In June of 2018, NARGS Tours and Adventures went to Yunnan, China. These are some of the impressions and images from the people lucky enough to explore this botanical hot spot.
Thoughts on Revisiting China
I FIRST WENT to Yunnan in 1999, as part of a delegation from Denver sent to visit an international floral exposition in our sister city, Kunming. From there we flew to Lijiang in northern Yunnan, landing at their then-new airport for a few days exploration. Flash forward almost twenty years: Kunming, which I recalled as being a rather small city is now bigger than Denver, and the airports there and in Lijiang are brand new yet again—with a flair and architectural style not often seen in this hemisphere. I’ve read newspapers, magazines, and books that speak of China’s rapid change, but it’s something else to observe that monumental change first hand.
Fortunately, the mountains are unchanged (if you can overlook the silky smooth new highways weaving through them). Northern Yunnan is a major destination for the exploding Chinese domestic tourist market, but fortunately the droves are mostly concentrated in the cities, or on well-worn destinations in the mountains: the gondola up Shika Shan was packed all day with tourists, but few venture very far from the final platform stops, leaving the entire vast mountain just to us.
I first visited the landscape near Lijiang in late spring, before the monsoons. Driving up to Ganghoba, in the Jade Dragon Mountains, the landscape was carpeted with flowers—mostly anemones in many colors and unbelievable numbers of Roscoea flowers, looking for all the world like crocuses in yellow, lavender and purple. It had been very rainy for over a month when we arrived on my second trip: there was vigorous growth everywhere—the anemones were much taller, and the Roscoea plants were no longer prostrate but often with stems several inches tall. And this time there were leeches!
Fortunately, when we drove northward to Zhongdian (now Shangrila), the leeches didn’t follow, and we were blessed with several weeks of cool, mostly sunny weather. The variety and quantity of floral display in the Three Rivers area of northern Yunnan exceeded my very optimistic expectations. There aren’t too many places on the planet you can glimpse lady slipper orchids on the roadside as you drive by (I saw an enormous clump of Cypripedium flavum blooming on a cliff as the gondola I was on floated by it in a dream-like state). We almost became blasé about vast fields with thousands of fragrant yellow Primula sikkimensis interspersed with purple-pink P. secundiflora, punctuated with the huge spires of Rheum alexandrae. I was amused on one of the few drizzly days when some participants complained that there wasn’t the same variety on the granite soils: only vast acres carpeted with several species of Cassiope, rhododendrons and a miniature yellow lily (Lilium euxanthum) everywhere, instead of the usual new corydalis, orchid or primrose every few yards.
The cassiope! I’ve seen them in Alaska, California, the Cascades and the northern Rockies—but never such masses for acres and acres (maybe I’ve not been to the right spots in our hemisphere?). And of course you expect to find rhododendrons in China—but it was a surprise to see the variety that occurred above 14,000 feet (4200 m) where winter temperatures must drop well below zero (-18ºC) in the winter months. The bright yellow Rhododendron rupicola var. chryseum and the hot magenta R. saluenense spiked to the top of “must have” lists, but the endless permutations of R. aganniphum with bold leaves and huge clusters of bloom made me yearn for a little more shade in my garden. Although they didn’t have much shade on the peaks!
I was expecting a lot of rhododendrons and primulas and wasn’t disappointed. But I didn’t expect such a variety of anemones or meconopsis. I have spent weeks puzzling over the various floras and websites and am still not confident on many of the names. We saw a dozen or more spring gentians—very few match up with the meager pictures in books, and of course, we don’t have the definitive gentian monograph at hand. The half dozen or so androsaces we did find were stars of the trip: Androsace strigillosa was found at many of the woodland stops, although the size of stem and the shade of pink varied a lot from one plant to the next. We only found the brilliant crimson A. bulleyana on the steppe-like slopes around Napa Hai. I have grown and bloomed this fantastic monocarp a few time and intend to do so with a vengeance again. Fortunately, it’s almost always in the NARGS seed exchange.
We found dense cushions of Androsace delavayi on several mountains—always a stunning bright pink color. A. yargongensis was the only small white species. A. wardii reminded me somewhat of a miniature form of the strawberry running sorts that go by A. sarmentosa or A. primuloides. It is sad that none of these are in commerce in the United States.
The Himalayas generally have far more species than other alpine regions, and it shouldn’t have surprised me to find so many drabas and saxifrages. These are common in Europe and the North American mountains, so why not here? Keying out the drabas was not easy, since China has nearly fifty species, and many require siliques (seedpods) for positive identification.
The Porophyllum saxifrages were recognizable, but the variety in the yellow species was a surprise, and finding a diptera type (Saxifraga ferruginea) at such high altitudes amazed me!
We seemed to find a chrysosplenium on almost every hike and comparing photographs I now realize there were several species. I am somewhat annoyed that I’ve seen these wild in Europe, the Altai Mountains of Mongolia and now in China, but have yet to see our native Colorado species that grows not far from Denver.
Although the bean family is a major component of the Rocky Mountain flora, I was surprised to see so many species of Astragalus, Hedysarum, and Oxytropis in China as well. The stars of the family here for me were the Thermopsis spp.—so much hairier and more compact than in the Rockies, and coming in nearly black as well as yellow colored flowers. Spongiocarpella was a new genus for me—yellow again, and a wonderful pinky-purple in S. purpurea on Baima Shan pass.
We were extremely fortunate to have had Harry Jans, of the Netherlands, pave the way for this trip: he has led many trips throughout China and felt that the North American Rock Garden Society simply had to have one, too. We were especially lucky to have Carolyn Gao, who runs the company that hosted our trip, along for the ride: she hefted the heaviest camera and seemed to enjoy the mountains as much or more than we did: I have never had such a thoroughly attentive and effective tour manager before on any trip!
China does not disappoint: although the tourism has burgeoned in this region, and the villages have expanded into small cities, there is a lot of local color still here. The hotels that have sprung up are elegant and very comfortable at far more reasonable prices than their European or American equivalents. And every day seemed to be a gourmet feast from breakfast to dinner: Chinese cuisine is truly one of the most varied, and predictably superb.
I was amazed how well over a dozen of us did at over 14,000 foot (4200 m) elevation day after day. Possibly it was the exhilaration of so many fantastic new plants, or the perfect weather or the company, but everyone hung in there. I think most of NARGS membership would do just as well—and should do so soon: With their booming economy and business savvy, I don’t think China will remain such a bargain in the decades to come!
The 2018 NARGS trip to Yunnan was taken to introduce participants to its amazing alpine flora. For most NARGS members, species of Primula, Androsace, Diapensia, Meconopsis, Rheum, Saussurea, and others would be at the top of their list. I am certainly drawn to these as well, but long ago, I was captivated by the genera Rhododendron, Betula, Sorbus, Cotoneaster, Acer, Abies, and many others of China’s rich woody plant flora. The books, field notes, and illustrations of Wilson, Rock, Meyer, Rehder, Bean, Cox, Wang, Lancaster, and others have always been my revered texts on China’s treasure of woody plants.
I hesitated for a long time to take a trip like this. From colleagues and friends who had traveled to China in the 1970s and ‘80s, I had heard stories of decimated forests, mountain roads jammed with logging trucks, and nothing of the splendor and wonder expressed by earlier plant hunters. And much of what we saw, especially in easily accessed forests, was certainly second and third growth with a very altered understory. Replantings were ubiquitous, haphazard, uncared for, and unnatural.
But the older trees left standing, and those at timberline, along with shrubs, were nonetheless as beautiful and inspiring as anyone might find in the world. The most iconic of China’s woody plants occur to the north and east and west of Yunnan which is in a transition zone between the evergreen lowland subtropical forests of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the highland forests of Myanmar, Bhutan, Tibet, Sichuan, and areas further north. Certainly, seeing the last of the flowering rhododendrons at high elevation was amazing. Venerable large specimens of larch, fir, pine, cypress, cherry, and others looming in the early morning mists was magical. Birch woods on the edge of montane and alpine meadows were beautiful. Seeing caragana in full debonair flower at 15,000 feet (4500 m) along with paraquilegia, potentilla, orchids, primula, and more was surprising. Finding Pinus armandii growing in truly xeric conditions along with cacti, cypress, walnut, and others was amazing. It probably has a vibrant future in the urban forests of Colorado’s Front Range.
I must not omit that a few of our herbaceous alpines are in fact woody plants in China, and very attractive ones at that. Rhodiola species were the stars of that category. They, along with very tough plants of salix, cotoneaster, rhododendron, cassiope, and more made the woody plant flora of Yunnan a very rewarding and beautiful one well worth more study and exploration.
There are over 500 species in the complex genus Corydalis, more than half of them from China, but for the first several days of our trip, few were to be seen. I had resigned myself to enjoying the orchids, meconopsis, rheum, and even Michael Dodge’s lovely willows, until, after a week or so, Corydalis Day arrived.
Changes in habitat and altitude yielded a treasure of Corydalis species, beginning at Napa Lake. There, the stunning C. benecincta lay in an access road, waiting to wow us all, with its brownish, broadleaf foliage and sweet purple inflorescences. C. hemicentra, with dull-colored, broad leaves and clear blue flowers, was found by Panayoti several days later, on Baima Shan’s western slope.
In between, we saw many yellow-flowered species, including the very showy C. hamata, and a sweet C. cheilanthifolia, whose foliage did resemble a cheilanthes fern. Wonderfully blue C. flexuosa and C. pachycentra were in evidence in many locations, but for me the best blue was the C. melanochlora found in the high scree of Baima Shan. Perfect, glaucous foliage and impossibly beautiful flowers made for a heart-stopping moment at over 15,000 feet (4,500 m).
Primroses of Western China
In northwestern Yunnan, there were a number of plants one could geek-out on: rhododendrons, corydalis, lilies or wild orchids, but it's the primroses that brought me here.
Half of the world's wild primroses come from the vast landscape of the Himalayas. Of the 500 species worldwide, at least 300 of them are found in this mountain range and over a hundred in Yunnan. Fair warning though: the names are still being worked out. I only have a couple of good books to key out what we found, so if you're an expert, feel free to correct me.
We saw Primula nanobella on the high mountain tundra found on many mountains from Shangrila, going northwest to the Tibetan border. Growing no higher than 3 inches (7.6 cm) in some places it virtually covered the ground. The tube or 'mouth' is filled with fibers or a pom-pom of tiny lavender hairs which make the center of the flower appear blurry or congested, an interesting feature that liked to freak out my camera as it focused.
The singular flowers of P. nanobella arise from the tiniest rosettes, no larger than a thumbnail, and their color was practically a fluorescent violet.
Of all the primula species it is the beautiful, the fragrant, Primula sikkimensis that really puts on a show as it often forms great colonies throughout this part of the Himalayas. We found spectacular colonies near streams and seeps throughout our trek. At high elevation, such as along a stream bed on Hong Shan near 15,000 feet (4,500 m) the colonies stopped us in our tracks. But near alpine lakes, the show often became truly spectacular, with one colony nearly 1/8 mile (0.2 km) long at Tianchi Lake at 12600 feet (3850m). Even trying to capture an image that would show the immense scene was challenging. They were so amazing that I’ve begun to run out of adjectives.
Another colony-forming primrose is the pink beauty, Primula secundiflora. If only we could grow it here in New England! Primula secundiflora is just another one of those Himalayan primroses which most of us could only dream of growing, yet here it grows in abundance, often forming large colonies near streams and wet bogs, deceiving us all with its weedy appearance. Don't taunt us P. secundiflora! We came across colonies of P. secundiflora everywhere, but mostly between the areas around Zongdian (Shangrila) and Baima Shan. Some of the colonies were massive and everywhere one looked there were thousands of plants.
And then we started hitting primula overload. If you garden designers believe that yellow and magenta can’t work together, don't tell Mother Nature. Both Primula secundiflora and P. sikkimensis grew together by the millions on a wide seep at Tianchi Lake which is still at high elevation near 12,500 feet (3800m). In another meadow, we saw three or more species of primroses together, with most of the color in this meadow coming from the pale yellow P. sikkimensis and the pink P. zambalensis. The colonies of P. zambalensis we found around Dechin and the high passes of Baima Shan were quite variable, with some completely white and others in every shade of violet-pink.
P. szechuanica was the only species we saw in the section maximowiczii which typically has species with dark or black flowers. At lower elevations, if one can consider 11,000 feet (3400 m) low, we found Primula in the woodlands, like P. polyneura on Baima Shan with wiry stems and delicate blooms.
We found primroses at all levels and in every location in northwestern Yunnan, near the Tibetan borderlands. It is truly a primrose-rich area, and a sight few plant people ever get to see as most plant collectors visit in the autumn and not during the bloom season, just after snowmelt in late spring and the Himalayan summer in June and early July.
Salix in Yunnan Province
There are approximately 575 species of Salix in the world, and China has about 280 of them. There are 105 species in Yunnan Province, so naturally, as a collector of salix (approximately 450 taxa), I was excited by the prospect of seeing many species that were new to me. I was not disappointed. I haven’t counted them, but I may have seen 40-50 species in gardens and on the majestic mountain slopes of this area of the Himalayas. There are about 20 dwarf species native to the incredibly steep high mountains of Yunnan, and unlike larger salix, I was surprised to see these dwarfs growing in what appeared to be dry conditions. The only dwarf that I recognized was the beautiful Salix lindleyana as I had seen that in the Tromsø Botanic Garden, Norway, last summer; it was common on most of the mountains our amazingly sharp-eyed group visited. This species is offered in the trade in North America but is incorrectly identified. What is sold is actually Salix hylematica, also native to the Himalayas, but not Yunnan. I was able to key out another high elevation species as Salix brachista. It was somewhat similar to Salix lindleyana, but differs in that it has more vigorous creeping growth on the tips of some branches and leaves are often spatulate.
One of the most beautiful willows we saw was Salix moupinensis. It is a small tree that has beautiful dark red stems and large shiny reticulate leaves that appear gray from a distance. There were two fabulous shrub willows with new foliage that was bright red; these species were common in their areas, but these individuals were the only ones so colored.
In the cities, the legendary Salix babylonica and its curly-stemmed selection ‘Tortuosa’ were abundant and quite magnificent! There was even an upright form of S. babylonica. China has a very strictly enforced “no removal of any plant part out of the country,” so I was not able to collect seed or cuttings.
I signed up for the NARGS trip to China in the hopes of seeing spectacular plants I would never be able to grow in real life. And we did see many spectacular plants – Rheum nobile, Cypripedium tibeticum, Paraquilegia microphylla, etc – but I found what twanged at my heart strings was seeing plants I already grew growing in their native habitat. I fell on my knees in front of Thalictrum delavayi. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of Podophyllum hexandrum, every one with a different pattern of spots.
I became obsessed with Polygonatum verticillatum though my iPhone refused to focus on its delicate leaves and stems, much preferring the background plants. Looking so closely I discovered the tip of every leaf twists around trying to grab onto something to climb, but they usually encounter only themselves and end up tenderly holding hands. I grow several forms of Polygonatum verticillatum, but when I got home, I was disappointed to discovered none of mine hold hands.
Brilliantly organized tour, lovely keen people, and amazing plants. Every day was magical.
The following table summarizes our nine sightings of Cypripedium spp., comprising six species among three locations. The habitat was always full-to-partial shade in mesic upland woods or thickets. We did not observe the genus in wetlands, open pastures, rock outcrops, or alpine vegetation. The Napahai population of C. tibeticum was near the shrine in the Alpine Botanic Garden while the other two species occurred on nearby hillsides. The Tianchi Lake populations were on a wooded slope near the Lake.
A Botanist’s View of Yunnan
Our leader and botanical mentor was Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens. The twelve participants were Al Gerace, Scott Smith, and Jeff Wagner, also from Colorado; Michael Dodge from Vermont; Matt Mattus from Massachusetts; Terry Humphries from New York; myself (Pennsylvania); Cyndy Cromwell and Nancy Doubrava from North Carolina; Linda Aurichio from California; Derry Watkins from near Bath, U.K.; and Marcela Ferreyra from San Carlos de Bariloche in Patagonia, Argentina. In addition, we were accompanied throughout the entire trip by a marvelous general guide, Carolyn Gao, whose attention to every detail was unfailing; a succession of two knowledgeable local guides, Daniel and Peter, who explained the culture of their respective regions from personal experience; and one or more drivers who were invariably competent, courteous, and punctual.
Our gathering destination was Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. On the official starting date, those of us who had already arrived toured the Kunming Botanical Garden, generously guided by its director, Dr. Sun Weibang. The Garden is extensive, including a rock garden, hardy palms and succulents, several aquatic features, and much more, with frequent labeling throughout. Our tour culminated with the splendid new Conservatory, with its rich naturalistic plantings to simulate desert, rock outcrop, and forest, plus an elaborate system of streams, pools, and high waterfalls.
After one overnight in the Jinjiang Hotel, we began our official trip with a flight northwest from Kunming to the beautiful city of Lijiang. Our first day was mostly cultural, starting with the residence of Joseph Rock, a twentieth-century botanist who also studied the culture of the Naxi, the local ethnic group. Next was the Yufeng Monastery, featuring the 500-year old “Ten Thousand Flower Camellia” (actually two camellias planted together) – unfortunately not in bloom at this time of year. Some of us bought locally grown shelled walnuts from vendors nearby. We then proceeded to the Black Dragon Pool, a small lake with the beautiful Moon-embracing Pavilion; but the famous view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was obscured by the rainy weather. In the evening we attended a performance of music and dancing, then strolled in the old town, with its array of touristy shops – including one with carbon-grilled durian. It looked interesting, but none of us had the courage to buy a sample. We stayed at the picturesque Jinfu Hotel for the next two nights.
The second day in Lijiang was an all-day excursion to Ganheba Pass in the Jade Dragon Mountains, our first serious botanizing. The habitats included pasture; pine woodland; and mixed forest with pine, spruce, fir, and evergreen oaks. Limestone was the prevalent bedrock. We hiked to a scenic, shallow, milky blue lake, which, we were told, filled intermittently, sometimes drying to a wet meadow. The weather was continuously dim, misty, and drizzly. Photography was possible most of the time, but I had to dry out my camera that night. This day is also notorious in our memory because we encountered leeches! Some of us had bloody legs and feet – messy to clean up in the hotel room. Only one attached to me – but it was on my neck! However, the floristic richness more than compensated for these inconveniences. I photographed 77 species of vascular plants on this day (not yet all identified), and Panayoti’s list includes some that I either missed or did not photograph. Highlights surely include Arisaema ciliatum, Cypripedium flavum, C. plectrochilum, C. tibeticum, Incarvillea mairei, Paeonia delavayi, Roscoea cautleyoides, R. humeana, Stellera chamaejasme, Thalictrum delavayi, and others.
The next day our bus drove from Lijiang further northwest to the city of Zhongdian, now also known as Shangrila. En route we did a standard hike along the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The scenery was dramatic, especially the violently rushing water. Although generally dry and rocky, it supported some interesting plants, notably some naturalized cacti as well a large epipetric species of Selaginella (S. tamariscina) and several small ferns. On the plateau before arriving in Shangrila, we botanized in a roadside pasture and were pleased to view Thermopsis barbata, with handsome purple flowers. Our accommodations for the next five nights were at the Shangrila Hilton. We noted the use of Cedrus deodara as street trees and the life-size statues of yaks. We spent our first morning in Shangrila viewing the Songzam (Sumtsenling) Monastery, a huge complex. No photography was allowed inside, but it would have been difficult to capture the profusion of colorful decorations and furnishings. That afternoon we were free to wander in the old town of Shangrila, with lots of touristy shops much like those of Lijiang.
On our second day in Shangrila we rode a cable car to the alpine zone (above tree line) of Shika Shan (14400 feet, 4400 m), then hiked 4.3 miles (7 km) down a 2100 foot (655 m) elevation change through the alpine mosaic of pasture and rhododendron heath, then conifer-rhododendron forest with wet meadows, and finally valley bottom woodland and pastures. Our floristic inventory was rich thanks to the elevation change and varied topography. My photo collection of nearly 100 vascular plant species from that day includes about ten species of Primula and several flowering species of Rhododendron. Two of my four recorded species of Ligularia formed extensive stands but were solely vegetative. A species with large, orbicular leaves occupied open, wet areas in the forest zone while a species with large, ovate leaves was seen in less wet forest openings and also in the valley bottomland pastures, where it was avoided by the grazing livestock.
Our third day in Shangrila took us to the area called Napahai. The first stop was a meadow and woodland on the Shangrila plateau featuring an extensive display of Iris bulleyana, including a few white-flowered plants; some tall, purple-flowered Aquilegia rockii; and the glorious pink-flowered lily, Nomocharis aperta. We then proceeded to the Napahai Alpine Botanic Garden, which featured a secluded Buddhist shrine; a maze garden of large, raised beds devoted to displays of single species; a terraced nursery; and spacious views of Napahai Lake, the nearby village, and bright yellow fields of rapeseed in flower. At the viewpoint, we enjoyed observing a wedding party of local young couples dressed in gorgeous traditional costumes. Although not intensively maintained, the garden had some botanical signage and interesting plants, such as red-flowered Androsace bulleyana; large-flowered Rosa praelucens, with petals changing from deep pink to nearly white; and a species of edelweiss, Leontopodium cf. dedekensii, which reminded us of the Alps of Europe. Our guide Carolyn pleasantly sang for us the edelweiss song from The Sound of Music.
Our final destination from Shangrila was Tianchi Lake, but with a couple of preliminary stops nearby. A wooded slope yielded Cypripedium flavum and C. guttatum while a low meadow displayed a vast, magnificent, mixed stand of two tall species of Primula: deep pink-flowered P. secundiflora and pale yellow-flowered P. sikkimensis. At the lake, our group fragmented and dispersed, so we did not all do the same trek. After examining the large-leaved, pale yellow-flowered Rhododendron wardii, I crossed low rhododendron heaths to the very wet meadows surrounding the lake (carefully, without going in over my boots!) to view Rheum alexandrae, our first rheum, with large, pale, overlapping bracts; plus dense, mixed displays of Primula secundiflora and P. sikkimensis. Brief roadside stops on our return trip were also rewarding, with sightings of Iris decora, Megacodon stylophorus, pink-flowered Rodgersia aesculifolia, red-flowered female Schisandra rubriflora, and distant mountain scenery.
The next morning we departed Shangrila for an area called Hong Shan. We stayed in a rustic guest house with good food (at least to my taste); and botanized around a high-elevation pass (4500 m) for the next four days. The forested slopes around the lodge were a mosaic of dark green conifers, light green deciduous broad-leaved trees, and tawny evergreen oaks. Many of the trees were conspicuously draped with long, pale greenish-yellow skeins of Usnea longissima, a fruticose lichen. Our botanizing habitats included woods (or their remnants), rhododendron thickets and heaths; heavily grazed pastures (yaks, cattle, and horses) above and below treeline; and steep shaley or blocky talus slopes. Roadside stops in the lower elevations gave us dark purple Iris chrysographes; tall, pink-flowered Podophyllum hexandrum subsp. yunnanense; and Arisaema elephas, the incredible length of its curving, tapering, nearly black spadix far exceeding the white-striped maroon spathe.
In the high-elevation talus we saw the drab, hairy rosettes of saussurea and soroseris; and most impressively, the creamy spires of Rheum nobile. Alpine habitats also supported cushions of Androsace delavayi, Arenaria polytrichoides, and Diapensia purpurea, as well as the broad rosettes Lamiophlomis rotata; narrow-leaved rosettes of petite Lilium lophophorum, its oversize flowers with the tepal apices tardily separating; blue-flowered and yellow-flowered species of Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis; blue-, yellow-, and violet-flowered species of Corydalis, the last being C. benecincta, with broad, gray, succulent leaflets that seemed camouflaged against the talus; multiple species of Pedicularis, Rhodiola, Salix, Sibbaldia, of course Primula; and many more. The topography was steep, the scenery spectacular, and the roads unpaved but well maintained. A few snow patches were still present close to the road, but we did not have a chance to walk on them. Long strands of Buddhist prayer flags adorned the summit of the pass. The air was thin, so breathing was hard while hiking up the strenuous slopes – or even just holding one’s breath while taking a photo!
We returned to Shangrila for one overnight then proceeded north to the city of Deqin, not a tourist town, and located in a drier area of the province, with shrubby vegetation covering the mountain slopes. En route we viewed the Great Bend of the Jinsha (Upper Yangtze) River and spent the next four days exploring Baima Shan pass, with the Deqin Shenchuan Hotel as our lodging. A shrine stands at the top of the pass, with strands of Buddhist prayer flags as at Hongshan.
The first day’s hike crossed a level alpine pasture then ascended the adjoining slopes on a trail through low mixed heath (Rhododendron spp., Cassiope cf. pectinata) and dwarf larch (Larix) woodland. The second day was a pasture with some very low rhododendron/cassiope heath. The weather was rainy, and our spirits were a bit soggy as we ate our lunch at in the shelter of a yak herder’s hut then returned to our hotel earlier than usual. The fourth day was also unexceptional: a brief look at blocky sandstone talus and alpine pasture with low shrub thickets of a yellow-flowered rhododendron (cf. R. rupicola var. chryseum) and juniperus. The third day, however, made this part of the trip worthwhile. The habitats started with a mosaic of alpine pasture and low mixed-species Rhododendron heath, with some shrub Juniperus; but the climax was a steep talus slope of sharp-edged, blocky limestone with abrupt pinnacles at the summit. Similar pinnacles were visible in the vicinity, and in the distance were snow-covered high mountain ranges. Remarkable species in this rocky habitat included the weird Saussurea medusa, cushion-forming Potentilla biflora, fruiting Solms-laubachia sp., and, best of all, several stunningly beautiful clumps of Paraquilegia microphylla in peak bloom. In the habitat overall we recorded two species of Androsace, three of Saxifraga, six of Corydalis (including yellow, blue, and reddish purple), six in the Fabaceae, six in the Brassicaceae, a white-flowered dandelion (Taraxacum albidum), and so on. I photographed 61 species.
The next day, after our brief botanizing at Baima Shan, we returned to Shangrila, stopping again at the Great Bend of the Jinsha River. Our farewell dinner was at Yuan Sheng Tan Jie Tibetan Restaurant in Shangrila; we had eaten dinner there previously on our trip and were glad to return to it. The next morning we flew back to Kunming; and the day after that, four of us went to the World Horticultural Exposition Site, a huge place. We looked at the gardens representing each of the provinces of China.