Thursday, July 26, 2018

Kunming Botanical Garden and Institute.

I collect many things: rock garden plants, books, memories....and I am especially fond of rare plant nurseries and botanic gardens. I have seen my fair share of the latter in many countries. But few have astonished me to the extent that the Kunming Botanical Garden and Botanic Institute did the last day of my recent visit to China. Like all botanic gardens, it has its share of beautiful flowers and plantings...

Here the moongate brings us to a special concentration of native Yunnanese herbal and economic plants...

As in so many Chinese gardens, the incorporation of dramatic, sculpted rocks is to be expected. Henry Moore isn't perhaps as innovative as we have thought in the West!

Carolyn Gao, the amazing tour leader who organized out trip to the mountains of Yunnan took a whole day off to pick us up and bring us to the botanic garden. Here she is leaning against an amazing specimen of the true Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia), not the weedy Siberian imposter that is so common in the Great Plains!

\There is an extensive lath structure protecting more delicate woodland plants. Some wonderful things in here!

I was not surprised to find a large mat of Asarum splendens, a groundcover that thrives in warmer parts of the Eastern United States, but in Denver not so much! This is an example of just one of the many Chinese plants that have become garden mainstays over the last few decades.

I was surprised to find Pilea cadieri growing outdoors here: the so-called "Aluminum plant" comes from Vietnam, but apparently sneaks into China as well. Usually thought of as tender, perhaps there are hardier forms: I wonder if it has any stinging qualities since it is in the Urticaceae?

Although the greatest emphasis at this botanic gardens is on scientific research, the ornamental gardens are extensive and lovely. There are charming vistas everywhere, as on this pond reflecting the elegant planting beyond.

Dr. Weibang Sun, Director of Kunming Botanical Garden with Cycas panzhihuaensis
This is the first glimpse of Dr. Sun, who took the better part of Sunday off to show us around the botanical garden. We spent nearly two weeks together in Georgia this past May collecting plants--and developed a wonderful friendship. He is gracious and kind, and I was truly humbled by what he has achieved professionally. Here he's showing off a spectacular specimen of Yunnan's endemic cycad.

One of the many lovely views: alas--I only had a chance to visit a tiny fraction of the Botanical Garden during my visit. I loved what I did see!

One of the major draws to the Garden in the calendar year is this allee of trees: these are the Chinese cousin to our Sweetgum (Liquidambar acalycina)--a smaller tree than our native American L. styraciflua, but likewise turning a brilliant fall color in late October. Relatively few deciduous trees in Yunnan have fall color, so having an entire line of these coloring up brings in tens of thousands of visitors every late autumn.

Liquidambar acalycina
The leaves on the Chinese species are three lobed, unlike the five lobed leaves of the North American species.

Here is the entrance to the amazing Conservatory complex--an exquisite use of monochromatic annuals in my opinion!

At present the complex isn't open to the general public except by appointment. Fortunately, we had one!

I was a little surprised (and delighted) to see this xeric garden in the entrance: it provides a habitat for growing a variety of yucca, agave and other plants that would be challenging otherwise.

A rather strange picture I agree: the mist house was a challenge for the camera--but a fantastic place where many cloud forest and other humid needing plants were thriving.

I especially envied this column covered with Coralodiscus--probably C. kingii--which we had seen in the wild a few days previously.

The mist houses contained fantastic collections of gesneriads (many native to Yunnan), insectivorous plants and all manner of tropical and subtropical taxa that needed high humidity.

Many novel gesneriads new to me: I liked the way they plants here were landscaped with artistic rockwork and weathered wood...

Attractive berms, rockwork and bedding schemes and enhance the greenhouse structures.

I should have been photographing the paths more deliberately throughout the garden: there was attractive patterning on many of them, and they were always wide and inviting.

Signage in Chinese: which fortunately was coming back to me by this time!

Possibly the most cutting edge greenhouse I've ever seen with fantastic (and truly amazing) rock work. The entire greenhouse is dedicated to growing and showcasing lichens--surely a first or one of very few!

A little army of Musella (now Ensete lasiocarpum)--Yunnan's endemic, high altitude "yellow lotus" Banana. Not QUITE high altitude enough for Denver, alas!

And a real banana inside the Conservatory!

The conservatory is truly enormous--and has many environments and levels--an extremely long Cactus and Succulent display area wraps around the sunny side. Various view follow....

Note the fantastic rock mulch used throughout the succulent section.

As you can see, my camera was malfunctioning (possibly humidity from the mist house) so my many pictures higher up in the conservatory were somewhat bleached...a few that follow convey some of the scope and majesty of this exquisite structure.

One of the largest waterfalls I've seen in a greenhouse!

This tree blew my mind--it was enormous!

Out of focus--sorry: but I had to show the bryophyte section...

Although very modernistic, there was something hearkening to the great Victorian age in some of the glass work.

Waterfalls could be viewed from different angles at different levels...

I was astonished how high the structure was..with an elegant walkway ramping up through the rain forest...

 Accommodation was being made for Yunnan's tallest tree--which is gradually making its way up through the canopy (and walkway!)...

And we sampled just one or two more areas outside (not nearly enough time to do the place justice, however!) of Dr. Hsun's special projects has been to plant drifts of the rarest trees and shrubs from Yunnan: these "plants of limited distribution" (a few known only from a single specimen) are not only displayed here, but being used for genetic and population studies ex situ.

One of these rare trees is a hornbeam. And for those with smart phones, a way to find out even more information.

Another example of artistic and unique pathways throughout the Garden...

There were so many buildings on the way: laboratories, dormitories for the hundreds of graduate students studying here...the place is enormous...I believe there are 400 staff alone--making it one of the largest botanical research institutes in the world. Nothing like it in America.

A great deal of research is being undertaken here...

One of dozens of posters in various buildings showing the scientific research projects going on at the Institute.

Dr. Hsun showing the famous fungus that parasitizes the buried caterpillars in the high Yunnanese mountains--on his smart phone.
A quick selfie in the outer chamber of Dr. Hsun's office where we met briefly

Alas, our time was off to the Botanic Gardens' restaurant..

Another lovely pathway outside the restaurant

Sitting down to our last delicious dinner in China. The entire trip was a delicious experience, and our last morning at the botanical garden and institute was a fantastic flourish of one of the most rewarding trips I've taken in my life. I just signed up to join Harry Jans' and his group to Tibet next summer! Can't wait to go back...


  1. Praticamente un sogno! Belle immagini :)

    Ti auguro una buona serata e un buon fine settimana :)

  2. Hey awesome post, but, uh, sir, I do take umbrage re. your remark about Siberian Elms which you unkindly refer to as "the weedy Siberian imposters".
    Ahem! I am writing this in the very late afternoon from inside my comfortable 72° house, whilst it is 98° outdoors. Those "imposters" are throwing killer shade on this 102 year old under-insulated farmhouse near Madras (rhymes with: mattress), Oregon, aka the dirt-town capital of Oregon, if not the USA... Btw I grew up in SoCal with zillions of Chinese Elms. Meh....

    1. Obviously, everything is situational: I apologize for my aspersions cast in the way of your Ulmus pumila. I am enchanted with the vision of your Madras home and garden: I would love to visit one day (perhaps not so very for hence) Eastern Oregon is my vision of paradise!

  3. I love the way that they have landscaped this garden, every structure compliments the other. Your photos turned out beautiful, the garden must have been even more beautiful to see in person. Thanks for the share, have a wonderful weekend.
    World of Animals

  4. Impressive! and a lichen house!


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