A long half-day of backtracking from our night’s stay in Hezeng led us to the basement of our target elevation of 2,000m, what we consider the goldilocks zone for observation of plants appropriate in zones 7-10.. The 100 Li of Rhododendrons (essentially 100 kilometers of Rhododendron) is a municipal reserve of mostly second growth Rhododendron forest in near monochromosis, comprised of R. delavayi, R. irroratum and the ubiquitous R. decora, the later being reminiscent of the evergreen azaleas prominent in American horticulture; a few of the latter were in off-season blossom in tones of blazing salmon-pink, proving the forebears of the modern hybrids themselves often possess a general unpalatable character. [Read more…]
During the 1.5 day drive to the western border of Guizhou (with Sichuan Province) and its highest peak, we find ourselves approaching that point in any trip when the creature comforts of home seemingly outweigh any opportunity to witness plants in their rightful places. With hours on jolting roads, we have had plenty of time to ponder the transitioning landscape (to that of more mountainous), the differing minority cultures (from the Maio to the Yi) and variations in cuisine (from spicy to combustible). Indisputably, in the relative luxury of our modern travel, the process of getting from place to place and often times to places that in retrospect one wishes one had not bothered with at all allows for a more profound respect for our celebrated counterparts of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Assuredly they traveled for days and sometimes weeks to get to promising territory only to find germinating disappointment. [Read more…]
A bruising 9 hour drive south and east of Fanjingshan delivered us to the base of yet another of the major mountains in Guizhou, the Leigongshan, and the sublime luxury of three full nights in the same location. On the 9th floor of a nearly empty grandiose hotel, I had the opportunity to become well acquainted with a rodent-of-unusual-size that shared my room.
Though the summit of the Leigongshan approaches 7,000 feet, the trip to the very top on this day would be a breeze, as a nicely paved road leads directly to a transmission tower that caps the summit. I believe our spirits collectively sunk as we sped past the flora on our ascent, it appearing to be xeric and denuded. Our attitudes adjusted as we poured from the jeep and made our way down slope via a series of trails. [Read more…]
A bit over a year ago while in New Zealand giving presentations I had the privilege of visiting the fanciful garden of Lois Croom on the remote Chatham Islands. I realize it seems a disconnect to even mention this fact, now, as certainly Guizhou Province is to New Zealand as apples are to oranges. The reason I do is the farewell my hostess sent with me on that day. “Take lots of risks” were her parting words.
I have applied that approach to numerous instances since, in both a physical and emotional sense. And the words came to me again today while on a memorable trek on Fanjingshan in Guizhou Province. [Read more…]
Anyone who has come to Asia proper to look at plants in the wild, or at least in the parts of Asia where I have traveled, will concur that there is no fun in getting there. Between the far flung vestiges of preserved forests lie a torment of noodle-jarring reruns; miles of roads in deconstruction, the lack of any line remotely reckoned as straight, the discomfort of starving dogs, sometimes on the way to market, and pigs in baskets always on the way to market. Yet if one allows oneself to look beyond the sublunary, one can see a most remarkable landscape unfold before them. Unlike any other place on earth, when I am here I can perceive the curvature of the planet.
In autumn it seems all of Asia is on fire, with rice straw lit and fuming on laughably and admirably steep, neatly terraced mountainsides. Rice smoke in Asia is the original smog and only adds to the signature haze that has become the stuff of over-romanticized paintings in the Oriental device. It still accumulates in the lungs and smarts the eyes, but all-in-all it seems an honest pollution. [Read more…]