The Arnold Arboretum and Harvard University Herbaria serve as an important center for the Flora of China Project. The Flora of China Project is an international collaboration to produce the first complete, English-language record of the approximately 31,500 species of vascular plants occurring wild in China (all native and naturalized plants, plus economically important exotics, such as crops or plantation plants), amounting to about 12% of the world’s total plant diversity.
European botanists who first conducted botanical expeditions in China more than 200 years ago were fascinated by the diversity, usefulness, and beauty of Chinese plants. Understanding Chinese flora continues to be important; more than 1.3 billion people depend on China’s numerous species of food crops for survival, and several thousand species of plants are ornamental or important sources of medicine, oil, waxes, fibers, timber, aromatics, and other products. It is estimated that more than 5,000 species of plants are used regularly as sources of medicine in China. Because of extensive land use, deforestation, and destruction of natural habitats, more than 3,000 species of plants in China are either endangered or threatened with extinction.
Comprising some 7,500 species of woody plants, the flora of China is the most diverse in the North Temperate Zone. China is the only country in the world that includes unbroken transitional zones connecting tropical, subtropical, temperate, and boreal forests. Some genera of vascular plants (e.g., Metasequoia, Ginkgo, Cercidiphyllum), which are known only as fossils in Europe and North America, have survived in China (Hu, 1980). Therefore, knowledge of the flora of China is essential for interpreting the fossil record and understanding the vegetational history of other continents, for adequate protection of plants and their sustainable use, and for understanding a significant fraction of the world’s plants (Boufford and Spongberg, 1983).