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1927 Map of the Arboretum

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

A roadside shrine near Wudang Shan, Hubei Province, China. Photograph by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.
A small grey stone shire sit on top of a fieldstone base beside a path in Hubei, China.

Plants collected on this Expedition

Plant ID Accession Date Received 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 America-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) traveled from the United States to China. They joined Chinese colleagues on a five-week expedition to collect plants on Wudang Shan, Hubei Province, a location chosen because of its incredibly rich flora and temperate climate.

What is NACPEC?
NACPEC was founded in 1991 to facilitate the exchange of plant germplasm and knowledge between North America and China.

The Team

The expedition was organized by Professor He Shan An, 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 (郝日明), and assistants Lu Yi and Zang Qifa participated from the Nanjing Botanical Garden. The trip logistics were organized by director Deng Zhidong of the Dangjiangkou City (丹江口) Science and Technology Committee.

Nine men posed at a mountain overlook, several wear cameras around their necks.
The Wudang Shan NACPEC expedition team poses at the Pillar-of-Heaven Peak overlook. From left to right: Mr. Zeng, Lu Yi, Zen Jiafu, Kevin Conrad, Peter Del Tredici, Mao Cailaing, Paul Meyer, Hao Riming, Zang Qifa. Missing are Bill Thomas and Deng Zhidong. NACPEC Archives.
Stone buildings with tile roofs at the foot of a vegetation covered cliff with a building at the top of the cliff and sky beyond.
Buildings cling to a cliff on Wudang Shan. NACPEC Archives.

Wudang Shan (武当山)

Wudang Shan is famous for its important role in the history of the Ming Dynasty, Taoism, and martial arts. Hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly visit the highest point on the mountain, Tianzhu Feng (天柱峰, Heaven-Supporting Pillar). Paths guide 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, the team found undisturbed forests.

September 6-11

The American team members flew to Hong Kong and then on to 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 following day they departed for Wuhan by air. From Wuhan, they traveled to Danjiangkou City, Hubei by van. On the way, 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 abruptly awakened at six in the morning by a loudspeaker just outside of their hotel. After breakfast, they departed for the trailhead for what would be a 10 mile (16 kilometer) hike in the mountains. 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 the Catalpa species. On their return to the village, they dined and spent the evening cleaning seeds.

A man in a light colored t-shirt and pants with a moustache leans against a lateral tree branch. His left hand grasps another branch near his shoulder.
Kevin Conrad leans against a coppiced oak tree. NACPEC Archives.

The next day they made their way to a collecting location north of Guan Shan. They drove up a 2378 foot (725 meter) peak and then hiked down into a valley past heavily coppiced forests. The farther they descended, the more mature trees they encountered. There they collected Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis), Fortunearia sinensis, Pistacia chinensis, and Chinese gooseberry (Actinidia chinensis). In the wild, the fruits of A. chinensis, known commercially as Kiwi fruit, 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 they cleaned and dried specimens. In spite of the continuing rain, on the 16th they visited palace ruins and temples on Wudang Shan and then returned to Wudang Shan City in the evening.

Two men, one with a blue shirt with his back to the camera and the other leaning over in a dark sweater pack seeds into paper envelopes while a man in a uniform and peaked hat squats beside them watching.
NACPEC team members pack seeds in the field while an official in uniform watches. Paul Meyer, 1994 (NACPEC Archives).

September 17

A color photograph in the deep woods of a stand of paperbark maple (Acer griseum) trunks. The six main stems have peeling coppery-brown bark.
A stand of paperbark maple stems (Acer griseum) on a slope of Wudang Shan. NACPEC Archives.

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

September 18-19

The team continued their explorations of the 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 of which stood about 49 feet (15 meters) tall. Adjacent Euptelea pleiosperma also yielded seed. Snakebark maples (Acer davidii) made an appearance on a rocky ledge with Henry maples (Acer henryi), Lindera glauca, and others. Other discoveries that day were rough-leafed hydrangea (Hydrangea villosa) and the endangered Emmenopterys henryi. The latter stood 65 feet (20 meters) tall. Lillies were found in abundance. Four foot high toad lillies (Trycityrtis macripoda) were numerous. 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, the team was not permitted to collect. In the afternoon, they left the tourist routes onto a narrow and treacherous path down the north slope, where they collected Meliosma flexuosa and Eleuthercoccus henryii (formerly Acanthopanax henryi).

In a moist depression in the hillside, they collected beech viburnum (Viburnum erosum), and later bumalda bladdernut (Staphylea bumalda), which they found growing there. 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.

A view from an elevated location across a valley to a mist-shrouded mountain peak in the background.
A view from one of the ridges of the Wudang Shan range across a valley to a mist-shrouded mountain peak in the background. NACPEC Archives.

September 20 – Hubei Horticulture Heaven

This collecting location has come to be known 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.

A light colored stone building is built onto a cliff face. The sky with clouds is seen beyond in this black and white photograph.
A stone building clings to a cliff face in the Wudang Shan range. NACPEC Archives.

The foggy, drizzly, and humid day of collecting began about eight in the morning. 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. Zeng, 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, Hao Riming found a 60 foot (20 meter) 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.

On a rocky ridge, they collected Chinese witch-hazel (Hamamelis mollis), and from a nearby 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.

Copper colored leaves with three lobes on a branch.
Leaves in fall color on Wudang Shan photographed by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.

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.

Four men stand beside a tree. One of them reaches up with a pole pruner and is removing part of a branch.
NACPEC team members removing a tree branch with pole pruners for leaf specimens. Photograph by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.

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 township officials who told them that they were the first westerners to visit. The afternoon was spent seeing the sites, and in the evening the party secretary hosted them at a banquet. There were many toasts.

The team rose early and were in the van before eight 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 25-26

In the morning, the team and city director Mrs. Chen traveled north of Yan Chi He to their collecting location for the day. Near a stream, they soon found specimens of fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense), as well as beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), a plant they had been expecting to find during their collections over the past several days. Here it grew in abundance. There were Keteleeria davidiana here also, but without any cones. Later in the day, after getting directions from a local farmer, they found cones with viable seed. They also collected seed from 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).

A low stone footbridge with three arches.
An old stone bridge in the Wudang Shan area. Photograph by Peter Del Tredici. NACPEC Archives.

September 27-30

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 planned the logistics of the next part of the expedition with their Chinese hosts.

Two men stand in a stream in a vegetation filled gorge. The man on the left stands in the water and leans on a stick, the other stands on a rock, his left hand reaches out to touch the wall of the gorge.
Hao Rinming (left) and Peter Del Tredici in a gorge at Wudang Shan. Photograph by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.

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

On the 29th, the team set out with a reduced collecting party 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 they proceeded further into the valley the flora became more varied and mature, and the walking more difficult.

That day 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 amount with viable seed. The broad-leafed evergreen (Lindera megaphylla), was collected for specimens.

October 1

This day was the forty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and visitors crowded the trails. The group was back to revisit some promising places they had explored previously. To avoid the congestion, they went an alternate route through a ravine that had been cultivated from 1962-1967. It had been abandoned because of the steep slopes and great distance from the villages. The forest had regenerated quite quickly but species diversity had been negatively impacted.

Their local guide, Mr. Zeng, 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 in flora, the team made a point to go off the trail into smaller ravines. At one point, they found Schneider zelkova (Zelkova schneideriana) seedlings. There were no mature plants for seed collections, but nine seedlings were gathered.

A smooth redbud (Cercis glabra), yielded viable seed, and Chinese zelkova (Zelkova sinica) seedlings were also collected. Plum yews (Cephalotaxus) grew scattered around the forest understory. After their hike, the team headed back to the hotel and cleaned up quickly to celebrate the national holiday. They bought some firecrackers and set them off at the guest house after dinner.

A man in a blue shirt and green pants holding a walking stick in his right hand walks with sapling trees in bundles suspended from a pole. To his left are people walking and a man standing at a stone table with items set out for sale. In the background is a rock face with a cave opening.
A man carries saplings on a stone path at Wudang Shan. NACPEC Archives.

October 2-3

A view down a steep stone staircase in a wooded area.
One of the many stone staircases in the Wudang Shan area. Photograph by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.

The night before, Peter Del Tredici and Hao Riming went to a dance in the village, where Peter was introduced to the English teacher at the local middle school. She asked Peter to teach an English lesson for her class the following day. The next evening, Peter taught his lesson to about sixty students.

And with that, it was time for the group to start making their way home. They boarded their van headed for Danjiangkou City. Along the road, rice had been harvested from the adjacent fields and the farmers had taken over the edge of the pavement to dry their grains. Once they arrived in Danjaingjou the team explored the open market, looking at the cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and meats for sale. That night the mayor hosted a dinner for the team with 15 courses. The next day they departed for Wuhan in the morning. The drive was ten hours; although not a comfortable drive, the views kept them busy and entertained. They arrived at the city limits of Wuhan just as it was getting dark.

The following day, they departed for Nanjing in an old twin-propeller plane. On their arrival, they met with Professor He Shan-An to report on the trip’s success. Then they discussed the future plans for ex-situ conservation. Professor He noted that he wanted to focus on endangered species that have multipurpose uses, such as materia medica 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, they went to the Nanjing Botanic Garden to complete their final processing of seed and herbarium specimens. Bill Thomas and Kevin Conrad worked on seed cleaning and packing, while Peter Del Tredici and Paul Meyer divided and packed herbarium specimens.

The following day, they met again with 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 prudent to take a year off from collecting in 1995 to digest their extensive collections.

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

A man, viewed from the waist up, wearing a white buttoned down shirt and grey sports jacket, stands in front of miniature potted trees on a shelf.
Mao Cailaing standing in front of a miniature potted tree. NACPEC Archives.
View of an agricultural area with a tan building with a brown roof in the foreground and terraced field on a mountainside beyond.
A farmhouse and terrace fields in the Wudang Shan area, Photograph by Paul Meyer. NACPEC Archives.

The following morning included more sightseeing. The following morning was spent packing, catching up on notes, and preparing for their departure the next day.

Back in Boston

One hundred and eighty-five germplasm collections were made at various collected spots in the vicinity of Wudang Shan, including beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) and paperbark maple (Acer griseum), which had not been successfully collected since 1901 and 1907, respectively, by Ernest Henry Wilson. When possible, each collection included germplasm and at least five herbarium specimens for each of the organizations represented on the expedition. Whenever feasible, seed was collected in a large enough quantity to distribute to all the participating institutions, other NACPEC members, and members of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA, now the American Public Gardens Association, APGA).

Collections from this trip contribute to preserving the biodiversity in the Wudang Shan range and Hubei generally. Unfortunately, agriculture has negatively impacted natural vegetation in the area, leaving the natural flora of the province in peril. Untouched areas in the mountain range are rare and are located in the most inaccessible mountain valleys and steepest mountainsides.

Dig Deeper

You can view two fine specimens from this expedition in our living collections. Stewartia sinensis (accession 691-94*A) is in the Explorers Garden and Acer griseum (accession 767-94*A) is along the perimeter of the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden.

Read Paul Meyer’s account of the trip in Arnoldia.

This expedition story was written in collaboration with archival intern Jade Barrata from Bennington College.