Plants collected on this Expedition
- Event Type
- 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
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.
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.
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.
In the Field
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).
The East of Cangshan
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.
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.
Back to Kunming
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.
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.
Read an account of this expedition by David Boufford and Bruce Bartholomew in Arnoldia.