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1927 Map of the Arboretum

1994: North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC), Expedition to Hubei

Plants collected on this Expedition

Plant ID Accession Date Recieved As Origin Source

Expedition Stats


Event Type
Collection Type
Germplasm, Herbarium Specimens
Arnold Arboretum Participants
Peter Del Tredici
Other Participants
Kevin Conrad1, Paul Meyer2, Bill Thomas3, Mao Cailiang4, and Hao Riming4
Other Institution(s)
1United States National Arboretum, 2The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, 3Longwood Gardens, 4Nanjing Botanical Gardens

On September 6, 1994, a group of botanists, all members of North American China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) traveled from America to China. They joined Chinese colleagues on a five-week expedition to collect plants on Wudang Shan, Hubei. This location was chosen because of its incredibly rich flora and temperate climate.

The Team

This expedition was organized by Professor He Shan An, the Director of Nanjing Botanic Garden. The American participants included Peter Del Tredici of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, expedition leader Paul Meyer of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Kevin Conrad of the U.S. National Arboretum, and R. William Thomas of Longwood Gardens. Botanists Mao Cailiang and Hao Riming, and assistants Lii Yi and Zang Qifa participated from the Nanjing Botanical Garden. The trip logistics were organized by Deng Zhidong, the director of the Science and Technology Committee of Dang Jiang Kou City. He was assisted by Zen Jiafu. NACPEC was founded in 1991 to facilitate the exchange of plant germplasm and knowledge between North America and China.

Wudang Shan

Wudang Shan is famous for its important role in the history of the Ming Dynasty, Taoism, and martial arts. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Pillar-of-Heaven Peak located on Wudang Shan. Paths guide the visitors and limit their impact on the lush surrounding forest. Crops and woodlots dominate the lower elevations. Above 2958 feet (900 meters), in steep hard-to-reach areas, undisturbed forests were located.

September 6 – 11

The Americans flew into Hong Kong and then onto Nanjing. They were met at the airport by Mao Cailiang and Hao Riming from the Nanjing Botanic Garden. The next day they visited the Nanjing Botanical Gardens to learn about their facilities and living collections.

The next day they departed for Wuhan by air. From Wuhan, the following day they traveled to Danjiangkou City in a minivan. The modern road passed through intensely farmed lands growing a variety of food crops. They stayed the night in Danjiangkou, then left for Guan Shan the next day. When they arrived in Guan Shan, local officials welcomed them warmly and told them that they were the first westerners to ever visit the village.

September 12-13

The team was awakened at 6:00 am by a loudspeaker just outside of their hotel. After breakfast, they departed to the trailhead. Notable taxa Taxon: In biology, a taxon (plural taxa) is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit. they collected on this outing were castor aralia (Kalopanax septemlobus), Taiwan crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia subcostata), and Manchurian catalpa (Catalpa bungei), considered by Peter Del Tredici to be the most beautiful of all Catalpa species. After a 10 mile (16 kilometer) hike in the mountains, they returned to the village for dinner and seed cleaning.

The next day they made their way to a collecting location north of Guan Shan. They drove to a 2378 feet (725 meters) peak and then hiked down into a valley passing heavily coppiced forest. The farther they descended, the more mature trees they found. There they collected Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis), Fortunearia sinensis, Pistacia chinensis, and Chinese gooseberry (Actinidia chinensis). In wild A. chinensis, also known as Kiwi fruit, the fruits are about half the size of cultivated varieties.

September 14-16

Wednesday the 14th was spent in transit back to Wudang Shan City. That afternoon the team visited the Ming Palace and in the evening they were treated to a banquet. The next day, heavy rain precluded any field collecting, so the team clean and dried specimens. They did some shopping in the afternoon and karoke singing after dinner. In spite of the continuing rain, on the 16th they visited some palace ruins and temples on Wudang Shan and then returned to Wudang Shan City in the evening.

September 17

After two days of rain, the sky was finally blue, and it was time to go collecting again. The team packed their bags and relocated to a guest house on a peak on Wudang Shan. There they found tabletop pine (Pinus tabulaeformis) with many cones, but when one of the cones was cut open, the seeds were found to be sterile. Growing in the shade of this species of pine, were Maries azaleas (Rhododendron mariesii). As they explored further, they found more interesting shrubs. The collections from this area included Deutzia grandiflora, Girald’s forsythia (Forsythia giraldiana), and Stephanandra chinensis.

September 18-19

The team further explored the Wudang Shan ridge, setting out early in the morning each day. On the 18th, they collected seed from the smooth redbud (Cercis glabra), some plants reaching about 49 feet (15 meters). Adjacent Euptelea pleiosperma also yielded seed, which look like that of elms. Snakebark maple (Acer davidii) made an appearance on a rocky ledge with Henry maple (Acer henryi), Lindera glauca, and others. Some other discoveries that day were rough-leafed hydrangea (Hydrangea villosa) and the endangered Emmenopterys henryi. The latter stood 65 feet (20 meters) tall. Lilies were found in abundance. Toad lilies (Trycityrtis macripoda) were numerous, and grew about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall. Dry stems of giant lilies (Cardiocrinum sp.) were observed as well.

On the 19th, they set off on the tourist trail up the Wudang Shan range. Because it was a tourist trail, they were not permitted to collect. However, soon after leaving the hotel area, they spotted wheel wingnut (Cyclocarya paliurus). In the afternoon, they left the tourist path onto a narrow and treacherous path down the north slope, where they collected Meliosma flexuosa and Eleuthercoccus henryii (formerly Acanthopanax henryi).

They collected beech viburnum (Viburnum erosum), and later bumalda bladdernut (Staphylea bumalda), which they found growing on a moist depression in the hillside. Nearby was a a paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with three stems. Just above, on a ridge, they spotted a Henry chinquepin (Castanea henryi). Although similar to Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), their fruits contained only one nut each.

September 20 – Hubei Horticulture Heaven

This collecting location has come to be know as “Hubei Horticulture Heaven” in NACPEC history, for all the fine collections made by the team. The area had a large variety of lush plants and different species, yielding numerous seeds and specimens.

The foggy, drizzly, and humid day of collecting began about 8:00 am. Although the group spotted many large and interesting trees like a huge Stewartia, Japanese raisintree (Hovenia dulcis), and paperbark maple (Acer griseum) early in the hike, they could not reach their seeds because of the great height. Drought earlier in the season also rendered the seed infertile.

“Hubei Horticulture Heaven” soon rewarded them with a species of beech (Fagus longipetiolata), holly (Ilex pernyi), Rodgersia aesculifolia, and fetterbush (Lyonia ovalifolia). They spotted a tree with smooth orange bark that they realized was a Chinese stewartia (Stewartia sinensis). Heavy fog and rain made it hard to see the canopy above. Their guide Mr. Zen, found a small cave in which the group sheltered while eating lunch. A blue-fruited harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) grew just outside of the cave entrance.

After lunch, the group continued their trek. On an abandoned agricultural terrace, they collected Zanthoxylum molle. Next, Mr. Hao found a 60 foot (20 meters) tall specimen of snakebark maple (Acer mono), which unfortunately bore no seed. Nearby they located a Henry maple (Acer henryi) that had seeds. This was the first fruitful tree of this species that they had seen on the mountain.

Then they collected Chinese witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis) from on a rocky ridge, and nearby from a shrub of Sinowilsonia henryi growing in the dense understory. Specimens were collected, but seed was not available. Phoebe bournei was further down the trail, a broadleaf evergreen tree.

On their descent, they passed a Taoist monastery under restoration and photographed the two large ginkgoes there in the mist. Then they hiked to their van for the hour-long ride to their accommodations.

September 21-24

In the morning, some of the team cleaned the collections and took stock of what they had collected so far. Other members returned to the lower valley to see if they could find other plants. Their perseverance was rewarded, not only had they found the plants they sought but they also found some viable paperbark maple (Acer griseum) seed. That afternoon they returned to Wudang Shan City where they had a bit rest and shopping.

The team spent Thursday the 22nd in Wudang Shan City. A portion of the morning was spent making international telephone calls home and packing their belongings for transport to their next location. They visited the Ancient Palace again and that evening they dined with some local officials.

The next morning they boarded their van for the trip to Yan Chi He, Hubei. On their arrival, they were greeted by officials from the township who told them that they were the first westerners to visit. They spent the afternoon seeing the sites and they evening the party secretary hosted them at a banquet at which the alcohol flowed freely.

The team rose early and were in the van before 8 am to drive to their collection location for the day. There they found an abundance of fruitful plants including several species of Rhododendron (R. simsii and R. micranthum).

September 25 and 26

In the morning, team members accompanied by city director Mrs. Chen traveled north of Yan Chi He to their collecting location for the day. They soon found specimens of fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) near a stream. They had been expecting to find beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) during their collections over the past several days, but none had been observed. In this area, they were found in abundance. They observed Keteleeria davidiana here but without any cones. Later in the day, after getting directions from a local farmer, they found cones with viable seed. They also collected seeds of the thorny Chinese honey locust (Gleditsia sinensis) and Adina rubella.

The next day they made some important finds including a cultivar of camellia (Camellia oleifera), which has oil used for cooking. They also found a specimen of Chinese sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana), which had set seeds, although they had already been shed. Pistacia chinensis was another important collection and this particular specimen had viable seed. Other specimens found in this area were Henry hornbeam (Carpinus henryana), Lindera floribunda, and Henry chinquepin (Castanea henryi).

September 27-29

In the morning , the team packed the van and traveled to Lange He, Hubei. They spent the afternoon working on their collections and in the evening discussed logistics with their Chinese hosts.

The next day they headed for Bai Yang Ping to collect. The area had been coppiced but they found a clematis (Clematis armandii) rambling across the coppiced trees.

On the 29th, the team set out with a reduced collecting party for Bai Yan Le and Ping, as some members were under the weather. The scenery at the start of their hike was much like that they had seen previously but as the proceeded further into the valley the flora became more varied and mature, and the walking more difficult.

Today they collected Buddleja asiatica, the treatened Pterostyrax psilophylla (their most exciting find that day), and the Hubei wingnut (Pterocarya hupehensis) which grew along the edge of a stream. Earlier in the trip they tried to collect Pterocarya, but all the seed had been sterile. Here they discovered a small portion of the seed was viable. The broad-leafed evergreen Lindera megaphylla, yielded herbarium specimens .

September 30 and October 1

This day was the forty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Because of the holiday, the main tourist trails up Wudang Shan were very busy. The group was back in the Wudang Shan range to revisit some promising places they had explored previously. They went an alternative route to avoid the crowd. The ravine they hiked had been cultivated from 1962-67. However, it was abandoned because of the distance from the villages and the steep slopes. The forest regenerated quite quickly; however, species diversity had been affected.

Their local guide, Mr. Tsen, a practitioner of traditional medicine, knew all the back paths of the mountains and easily recognized plants of the Chinese materia medica. Because the valley was so rich, they made a point to stop and go off the trail into smaller ravines. At one point, they found small plants of schneider zelkova (Zelkova Schneideriana). There were very small seedlings growing in one area on a rocky ravine. There were no mature plants, so no seeds were collected, but nine seedlings were.

They also collected seeds from a smooth redbud (Cercis glabra), which they had seen this species in the same area at the beginning of their trip. Unfortunately, that previous seed proved to not be viable. Chinese zelkova (Zelkova sinica) seedlings were also collected. Plum yew (Cephalotaxus) grew scattered around the forest understory. They headed back to the hotel and cleaned up quickly to celebrate the National Holiday. After dinner, they brought firecrackers and set them off back at the guest house.

October 3rd:

The night before, Peter Del Tredici and Mr. Hao went to a dance at the village dance hall, and Peter was introduced to the English teacher at the local middle school. She asked Peter to teach an English lesson at her middle school the following day. So, the next day at 7:00 pm, Peter went to the middle school, and at 7:20, he began his twenty-minute lesson. Peter’s English class was a great experience. He had over sixty students in each class, and like any classroom, some were very involved, and others were more reserved.

And with that, it was time for the group to start making their way home. They loaded up in a van headed for Danjiangkou City, along the road the rice had been cut from the fields. The farmers had taken over the edge of the pavement to dry their grains. Once they arrived in Danjaingjou they explored the open market, looking at the abundance of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and meats for sale. That night the mayor hosted a dinner with 15 courses. The next day they departed for Wuhan at 8:45, which was later than desired. The drive was 10 hours; although not a comfortable drive, the views kept them busy and distracted. They arrived at the city limits of Wuhan just as it was getting dark.

The following day, they had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed to the airport; they flew on an old twin-propeller plane to Nanjing. They checked into their hotel and then met with Professor He, Shan-An, and reported the trip’s success. They then discussed the future plans for ex-situ conservation. Professor He Shan-An noted that he wanted to focus on endangered species that have multipurpose uses. For example, he was interested in plants that could be used for medicinal purposes or use in environmental protection. Peter Del Tredici pointed out that a good conservation program should have three parts: good provenance selection, propagation studies, and plant distribution.

The next day, following breakfast, they went to the Nanjing Botanic Garden to complete their final processing of seed and herbarium specimens. Rick Lewandowski, Bill Thomas, Kevin Conrad worked on seed cleaning and packing, and Peter and Paul divided and packed herbarium specimens.

The following day, they met with Professor He, Shan-An at the botanic garden to discuss exchange of personnel, future collecting trips, and ex-situ conservation. The American team agreed that it was smart to take a year off from collecting in 1995 to digest the materials they had just collected.

The next morning, they were back at the Nanjing Botanic Garden to collect seeds, cuttings, and divisions of plants cultivated in the garden. They had lunch at the garden then visited a classic Chinese garden in Nanjing as well as the Confucian Temple.

The following morning, they saw some more sights and were given a list of seeds and seedlings which were available for future purchase. Then they did some shopping and made some personal purchases. The next morning was spent packing, catching up on notes, and preparing for their departure. And just like that, they were on their way home from their collection trip.

Back in Boston

[this needs to be rewritten it is verbatim from the trip report] One hundred and eighty-five germplasm collections were made at various collected spots in the vicinity of Wudang Shan. When possible, each collection included germplasm and at least five herbarium specimens that were divided between the five organizations represented on the expedition. Whenever possible, seed was collected in large quantity to distribute to all participating institutions, other NACPEC members, and members of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA).

Collections from this trip can contribute in many ways to preserve the biodiversity in the Wudang Shan range and Hubei Providence generally. Unfortunately, the impact of agriculture has affected the natural vegetation, leaving the natural flora of the Hubei providence on the edge of being eradicated. The areas most untouched are rare to find and are located in the most remote mountain valleys and steepest mountainsides.

Arnoldia, 55:1

Despite the challenges in finding viable seed (likely because of the previous summer’s drought), the trip yielded 185 collections of seeds and live plants, including beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) and paperbark maple (Acer griseum), which had not been successfully collected since 1901 and 1907, respectively, by E. H. Wilson.

Two expectantly long-lived specimens to view from this trip within the living collections at the Arnold Arboretum are Stewartia sinensis (691-94*A) in Explorers Garden and Acer griseum (767-94*A) on the perimeter of the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.