Remembering Wilson the explorer in China

by Lisa Pearson, Head of Library and Archives
June 12, 2017

Wilson statue in Songpan Pearson

Remembering Wilson the explorer in China

It has been a whirlwind of activity on my trip to Sichuan for the Songpan International Forum. The Forum focused on Arnold Arboretum plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson and his impact on botany, ecology, and tourism in the region. I was asked to represent the Arboretum and Harvard University in these discussions.

I flew into Chengdu and met Professor Yin Kaipu and colleagues from the Chengdu Institute of Biology for the trip to Songpan. We followed the Min River, the same route used by Wilson at the beginning of the twentieth century. I gave a paper at the Forum on June 9 entitled “The Arnold Arboretum and China: Collection and Collaboration,” highlighting Wilson’s collecting and photography and the Arboretum’s past, current, and future partnerships with institutions in China.

Wilson statue China Lisa Pearson

A statue of Ernest Henry Wilson in Songpan.

During a walk on the old city walls I saw an installation of one of Wilson’s photographs of the city from 1910 along with a statute of him and his camera. That evening we were treated to a dance performance and I was coaxed onstage with other Forum guests to join the performers for one of the numbers.

On Saturday we went to Huanglong Nature Reserve and were honored guests for the opening ceremonies for the second Alpine Orchid Festival. After lunch we rode a cable car up the mountain to walk around the famous calcite pools. Even though it was rainy, the pools glowed turquoise, yellow, and blue. It was a long walk, but an experience of a lifetime.

Pearson and the calcite pools at Huanglong Nature Reserve

Head of Library and Archives Lisa Pearson at the calcite pools at Huanglong Nature Preserve, China.

As we came back down, Kang Wang from Beijing Botanic Garden called us off the path to see Meconopsis integrefolia or lampshade poppy “at home,” as Wilson would say, in its natural environment.

Meconopsis integrefolia or lampshade poppy China

Meconopsis integrefolia or lampshade poppy

On Sunday, we visited several sites including the headwaters of the Min River, production greenhouses growing frittilaria for medicinal use, and a Tibetan-themed attraction where we had lunch. We parted with our Beijing colleagues heading to the airport, and those of us who were Chengdu bound boarded our bus and arrived in the evening.

Tomorrow I will visit a temple in Chengdu that Wilson photographed and then begin my long series of flights back to Boston.

I cannot begin to express my delight and gratitude at being invited to participate in this forum—my hosts and everyone involved were incredibly gracious and generous. It was wonderful to see colleagues from a number of Chinese institutions and share with them. I look forward to coming to Sichuan again to experience the region’s amazing natural beauty.

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