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Arnold Arboretum

South Central China and Tibet: Hotspot of Diversity

For over a century, Arboretum staff have explored and documented the natural and cultural resources of Asia.

In 1924, a three-year expedition departed for one of the most unusual areas on earth;the first of many Arboretum expeditions to a region that is floristically one of the richest in the world. Seventy years later, other Arboretum expeditions returned to collect and inventory the flora. Today the Hengduan Mountain region, comprising western Sichuan and eastern Tibet (Xizang), is considered by international conservation organizations to be a hotspot of biodiversity, a term used to designate areas with a high number of endemic species (those found only in a single region) that are under severe threat of destruction due to human activities.

Members of these expeditions returned to the Arboretum with seeds and live plants, dried herbarium specimens, stuffed birds, and images of plants, people and landscapes.

Search expedition collections to learn more about the natural history and ethnographic collections which are now held at Harvard’s herbaria, museums, libraries, and archives.

This material depicts the area’s natural and ecological resources, and also documents the social and cultural history of China and Tibet.

The Expeditions: Historical and Modern

Tao-chow in the walled city 1924-1927 Expedition
Charles S. Sargent, first director of the Arnold Arboretum, initiated Joseph Rock’s expedition to China in 1924. The three-year expedition resulted in more than 20,000 herbarium specimens, over 1,000 bird specimens, several hundred packets of seeds, 653 photographs, and a correspondence between Rock and Sargent that exceeded 300 letters and telegrams.
Abies forests Summer 1997, 1998: Western Sichuan and Summer 2000: Southeastern Tibet
In 1997, under the auspices of the Biotic Surveys and Inventory Program of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Arnold Arboretum began a three-year program that resulted in the addition of 32,623 specimens, of which 7,970 were unique, of vascular plants, bryophytes, and fungi to the collections of the Harvard University Herbaria and of other herbaria worldwide.
Mountain monastery Other Arboretum-Supported Exploration in this Area
Arboretum botanists exploring this region have included Ernest H. Wilson (1907-1911) and Shiu Ying Hu (1939-1940). Hu’s visit was especially significant because she was the first woman to enter what was at the time a bandit-infested part of China.
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