SUNDAY, MAY 26, 1996  8:30 AM

Finally we are about to embark on the expedition. We are sitting in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for Sun to pick us up, luggage piled high and ready to go. I had a hard time getting my laundry back this morning. I left it at the 5th floor desk last night, thinking they had overnight service. Apparently this was not the case. There was much gesturing and pointing at the laundry list and some loud slow talking (as if that makes a difference!) and a few phone calls from the desk boy to someone downstairs who speaks rudimentary English. After about 10 minutes of this he pulls my bag of still dirty laundry from under the very desk from which we have been trying to communicate. Whew! 


We pile into the van. There are six of us - Sun, Jack, Dusty, Yi (the driver), myself, and Zhou who has joined us at the last minute. Leaving Kunming, we enter the ramp on to a big fast highway. Just as I think we are finally picking up speed, we have to swerve as we round the corner of the on-ramp to avoid hitting the slower moving pony carts sharing this roadway. This road north out of Kunming seems new, modern and fast - a toll road, and in the process of being extended all the way to Dali. For the first hour, the land is mostly flat, or softly rolling terrain, not much change in elevation, though it seems as if we have been climbing.  After a few hours the new highway ends and we are back on the old road, close to the people and to the towns we must pass through to reach Dali, about a nine hour trip from Kunming.  


I am sitting in the front seat of this vehicle, on the left side for passengers in this Japanese made Toyota van. Cars drive on the right hand side of the road here, and in most vehicles the driver is on the left, as in America, but apparently, here, anything goes. It seems as if anything that will go if it has a motor on it is fair game on the roads here. There are 6 of us in this rickety van. When jokingly asked if this van would make the trip, the very serious reply was 'Oh, yes, it's made it many times before'. Seat belts? What's that?  There's not much between myself and the road. I make sure that the door is locked at all times, clicking the door button firming down, but not really convinced that it would hold if tested.



      Scattered small villages, close set groups of dark sandy colored earthen buildings with tile roofs, peaked at the corners,  rice paddies, terraced vegetable gardens.


  The surrounding hillsides stripped of trees long ago, although we do still see an occasional forest covered slope.


     Incarvellia arguta is in bloom in cracks in the rocks along the roadside, the sprays of small pink trumpets stand out against the flat grey of the dry rocks.  


      Large tall clumps of bamboo lining the riverbank. The smell of eucalyptus is in the air. It is common as a road tree in this almost subtropical area.  Musella, a smaller banana relative, is frequently seen, in full bloom now with large yellow cone shaped flower heads.


      Water buffalo being herded on the ridge. Peasants tending fields, with wide brim straw hats, large baskets slung over their shoulders, bark blue hip length jackets, loose black pants.  Some wear orange hats, bright dots of color in the distant scene against the cool green of the new rice.  



    Terraced rice paddies, bright 'new rice' green, stripes of reflected sunlight glinting from between the road, following us as we pass. 


     The road cuts through red earth, eroding with the rains, mounds of loose soil partially blocking the road in spots.


    Intriquing small oval mound-like structures built up against the hills. It is a cemetary and they are burial monuments.


     Long irrigation canals of stone and concrete, built into steep slopes.


     Horse drawn carts piled high with coal.



     An old man with a broad straw hat and a manchu beard wielding a stick, chasing his runaway water buffalo across the road, holding up traffic. 


     Big bright blue 'lorries' - open backed trucks piled high with freshly cut logs heading down from the mountains, not as big as the log trucks of the national forests of the Pacific Northwest, so the logs are shorter. They keep coming and coming.



I wonder if our driver is the same kamikaze driver that I have read about from other expeditions, or are they all like this?  Driving is a constant game of 'chicken'. Our driver is impatient. He loves to lay on the horn. Maybe it's a sign of manhood here  - he with the loudest horn...?  We are trying to get through a small village. It must be market day, it is taking us a long time to get through this small town of only a few blocks. It is jammed with cars, trucks, pony carts, pigs, goats, people walking with huge bundles on their back. We have been behind a truckload of baskets for almost a full 5 minutes now. Mr. Yi can't stand it. He desperately wants to pass in the 6 feet between the truck ahead and the everpresent bicycles. He exercises his better judgement and doesn't go. Finally, just out of town, he gets his break, steps on the gas and goes for it, horn blaring, and we can easily make it back to our lane before the large lorrey barreling straight for us reaches us, seconds to spare. No sweat. The horse cart and the water buffalo on the side of the road have to give a little, but they are in no hurry.


I am feeling increasingly like I am on one of those 'death defying' amusement rides at Disneyland, only there you know that you will be coming out the other side alive. 


A herd of small black goats is coming our way, followed by an old woman carrying a baby on her back. 


Seven accidents seen so far on this road.


We travel a stretch of road with widely separated small whitewashed houses, with varying amounts of large Chinese writing on them in bright red - some have just a few characters, others are almost covered with this lettering, like a poem.  I must ask Sun what it is. (I find out later that they are guesthouses for weary travelers) 


We come to another town, this one is very dirty, the smell and feel of coal smoke is strong, ours eyes burn. There are many very large domed structures of earth and rock, with a small rounded entrance hole at the bottom of each, and some have smoke coming from the top. I don't know what they are. (I find out later that  they are kilns, and they are making bricks.)


8 accidents, now 9.


Around a bend a long stretch of carvers are working on large piles of white stone. They look like grave markers. 


I wonder if one needs a drivers license here, and if they do, if they have to take a test to get it. 



We're in Dali tonight. It is near dark when we arrive, but what I can see is more than intriquing.  I'm anxious for morning, to see the mountains that I barely glimpse in the twilight, rising in the misty distance as I peer down the narrow street, beyond the ubiquitous shops. It's raining now. I hope it stops by morning. Dali is in large part a tourist town, charming and old and picturesque. Narrow streets with the everpresent shops, but more tourist items here - clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, batiks. There are a few more westerners seen here, but most of the tourists are Chinese on a holiday. Yunnan is home to many ethnic groups that still dress in their colorful native costumes. Dali is the ancestral home of the the Bai people, and there is a large population here, trying to sell anything to anybody, sometimes quite agressively. Dali is located on a narrow fertile plain between the Cangshan range (translated to the Azure Mountains - the word ending 'shan' means 'mountains'), and a large clear lake. Dali is also especially noted for the high quality marble that is mined from the nearby Cangshan range, and many 'Dali Marble' objects are for sale here. The patterns in the marble, if properly cut, are reminescent of misty scenes of lakes and mountains, much like that seen in many Chinese paintings. It is highly prized and used frequently as ornamentation in furniture and in wall decoration, or carved into bowls, ashtrays or other small items.   


Dinner is superb.  Lusciously tender pork leg, deep fried goat cheese, thin and curled like chips, with sugar on them, eggplant slices folded, stuffed with meat and fried, and among others - eel ! Walked the town with Sun after dinner.  He's very nice and so nice to share excitement about plants with.



 MAY 27

We spend the day in the Cangshan Range outside of Dali. I had read much about this well known area before the trip and I am excited about what we will find. This has been one of the better explored ranges of this area of China, particularly during the early part ot this century, most notably the famous plant explorers Frank Kingdon-Ward, Joseph Rock and George Forrest. Only recently has this area been open again to plant exploration. I had read much about this  We finally get to do some exploring.  The first stop as we ascend into the hills is a boggy area just at the side of the road. Tall dark purple Iris delavayi is up and just starting to bloom. A leathery leaved Ligularia is leafing out, forming large clumps throughout the bog, no signs of buds yet. On a seepy brushy slope across the road we get our first glimpse of Stellera chamaejasme v. chrysantha. This plant is a rare herbaceous member of the Daphne family, growing in neat rounded clumps about 1' tall, covered with balls of daphne-like bright yellow flowers, lightly and sweetly fragrant. This plant is somewhat  legendary to plantsman. It is apparently almost impossible to grow from cuttings or divisions, and seed is very hard to come by, although a single plant can live for decades. Sun says that we will see a lot of it on this trip. Further up the road giant clumps of Rodgersia (pinnata?) are just coming into bloom, in places covering the hillsides with their bold strongly textured leaves. Stems of sugar pink Deutzia sp. in full bloom billow at the side of the road, Philadelphus something (yunnanense?) is also in full bloom, with long stems of large pure white, fragrant flowers. Rhododendrons are in abundance, many small leafed species not yet blooming, R. decora with tight round trusses of white-tinged- pink. Deep magenta Pleione yunnanense, Nomocharis  pardanthina just starting to bloom, (but frustratingly most were in only in bud, we're just a little too early!), Astilbe aff. chinense is just emerging, common in the moist ditches along the road, the new growth with a very attractive shiny coppery color, and Aletris ( pauciflora?) a small liliaceous plant with a rosette of narrow leaves, and single spikes of small mauve-pink flowers,


It strikes me that if I could  be set down in the middle of this gravel mountain road, the feeling would similar to being at home in the national forests of the Pacific Northwest. The families and genera of the plants of China and the temperate USA are similar enough that the feeling would be the same until one becomes aware of the richness of the species surrounding us. And look up, and we can be nowhere else but in China. Rounded peaks beyond peaks, sharp ridges  covered with  rich green vegetation, rising steeply all around us. Clouds settle between the ridges, wrapping their mistiness around the hills - it shifts - here, then gone. I feel like I am in a painting, but I am here and not just looking at an image.  t's too much. Sensory overload is settling around me, pulling me along, wrapping me in a blanket of images and feelings, and I am a willing passenger.


The highest peak is about 14,000' here. We drive to a trailhead, then hike, not too far, but steeply to about 10,000'.  There is not too much in bloom, but so much is getting ready to open given another few weeks of warmth.  Aconitum, Gentiana, Lilium and Nomocharis, a small Gaultheria common under larger shrubs, Rhododendrons, Thalictrums, many liliaceous species - Polygonatum, etc. Aletris, ---  I don't know the species on too many of them. We can't ID them, it's frustrating.


We left Portland 6 days ago.. Still almost 4 weeks to go. Will it go fast, or will I be ready to leave when the time comes?


May 28,  Tuesday

We are just leaving Dali, on the road to Lijiang. The clouds hang low, it is raining, not heavy but steady, like an Oregon rain. The mountains that we just barely started to explore yesterday are mostly hidden by clouds today but we get an occasional glimpse of their broad base as we drive away.


We are driving through a broad flat fertile valley. The road goes straight for miles. At times it is bordered on both sides with tall straight eucalyptus, but when the roadside is clear of vegetation our view is unencumbered, and we can see the endless rice paddies on either side, stretching to the rise of the distant hills. There is much activity in the fields and along the roadside.  People are working in the fields, sometimes solitary, but mostly in groups, lined up in straight rows, bending in unison, planting rice, in water to their knees. On the road men and women of all ages are walking, carrying large baskets on their backs filled to overflowing with vegetables, sticks, grain, bamboo. Some wear broad, dark brown, stiff, knee length capes down their backs, made of rough palm fibers. Protection from the rain?


The road still stretches ahead and the people keep coming. I feel like I am begin pulled along in some fantasy. It is exhilarating somehow. I take many pictures. I miss so many. Every one tells a story. 


     A  herd of small black goats barely makes it across the road. The pig was not so lucky. He turned into the street just as we were upon him, and his rump met our front right fender with a thud.


    Piles of golden grain - winter wheat - cover the road ahead of us. We have to drive over it, and the people rake and pile more on. They are threshing the grain with the help of the vehicles. Clever. The drivers hate it. This goes on sporadically for miles.


     I see a moving pile of cut bamboo ahead. All I see are legs from the knees down. The load is so big and heavy that all else is hidden. The back is bent with the weight of the load.


Something is wrong with the car.  I hear talk of a bad bearing, and hear clunky noises.  We have to trust that it will make it to Lijiang. We drive in silence, the air is charges with nervous energy, but we make it. Lijiang is a much bigger city than I expect, bustling, and all the hotels are full.  We must drive 10 miles out of town to a new hotel on the nature reserve. As we drive thorugh this flat area with many scattered Pinus yunnanense, I see an intriquing carpet of plants that we will be able to study closer tomorrow.  We pass many bushy clumps of blooming Cynoglossum amabile, almost a roadside weed.  It is a borgage relative, about 2’ tall, with the curling cymes of true blue flowers typical of this family.  I think how nice it would look in my garden back home


It is beautiful here. Mostly open meadows, with scattered Pinus yunnanensis, and a loose carpet of numerous species of Anemones, mostly A. demissa and A. obtusiloba, unnamed Roscoea (probably R. praecox) , a small greenish-yellow Euphorbia  - very common, a Ligularia with tall yellow spikes but no well defined basal rosette, poking up here and there throughout the meadow, hot pink Androsace spinulifera with narrow silvery foliage, looking like a small primula. There is a small very common thalictrum (T. esquerollii?) here, with small flat rosettes of almost leathery divided leaves, and thin stems about 10" high, with drooping heads of small flowers with tiny white petals and dangling yellow anthers. The rounded bright yellow clumps of Stellera chamaejasme var. chrysantha are common under these pines, everywhere. There are occasional rock outcroppings. Tomorrow I start to pick flowers for pressing. I need to buy a large cheap book or two for the purpose.  I have just started to explore, but we must go to dinner. Tomorrow we get a room in the town of Lijiang, but right now I am very happy to be here.  It is beautiful.


Y 29

I have my first glimpse of the jagged snow capped Jade Dragon Mountains ( the Yulong Shan) this morning, rising up through the clouds, a grand view from the hotel room window. It is unexpected, imposing, intriguing.


After breakfast Sun, Jack, Dusty and I begin to explore the meadows across from the hotel.  I am overwhelmed, again. The flat meadow gives way to a wooded slope, and we follow the gravely road up the hill in the fog. Blood red Paeonia delavayi is seen in profusion, though most are very small plants, not even seeming to be of blooming size, although we do find a few in flower. There must be larger plants around to be throwing those seedlings, though we do not see them.  Rodgersia is common in the understory here, though, again, small specimens, not the large lush specimens we saw in the Cangshan Range. Dipelta yunnanaense is in fragrant bloom. This is a very attractive shrub in the Honeysuckle family with large fragrant clusters of fat tubular flowers of white-tinged-yellow. Golden Primula forrestii in full round-headed bloom, Cypripedium tibeticum, many ferns, soft yellow Roscoea cautleoides is common under and around shrubs, the shiny white flowers of Anemone demissa glisten in the mist, a white flowered Ophiopogon, Corallodiscus sp. nestled in humusy pockets against rocks, so many others. Clematis chrysochoma is also here growing among shrubs. We have grown this species at home as a vigorous vine flinging itself through and beneath shrubs. Here they creep, rooting as they go, or grow merely as small bushy specimens.



A day of sightseeing.  We visit the Jade Summit Monastery in a grand setting in the hills outside of LIjiang, very peaceful. This temple is famous for the 550 year old Camellia growing in the inner courtyard, an incredible multi-trunked, gnarled, twisted specimen. During the cultural revolution, the Red Guard denied the Buddhist monks permission to care for this ancient tree, but some of the monks continued to water it, sneaking cup by cup of their own drinking water to it, keeping it alive. Many gave their lives because of their devotion, and so it is said that this tree was watered with the blood of the brave monks of this temple.  


A huge 200 year old specimen of Magnolia delavayi grows inside the walls of the monastery, with dense shiny dark green foliage and a few luxuriant blossoms of creamy yellow.


This afternoon we were on to the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang.  This is a restful large public park with a large clear lake, reflecting the temples, ornate pagodas, the marble bridge, and the Jade Dragon Mountains in the distance. It is lovely. There is a small nursery for park use. 


We move to the hotel in Lijiang this afternoon.  Lijiang is divided into a new modernized section, and the old section with narrow streets and the old homes. This town is near the epicenter of the strong earthquake that hit the region last autumn and signs of destruction are easy to see  -  cracked walls, some buildings being torn down, occasional piles of rubble.


In the late afternoon I wander the streets of Lijiang, the old part of the city, with cobblestone streets, the usual shops and vendors everywhere, a narrow river that runs through the town, small picturesque bridges. It is warm and sunny. I wander alone down many streets, never feeling afraid. I buy some Chinese greeting cards - one with Garfield the Cat standing by an American barn, saying something in Chinese. Children say hello as I pass, with big smiles, so cute, and giggle when I say hello back. I am struck at how open and friendly the children have been everywhere throughout the trip. They are encouraged to learn english, and to say hello to westerners. Quite the contast from America, where we do all we can to discourage our children from talking to strangers. But they do pay the price for the safety I feel here.  Any infraction of the laws here are dealt with swiftly and severely. 


I have dinner in town tonight with Zhou, J , D . We sit outside a local restaurant until almost dark, then do some shopping.  I buy a traditional Chinese instrument for my son - an erhu - for 50 yuan, about $4.25.  I pay for dinner - 42 Y, including beer, about $3.75


Lijiang is home to the Naxi people, and this evening we attend a concert of authentic Naxi music. The orchestra is composed of mostly old men, some well into their 80's, the last of their kind, it is said.  It is feared by those who care deeply about such things, that the old traditional music will die away soon if the younger generation does not pick it up.  This traditional orchestra is unique, and has played it's ancient music, by invitation, in England and other far away places, and a few nights a week holds a concert in an old dusty building with folding chairs, seating about 50 people.  We are surprised to see that by the beginning of the concert the room has filled to overflowing, almost all of them westerners.  


Before the concert we visit the home of the leader of this orchestra, Chin Ku, an ethnomusicologist. Dusty has befriended him on previous trips, and he is happy to see us.  But, even more interesting to me, is the fact that in his small home, on the third floor, is the original desk of legendary and eccentric plant hunter Joseph Rock. Chin Ku's father worked with Joseph Rock earlier in this century, and when Rock left the country, left his desk and some other belongings with this man. It is now in the custody of this wonderful man in this unassuming home, walls cracked  with earthquake damage. Now, many botanical groups make the mini-pilgrimage to the home of this accommodating man to see this desk and hear the stories.----


I go to Mao Square after dark.  It is about a block from the hotel. It contains the only statue of Mao remaining in Yunnan. It is impressive as I stand at the foot of the statue, looking up. Mao rises huge and imposing with one hand raised to the stars, against a black sky. Two children come out from behind the statue where they sit with their parents on this  warm moonlit night. They say hello in their giggly way. I say hello back and give them each a cookie. They giggle and run back to their parents, run back to me and giggle a thank you.



I continue my walk to get a Pepsi, using some sort of sign language that I seem to be picking up that consists of a lot of pointing and improvised gesturing.  Most shops are still open at 9:30, even the street vendors selling meat in the open air, slabs of beef and pork, plates of pigs feet and chicken feet, whatever is left over from the day. In a doorway, two men haggle over the price of a black puppy, most likely destined to be someone's dinner when it is fattened up this winter.  Black dogs are prized for being 'hot' extra good in the winter cold.


There is a full moon tonight, and as I sleep she has risen high. When I awake in the middle of the night,  I am covered with warm silvery moonlight.



Today we hike Gang Ha Ba, a flat valley at the base of the Wolong Shan - the  Jade Dragon Mountains.  We hike up a semi-steep wooded slope, mostly of Pinus yunnanense, some Pinus armandii, Picea likangense, and a dense understory of shrubs, Quercus pannosa (I think) - an extremely attractive small leaved evergreen spreading oak, various rhododendrons, There are many Pyracantha and Berberis here, one Berberis with very attractive deeply glaucous-blue leaves. Thalictrum delavayi with large loose clusters of purple flowers poke up here and there, Clematis chrysochoma with soft pink flowers and golden-haired leaves flings it's stems through the shrubs. Dipelta yunnanense and many other others. We hike over the top of the ridge and down again into a wide flat plain, heavily grazed, but full of plants nevertheless. Anemone demissa is prevalent, with loose clusters of shiny white flowers on foot high stems, sometimes with purple tinged backs, a clear purple Roscoea sp (don't know which), soft yellow Roscoea cautleoides, Rodgersia, Hemerocallis just emerging, impossible to tell the species, Cypripedium tibeticum ( or C. daliense?) with it's oversized, heavy, maroon lip pouches, the rare Cypripedium  margaritaceum with boldly brown-spotted leaves, soft yellow Cyripedium  flavum, Calanthe sp., Paris polyphylla v. yunnanense, various Arisaema not yet in bloom, Incarvellis mareii, some small liliaceous plant with leaves about 5" long, almost Hemerocallis-like, in a spreading cluster, possibly Reineckia. Iris ruthenica var. nana is blooming. There is a prostrate Salix with small round leaves that covers the ground in open area.  


On the far side of the valley, the Jade Dragon Mountains rise sharply, the snow covered ridges looming and dramatic. We hear the sheep before we see them, the shepherd, and his daughter. We run into another group of plant hunters, from England, being led another botanist from the Kunming Botanical Garden. Nice folks, looking not collecting. Two of the British women are interested in someone who could lead a plant trip in thePacific Northwest. It's something I will think about doing.


Now I sit in my room, noisy with music from outside, people talking loudly in the room next door, and TV noise coming from somewhere. It's a beautiful clear night, and warm.


 I tried calling Bill this morning. It is still yesterday in Battle Ground. I got the answering machine - talked to myself. 



Plant hunting in China - part 2

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

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