Heading Down the Mountain

After another night in our high class accommodations, we decided to walk further down the mountain in the morning returning to pick up our bags by lunch then take the bus down to about 4,500′ where I was told I could collect and visit a small botanic garden. We quickly passed through an area we had visited before and then began heading steeply down thousands of steps and found a lovely small bushy Ilex (holly) where our host, Liu Gang said he remembered it from a previous trip. The herbaceous layer was quite nice as well with a small, burgundy flowered Ranunculaceae family member, a showy woodland Sedum and quite a few ferns including an Asian Adiantum (maiden-hair fern). The most exciting find for the day was a large leaf Osmanthus growing at about 5,800′. Unfortunately it was not in flower or fruit but still exciting to see it growing in the wild. As we passed through a region thick with bamboo, we noticed some spots of bright color. These flashes of red belonged to a narrow-leaf Euonymus in full fruit. The foliage of this spindle tree exactly matched the bamboo and would have been difficult at best to see without the bursting seedpods.

A Rhododendron with huge leaves and big, rounded buds was quite frequent along our route and I was determined to find seed. Unfortunately, seedpods were few and far between and always at the top of the plant, 20’+ high, much higher than I wished to climb on the sheer side of a mountain. Brian on the other hand was searching for coffee. A small stand on the side of the trail satisfied his craving. As I impatiently waited for him to finish with his coffee break, we noticed my rhody growing on the hillside above the stand. The owner of the stand quickly offered to get seed for me – an offer I certainly couldn’t refuse. After climbing quickly to the top and tossing down the seed, he entertained us with magic tricks. China will never cease to amaze me.

We made the very tough decision to head back up the trail to our hotel and gather our belongings in order to head back down the mountain on a bus. Our objective was to ride down to a stop at about 4,500′ where we could explore the evergreen forest full of tempting plants I only glimpsed on the way up. As we hurtled down the twisting, precipitous road in a small bus, passing cars on blind curves, I tried to be as Asian as possible and enter a Zen frame of mind. I was not successful. The armrest of the bus will bear my grip’s indentations forever or at least until the bus succumbs to the laws of physics and goes flipping over the side of the mountain.

When I could bear to open my eyes, I noticed we were passing all the plants I desperately wanted to take a closer look at including beautiful specimens of Schefflera growing at an altitude that should prove hardy in central North Carolina. When we finally stopped, the bus had brought us much farther down than we had hoped. We were in a zone that was fully tropical with many of the plants standing little or no chance of being hardy. To further make matters worse, we were not in an area where we could collect in the wild. As a slight consolation, we visited the Emei Shan Botanic Garden where we saw plants that I had hoped to see in the wild including both Camellia elongata and C. omeiensis as well as Magnolia (Parakmeria) omeiensis. Also, new to me was Aucuba obcordata, a green leaf aucuba with obovate (wider towards the leaf tip) leaves.

Unfortunately I had unwittingly scheduled our trip for the week of the Chinese national holiday. For eight days, most businesses would be shut down and everyone would be on vacation. One point four billion people on the road makes for some crowded highways and since Emei Shan is a prime destination spot, we decided to leave more exploration for another trip. The steep mountain sides and inaccessible nooks and crannies would make the work of collecting and botanizing on Emei Shan the work of a lifetime. Tomorrow we will visit a nursery production area outside of Chengdu.

(Note: Due to connectivity issues, Mark cannot add photographs. He’ll post a pictorial blog when at a later date.)

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