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1927 Map of the Arboretum

1984: Second Sino-American Botanical Expedition to Yunnan, China

The façade of a pavilion in the botanical garden at Er Hai Gong Yuan park at the south end of Er Hai Lake, Dali, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.
The façade of a pavilion in the botanical garden at Er Hai Gong Yuan park at the south end of Er Hai Lake, Dali, Yunnan.

Plants collected on this Expedition

Plant ID Accession Date Recieved As Origin Source

Expedition Stats

China

Event Type
Expedition
Collection Type
Herbarium Specimens
Arnold Arboretum Participants
David E. Boufford
Other Participants
Bruce Bartholomew1, Daniel H. Nicholson2, Paul L. Redfearn3
Other Institution(s)
1California Academy of Sciences, 2Smithsonian Institution, 3Missouri Botanical Garden
A view of the river valley and villages along the trail from Malutang to Yangbi, Yunnan.
A view of the river valley and villages along the trail from Malutang to Yangbi, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.

In June of 1984, American and Chinese botanists of the second Sino-American Botanical Expedition (SABE) set off to southwestern China to explore the Cangshan Mountains of Yunnan Province. Although newly implemented environmental regulations precluded the collection of seeds, the team collected thousands of dried specimens Herbarium specimen: An herbarium specimen is a pressed and dried plant sample that is generally mounted on a sheet of paper. Specimens can be stored indefinitely and are used for a wide variety of botanical research. that now reside in Chinese and American herbaria.

The Cangshan Range

The Cangshan Mountain Range in the Dali Autonomous Region of northwestern Yunnan is peaked by Malong with a summit of 13,500 feet (4,122 meters) above sea level. In contrast to the region explored in the 1980 SABE, this area’s flora is more similar to that of northern Thailand and Burma than that of central China or North America.

The region had been explored by French missionary and botanist Père Delavay a century before, but war and political upheaval had prevented western botanists from collecting in the area for nearly 40 years. The modern explorers were excited to return to the field and sample the botanical riches.

Female worshippers at a temple devoted to Guanyin on the east side of Er Hai, Dali, Yunnan.
Rhododendron in flower on Chong Shan near Yangbi, Yunnan.
A woman selling live eels from tubs in the free market in Xiaguan, Yunnan.
The façade of the Kunming Branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
1984 SABE team members Su Yongge (left), He Si (center), and Paul Redfearn (right) preparing bryophyte specimens along the road in Weishan Xian, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team members Su Yong-ge (left), He Si (center), and Paul Redfearn (right) preparing bryophyte specimens along the road in Weishan Xian, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.

1984 SABE Team Members

The American team was led by David E. Boufford, who had participated in the first SABE in 1980, prior to gaining a position as Curatorial Taxonomist for the Arnold Arboretum in 1983. He was accompanied by Bruce M. Bartholomew of the California Academy of Sciences, also a participant in the 1980 SABE, Dan H. Nicolson of the Smithsonian Institution, and Paul L. Redfearn of Southwest Missouri State University.

They were joined by the Chinese team, made up of Professors Li Xi-wen, Yu Sha-wen, and Su Yong-ge from Yunnan’s Kunming Institute of Botany, and Ying Tsun-shen, He Si, and Ma Cheng-gong from the Institute of Botany, Beijing. In Xiaguan, the expedition hired a woman to assist with the preparation of the plant specimens flooding in from the field.

1984 SABE team member Li Xi-wen eating Chinese sausage on his arrival at Yangbi, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team member David Boufford with a branch of a great Chinese rhododendron (Rhododendron sinogrande) on Chong Shan, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team member Ma Chenggong on the trail to Malutang, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team members (left to right) Li Xiwen, Cui Xianji, Dan Nicolson, and Bruce Bartholomew on the Burma Road between Xiaguan and Yangbi, Yunnan with the first botanical collections of the trip.
1984 SABE team member Yu Shawen with bag of specimens and Dan Nicolson (background) returning to Xiaguan, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team members Bruce Bartholomew (center) and Ying Tsun-shen (right) purchasing camellias from the proprietor of a small nursery on a street in Dali, Yunnan.
Local assistant hired by the 1984 SABE expedition to help with preparation of plant specimens with her daughter in Xiaguan, Yunnan.
Farmhouse near Burma Road between Lufeng and Kunmingm Yunnan at about mile 45 (kilometer 71.5).
Farmhouse near the Burma Road between Lufeng and Kunming, Yunnan at about mile 45 (kilometer 71.5). David Boufford, 1984.

On the Road to Cangshan

The American participants met in Hong Kong before flying to Kunming, capitol of Yunnan Province, their jumping off point to their the Cangshan Mountains collecting area. They spent several days organizing and loading onto trucks the nearly a ton and a half (about 3000 pounds or 1360 kilograms) of equipment they brought with them from the United States. From there they had a ten-hour drive along the Burma Road to their destination, the city of Xiaguan, Yunnan, the modern city center of the historic city of Dali.

Although their destination was a region incredibly rich in biodiversity, their route to reach it was surrounded by mountain ranges stripped of all trees and shrubs. This barren landscape was the product of thousands of years of human habitation and agricultural practices, such as over-gathering wood for fuel, clear-cutting the land to make way for grazing animals, and burning to keep cleared lands free from regrowth.

1984 SABE expedition members and others loading supplies and equipment onto a truck at the Kunming Institute of Botany for field work in Yangbi and Dali Xian, Yunnan.
Badly eroded, shaley ridges nearly devoid of vegetation at about the 55-mile point (kilometer marker 90) on the Burma Road near Yangjianzhuan, Yunnan.
Hills with sparse vegetation and Eucalyptus planted along the Burma Road between Chuxiong and Xiaguan, Yunnan.
1984 SABE expedition minibus from Kunming Institute of Botany and a horse-drawn cart at the south gate of Dali, Yunnan.

In the Field

The Cang Mountains viewed from the east over Erhai Lake.
The peaks of Cangshan viewed from the east over Er Hai Lake. David Boufford, 1984.

Upon arriving in Xiaguan, the team established their base at the Erhai Lake Hotel. There they set up facilities to dry the large number of specimens that would be coming in from the field. The next day they visited the historic city of Dali and met with local officials.

The West of Cangshan

Finally everything was prepared and the team left for a five-day trip to the field. Their collecting location was Yangbi County, to the west of Cangshan, an area that at that time was normally closed to westerners. They made a base camp on the grounds of a hydroelectric station. Over the following days they made extensive day hikes to collecting sites at elevations all above 9,800 feet (3000 meters), often in torrential rain, and for eight to ten hours at a time. Significant collections on this leg of the trip included specimens of the genus Keteleeria, and the great Chinese rhododendron (Rhododendron sinogrande).

Curious children come to see the
1984 SABE team members and mules with supplies on the way to Malutang, Yunnan.
1984 SABE field team members processing the first day's collections in Yangbi (Shangjie) as local children look on.
Flowers of the giant Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum in the forest at Malutang, Yunnan.

The East of Cangshan

A young herder wearing a hat and a traditional raincoat made of fan palm Trachycarpus fibers in a meadow at Malutang, Yunnan.
A young herder wearing a hat and a traditional raincoat made of fan palm (Trachycarpus) fibers in a meadow at Malutang, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.

After a return to Xiaguan, the team was off on the much more strenuous part of their expedition on the eastern slopes of the Cangshan range. The botanists, their support staff, and some 20 pack mules were dropped at a location near their general collecting area and then would hike up to their base camps. After several days collecting in an area, they would hike back down and be picked up and shuttled to a new location, repeating the process several times.

In their account of this expedition in Arnoldia, Boufford and Bartholomew had a number of observations of Chinese life including that of the local children who herded animals up to the higher elevations in which the team were collecting. In the morning the children drove the animals up to graze in the woods. At the end of the day, the young herders would gather in their herds,

“At about six o’clock in the afternoon, each young herder would cry out at periodic intervals in his own distinctive, melodic voice for his charges to return. Without fail the cries would produce a rush of animals from every direction, heading toward the source of the sound.”

The authors also told about some unwelcomed guests that would often hitch a ride, terrestrial leeches. These tiny creatures tenaciously hang on, sucking their host’s blood until forcibly removed!

The botanical collections on this leg of the trip were varied, including both herbaceous and woody plant material, some of which was quite rare. Highlights included a deep-purple-flowered lady’s-slipper orchid (Cypripedium tibeticum), a type of rare willow herb (Epilobium blinii) with striking rose-pink petals, and a species of blueberry (Vaccinium delavayi) that is endemic to Cangshan.

Lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium thibeticum) in openings in Rhododendron thickets on Diancang Shan, Yunnan.
Tent and buildings at the 1984 SABE expedition campsite on Chong Shan.
Delavay firs (Abies delavayi) may be seen as the dark trees on upper slopes and the alpine zone at mountain crest on Yinglo Feng, Yunnan.
David Boufford riding with the pack train on the way to Huadianba, Yunnan.
David Boufford riding with the pack train on the way to Huadianba, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.

The North of Cangshan

For the final portion of their expedition, the team moved to the north side of Cangshan. Until this part of the trip, any access to the base camps and collecting locations was on foot. To save a long walk to their next camp, the team asked if they could get horses to take them up into the mountains. When the “horses” arrived, they turned out to be more pack mules with wooden pack frames for saddles. The team rode, but had saddle sores for several days afterwards.

The flora the team encountered on the north side of Cangshan was more temperate and contained 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. more commonly found in central China. Boufford and Bartholomew speculated that this plant population may have a southern disjunct of the Lijiang Snow Range some 20 miles (30 kilometers) to the north. Notable collections in the area included specimens of apples (Malus), mountain ashes (Sorbus), and many types of Enkianthus.

Delicate flowers of Enkianthus chinensis on Huadianba, Yunnan.
1984 SABE team members and pack train on the way to Huadianba, Yunnan.
Primrose (Primula) in flower on Huadianba, Yunnan.
Villagers watching specimen preparation on the collection team's return from Huadianba, Yunnan.

Back to Kunming

Lower surface of fern frond showing sporangia near Qiongzhu Temple northwest of Kunming, Yunnan.
Lower surface of fern frond showing sporangia near Qiongzhu Temple northwest of Kunming, Yunnan. David Boufford, 1984.

After a successful month in the field around Cangshan, the team returned to their base in Xiaguan to finish preparing specimens, pack, and clean their facilities. They then began their long trip back to Kunming. To allow for some stops for botanizing along the way, the return journey was split over two days.

On the return to Kunming their work was not over. They continued their plant collecting in the surrounding area. After finishing the preparation of the herbarium specimens, the sheets were divided, with the first, most complete set to stay in China. The next most complete set was deposited at in the herbarium of the Missouri Botanic Garden. Another quite complete set was deposited in the Herbarium of the Arnold Arboretum at the Harvard University Herbaria. Botanists from the Kunming Institute of Botany retained the Chinese set for identification. The SABE team assisted with the identifications for three weeks after their return to Kunming.

They did not neglect the chance to absorb some local culture as well. A site seeing trip took them to the Yuan dynasty Huating Temple in the northwest part of the city, and the mountains on the west side of Dian Lake.

A fantastically shaped Impatiens flower near the 127 mile mark (kilometer marker 204) on the Burma Road between Chuxiong and Kunming, Yunnan.
Tourists visiting scenic spots and temples on Xi Shan west of Kunming, Yunnan.
Detail of a statue of a guardian figure at the Huating Temple, Kunming, Yunnan.
Plant specimens, collected during the 1984 Sino-American Botanical Expedition to Yunnan, in boxes at the Institute of Botany's Herbarium in the Beijing Botanical Garden.
Plant specimens, collected during the 1984 Sino-American Botanical Expedition to Yunnan, in boxes at the Institute of Botany’s Herbarium in the Beijing Botanical Garden. David Boufford, 1984.

Back in Boston

By the end of the trip, the team had made 1,653 distinct collections. With duplicates, the total number of herbarium specimens was 19,015 sheets! A number of Chinese and American herbaria received individual sets of varying degrees of completeness, with the most complete set remaining in China.

The California Academy of Sciences managed recordkeeping and updating for the American sets as corrections and revisions were received from China. They also generated the labels using a computer, likely the first time that this technology had been used for herbarium specimens collected in China.

Dig Deeper

Read an account of this expedition by David Boufford and Bruce Bartholomew in Arnoldia.