Search Expedition Collections

South Central China and Tibet: Hotspot of Diversity

Search Expedition Collections


Harvard’s Database enables searches across several catalogs.

Tibetan woman with hair ornamentsButsang Ngolok chief's wife

Historic and contemporary photographs from the expeditions verify specimens encountered on botanical explorations and also document South Central China and Tibet’s landscape, its people, and the relationships between people and plants. Images taken for the Arboretum during the early expedition capture the natural and landscape features of the region while images from the Harvard-Yenching Library provide a record of Rock’s explorations of religious and ethnic traditions. The contemporary images document the flora and present a narrative about daily life. Together they disclose environmental and cultural change and reveal rich layers of meaning beyond the botanical record. These images can be found through the Harvard Library Databases or (HOLLIS Images).

Finding aid

Monastic buildings at Labrang

The guide [PDF] to Joseph F. C. Rock’s papers provides a comprehensive inventory to all available archival material, including links to his digitized correspondence from the 1924-1927 expedition, and to articles in the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum describing his collections of bird and plant specimens.

Books, journals, and other printed material

Prayer stones

Additional works by or about David Boufford, Susan Kelley, Richard Ree, and Joseph Rock as well as books and journals about the flora and fauna of China and Tibet can be found through library catalog (HOLLIS).

Herbarium specimens

Plant driers and presses

Joseph Rock’s herbarium specimens are held by the Harvard University Herbaria and can be searched via the Harvard University Herbaria Collection Index of Botanical Specimens (HUH-CMS). For items Rock collected during his expeditions type Rock into the “Collector” field. Specimens from which original descriptions are made are called “type” specimens and allow botanists to observe the actual plant that the original author of a new species used. View images of Rock’s 197 type specimens. The article “Enumeration of the Ligneous Plants Collected by J. F. Rock on The Arnold Arboretum Expedition to Northwestern China and Northeastern Tibet” as well as other articles and notes can be searched in the Journal of the Arnold Arboretum.

Ornithological specimens

giant bearded vulture

Joseph Rock’s bird specimens are held by the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), where the Department of Ornithology houses the fifth largest collection of bird specimens in the world—about 350,000 objects—and has a strong focus on Asian and tropical birds. Use “Rock” as the keyword to search the Department of Ornithology database which includes 1,541 items that he collected during the 1924-1927 expedition. You may also search Rock’s letters, manuscripts, and journal articles, and read “Birds Collected by Dr. Joseph Rock in Western Kansu and Eastern Tibet” by Outram Bangs and James L. Peters, published in 1928 in The Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Vol. 58, No. 7.

Biodiversity of the Hengduan Mountains Region

Two young men in Madoi

The three contemporary expeditions inventoried two biologically diverse but very poorly documented areas of western Sichuan and eastern Xizang (Tibet), China – now generally referred to as the Hengduan Mountains Hotspot. Only within the past few years has it become possible for botanists to undertake collaborative field studies in large parts of the area, or for Westerners to conduct fieldwork at all in Xizang (Tibet). These explorations were particularly significant because they marked the first time that many Chinese scientists and students were able to visit the area to learn about the flora and vegetation of the region firsthand. Browse or search images, data, and maps on the expeditions’ website.

Plants from Rock’s Expeditions Growing at the Arnold Arboretum

Buddleia alternifolia

Many of the plants Joseph Rock collected have become well known to gardeners. He collected birches, peonies, lilacs, lindens, maples, roses, and rhododendrons. He also brought back seeds of fir, spruce, and juniper as well as many other trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Although Rock may not have been the first to introduce a plant into cultivation, the plants he collected often originated in much colder regions and proved to be hardier. View a selection of plants at the Arnold Arboretum grown from seeds from the 1924-1927 expedition.

Search Tips

These collections are contained in several different databases, each with its own syntax and structure. We have prepared a list of search tips for each database to help you find what you are looking for.