1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition
The 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition (SABE) was the first trip by American botanists to China since the Chinese Revolution, signaling renewed cooperation among scientists in both countries. The Arnold Arboretum – one of five American institutions on the expedition – was represented by taxonomist Stephen A. Spongberg. The other American institutions represented were the University of California-Berkeley, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the United States National Arboretum, and the New York Botanical Garden. The Americans joined their Chinese colleagues from the Institute of Botany, Beijing; the Jiangsu Institute of Botany, Nanjing; the Wuhan Institute of Botany; and the Kunming Institute of Botany. The team explored western Hubei Province, notably the Shennongjia Forest District and Lichuan County, from August 15th to November 15th of 1980. Both regions are valued for their rich diversity of temperate flora; Lichuan, in particular, is recognized for holding the remaining living wild-populations of dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Additionally, western Hubei is historically significant to the Arboretum as it was visited by plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson during his repeated expeditions to China at the turn of the 20th century.
The six-week expedition in August and September of 1980 yielded 621 germplasm collections and 2,085 herbarium collections, with complete voucher sets deposited in each of the participants’ herbaria. Additionally Spongberg, Ted Dudley (United States National Arboretum), and Bruce Bartholomew (University of California, Berkeley) made 138 supplemental collections after the formal conclusion of SABE, primarily from plants grown in botanical gardens. All of the germplasm collections were received by the United States National Arboretum (arriving by diplomatic pouch!) and distributed to the remaining American institutions for propagation and evaluation (read more about the present-day survival SABE germplasm in BioScience 53:6) [pdf]. Not only was the flora of Shennongjia inventoried, but new species were described including Sorbus yuana – an ornamental mountain ash with white flowers and large cherry-red fruits. Others brought back on the expedition include the rare Magnolia zenii and the seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), a plant observed by early 20th Century Arboretum plant explorer E.H. Wilson.
Plants from the 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expeditions can be seen throughout the Arboretum landscape. Search “1980 S.A.B.E.” in the ‘Collector’ field (Advanced Search) of Arboretum Explorer for a list of living specimens and their present location.
Bartholomew, B., Boufford, D., and Sporngberg, S. “Metasequoia glyptostroboides—Its status in Central China.” Arnoldia 58:4 1998 [pdf].
Dosmann, M. and Del Tredici P. “Plant Introduction, Distribution, and Survival: A Case Study of the 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition.” BioScience, 53(6):588-597 2003 [pdf].
Koller, Gary L. “Seven-Son Flower from Zhejiang: Introducing Versatile Ornameal Shrub Heptocodium jasminoides Airy Shaw.” Arnoldia 46:4 1986 [pdf].
Del Tredici, Peter and Spongberg, Steven A. “A New Magnolia Blooms in Boston.” Arnoldia 49:2 1989 [pdf].