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Traveling in the footsteps of “Chinese” Wilson

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
October 3, 2015

Traveling in the footsteps of “Chinese” Wilson


Michael Dosmann with a golden snub-nosed monkey.

After four weeks in China in hot pursuit of new plant collections for the Arnold Arboretum as part of the Campaign for the Living Collections, Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections, reports on his travels in Huanglong, located in the northwest part of Sichuan Province, China:

Sibiraea angustata fruits from China

Sibiraea angustata fruits from China.

“Following our (North America China Plant Exploration Consortium) successful canvas of Central and Western China in search of Acer griseum (paperbark maple) populations, I headed to the Aba Prefecture of northern Sichuan. I visited this region last year for part of the filming of CCTV’s documentary, “Chinese” Wilson. The Arboretum’s Ernest Henry Wilson was very fond of this area, and the county/town of Songpan in particular, claiming it to be his favorite place in all of China. My destination was the Huanglong Scenic Area, an impressive nature preserve in the mountains about one hour to the east of Songpan.

Huanglong, or Yellow Dragon, receives its name from the otherworldly yellow, orange, and blue pools of water in the valley due to the deposition of calcite and other minerals. This expansive region is home to numerous rare animals, including the giant panda and the golden snub-nosed monkey. There are some 1,500 species of higher plants here across an altitudinal gradient of 5,500m down to 1,700m. No wonder Wilson loved it here.

Colorful water pools at Huanglong.

Colorful water pools at Huanglong.

In addition to my wonderful hosts at Huanglong, I was joined by Professor Gao Xinfen, of the Chengdu Institute of Biology. Professor Gao is not only an expert in the genus Rosa (roses), but she and her students have conducted a number of plant biodiversity audits for local, provincial, and national preserves in Sichuan. Our foray yielded seed from five separate species of rose, including Rosa omeiensis, an unusual species with four petals instead of the genus’ usual five. We also found another plant in the Rosaceae, Sibiraea angustata, which was a completely new genus for my eyes to behold. Best of all, we returned with ripe–and unopened–fruits! These fruits are now on the way to our propagation facilities at the Dana Greenhouses in the Arnold Arboretum. In perhaps five or six years, we look forward to adding an entirely new genus of plants to the landscape at the Arboretum!”

-Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum

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