American plant collection expedition with official participation from the People’s Republic of China. A few years later in 1991, a consortium of North American and Chinese botanical institutes founded NACPEC, through which the partner institutions have been able to strengthen relationships, share both living and preserved plant material, participate in technology transfers, and, most importantly, contribute to the conservation of the world’s plants.

Now, almost 40 years after the 1982 Appalachian expedition, Dr. Kang Wang of the Beijing Botanic Garden, Dr. Tao Deng of the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences; and Professor Xinfen Gao of the Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences will join representatives of the Arnold Arboretum, the Dawes Arboretum, and the U.S. National Arboretum on a return expedition to the Appalachian mountains in September of 2019. As Appalachia is one of the most beautiful and botanically rich places in the world, we hope to collect a broad range of primarily woody plant seeds and herbarium vouchers to share with the NACPEC member institutions spread across the world.


An herbarium voucher of Viburnum bracteatum collected by C. S. Sargent in 1899 from northern Georgia. We hope to collect seeds from a different population of this rare species in central Tennessee.

Over the next several weeks, Andrew Gapinski (Head of Horticulture), Sean Halloran (Plant Propagator), and I (Jared Rubinstein, Living Collections Fellow) will post updates from our trip as we travel and collect in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. Our departure day is fast approaching, and we’re looking forward to hitting the road and seeing what plants we can find.

We are proud to represent the Arnold Arboretum’s commitment to recognizing the vitality of equal partnerships in international plant collection. We hope this expedition will help fulfill NACPEC’s vision of increasing our ability to study and conserve plants and enriching the vital relationships between its partner institutions.

This blogpost is the first part of a series. See part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6 on ARBlog.

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