China Trip May~June 2013

Days of rain. Hours stuck in road repairs. Bleeding leech bites. Rats scrambling about your hut. Dishonest guides. Food of questionable origin. Nasty privies. Dangerous bridges. pointless treks. Food poisoning. I've seen a lot of talks on botanical expeditions through China, all feature of significant subset of these discomforts, a few manage to work in all and more. I had hit most every temperate Asian country I could, each with its own brilliant flora and culture. And each an excuse for where I really wanted to go, western China. A tour group didn't seem my style, having my hand held removes so much of the adventure, the sense of discovery. I like to travel at mine own pace, poke about, I'm an independent sort. But from what I had seen, it seemed the only safe solution. My partner had decided to visit his parents in the northern city of Chenyang after 3 years absence, it seemed as good as an excuse as any to finally take the plunge. I can only hope that the tour leader I called couldn't hear my jaw hitting the floor after the quote. On to plan B. I would go to Yunnan independently , hitting only the large tourist destinations. I might not see everything I would get on a prearranged tour but surely I'd see some plants and at least I'd get a taste China. Quan and I would meet midway through, then finish in bordering Sishuan province for 3 days of culinary exploration. Read more»

Taiwan Trip

Taiwan has 14 or so species of Rhododendron, all blissfully unaware of splitters and lumpers. Ten of these species are endemic. For the Taiwanese Rhododendron formosana is the queen of the group. Arguably the best for western horticulturists is Rhododendron pachysanthum. It’s a surprisingly recent introduction, coming to us from John Watson. From his initial paper in the ARS “On 14 November 1971, Dr. Chien Chang Hsu and Mr. Chiang-Sen Kuoh left their base camp at Chi-li-ting; Ca., 2000 M. and made an unequipped assault on Nan-hu-ta-shan between breaks in the weather. It is interesting to note here that they met three different sport climbing groups returning from failed attempts at the same climb! The result of this successful and dangerous climb is seed lot RV #72001.” It’s unclear how many of these were raised to mature plants, while John indicated in the initial collections he thought these were very distinct, in the Taiwanese flora they are referred to as Rhododendron hyperythrum. Kenneth Cox states “Most R. pachysanthum in cultivation originate from Glendoick from hand pollinated seed of the first introduction RV 72001, introduced 1972”. There are a number of discrepancies between the Taiwanese understanding of the 5 endemic members of the Hymenanthes subgenus in Taiwan and our views in the west. Clearly, observed in habitat some intergrading occurs where distributions merge. I’ll muddy the waters with a personal communication from travelling companion, Jens Neilson. “The way I see Taiwanese hymenanthes Rhododendron is; formosanum, close to adenopodum of the mainland and possibly other species from south mainland china. Wilson's hyperythum (rubropunctatum) related to anhweiense of the mainland. Both formosanum and Wilson's hyperytum occour in North Taiwan as do a lot of other relict species. In central Taiwan there is psedochrysanthum/"pachysanthum"/morii complex, which we can keep as 3 separate species, but there are clear links between them, I could quite happily jump to the conclusion that the last three are more recent and possibly still evolving. I can't think of a mainland counterpart, well nothing as close as the first two. Maybe the rather western sikangense, or have i missed something?” I had expected R. pachysanthum to be somewhat common, it’s not, and a number of factors including the confusion surrounding these 5 species, not to mention the numerous ways Cantonese is phonetically transcribed into English, made this plant more of a challenge to find than I initially anticipated. Read more»

Korea Trip

A decision to travel to Korea came from a number of sources. I have good friends who are well travelled, Margaret Charlton and Charlie Sale had been to Korea a number of years before. They were effusive in their pleasure at hiking Hallasan on Jeju Island. I had purchased a tissue culture clone of Rhododendron mucronulatum collected from this mastiff in the mid nineties, today this dwarf in my garden is still less than 18 inches tall. I was interested in seeing this population for myself. Tony Avent's online article on his tour through the country seemed brilliant, in retrospect he is perhaps given to poetic license. But in writing this I've come to realize I saw most of the plants he mentioned, even if not in the great drifts he alluded to. I later came across an anecdote attributed to one of his traveling companions commenting that they seemed not to have been on the same trip Tony Was on. I had also enjoyed an article from another Tony, Tony Kirkham, through his writing with Mark Flanagan in "Plants from the Edge of the World: New Explorations in the Far East". The clincher, however, were the snippets of stories of Barry Yingers collections in the 1970s of Camellia japonica from its northernmost distribution, an island 200 km north of Seoul. In the nineties I was still living in NS. John Weagle had been waxing, if not lusting of a collection of Camellia japonica,now trees, braving a setting in rural Pennsylvania. Where they were growing suggested, in sheltered locals, the plant was worth trying in mild areas of Nova Scotia. I had tried growing Camellia oleifera, from Heronswood nursery, purportedly the hardiest of its genus. It promptly turned up its toes at the first kiss of winter in Nova Scotia. In fairness this may have been more due to my horticultural prowess than the plant. By the time the hardier clones of Camellia japonica came to market I was already living in balmy Vancouver. None the less, as there was so little English literature about these islands my interest was piqued. Read more»