I write from the airport near Songpan China, in the north of Sichuan Province. I was supposed to head out first thing this morning so that I could teach tomorrow, but the extreme fog hugging the mountain tops and airport laid waste to those plans. Tonight, with a bit of luck, I will make my way east to Boston. None of this matters.
What does matter is that I have spent two amazing days in the Huanglong Nature Reserve with wonderful botanical colleagues from Chengdu and Huanglong, as well as Michael Dosmann (curator of living collections at the AA), Tony Aiello (director of horticulture at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania), and our fearless leader, Dr. Kang Wang, of the Beijing Botanical Garden. Michael, Tony, and Kang will push on for the next ten days to search far and wide for a long list of plants to bring back to the Arnold Arboretum and share with other botanical gardens.
Here in the alpine, I have been charmed by the subtle green needles of larches (Larix), at least three species of Sorbus (mountain ash) with white fruits and a tinge of pink, towering rhododendrons, all manner of willows (Salix), viburnums, pines (Pinus armandii―a personal favorite), firs (Abies), spruces (Picea), junipers (Juniperus), birches (Betula), and on and on. On top of all of this, we walked in Ernest Henry Wilson’s footsteps. Wilson, the hugely important collector of Asian plants for the Arnold Arboretum, was in Huanglong in 1908 and 1910, and our great friend Professor Yin Kiapu pointed out the very spots where several of Wilson’s famous images of Huanglong were taken. The blue, green, gray, and orange mineral pools in Huanglong are surreal (top image).
I could go on, but will finish with a story of a plant that I became a bit attached to. As many of you know, I have something of an obsession with winter buds and bark. As we were descending the mountain, my eye was caught by a nearly metallic orange set of twigs and buds on a shrub (lower left image). Definitely a willow, although which one of the hundreds of species remains to be determined. It was in fruit, shedding its seeds with the cotton-like structures that help them float in the air currents (bottom right image). We collected seeds that will return to the propagation facilities at the Arnold Arboretum. I can just envision it now, along Willow Path (in about five years), this beautiful part of the extraordinary biodiversity of Huanglong. It will make a fine addition to the most wonderful arboretum in the world. To see a Flickr slide show of my brief two-day adventures in Huanglong, please click here.