Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Up Into the Mountains-Gong Shan and nearby

 On this day we travelled into the heart of the Lisu autonomous prefecture, from where our driver whom we called Xiao Han, came from.  We stayed in a hotel in Cao Dian (the place with the nice orchids in the lobby and cool wood carvings) where masses of roosters crowing woke us up the next morning along with a garbage truck going around the neighborhood with loud music.  We then went to the Gongshan area then went up into nearby BiLuoXueShan (BiLuo Snow Mountain) and then came back down to Xiao Han's place to have a wonderful home cooked meal. Going up I found a rather cryptic impatiens species with small flowers and reddish leaves, evidently an annual sort.  We also crossed our most challenging avalanche.  It was so scary to me that I suggested we go back down the mountain but since Xiao Han was determined to get past it, we got out of the car and walked rather than ride near the edge of the road where a steep dropoff was.  The 20 or 30 feet of dangling road fence that got broke by the rocks obviously didnt make me feel any better.   But Xiao Han made it through as did we by foot after we moved a few rocks to make it easier and more than a few prayers were said. We did the same thing when we came back down the mountain. I did find that the highest altitude we got to on the mountain (around 3,700 meters or 12,000 feet) made me feel not well after two forays from the van.  On the first foray we tramped around a rhododendron patch interwoven with an impatiens species and lots of other things including a Nomocharis species that is quite localized and threatened by the grazing that occurs in that area, so yeah, we had to watch out for cow patties too. No problems there other than typical feeling weird at high altitude.  Then we drove a little further and I suggested we stop where there was a little mini valley that seemed to keep the cows out and which had a small creek running through it.  This spot revealed many treasures, including the first meconopsis I have seen in habitat.  They were in seed, along with a primula species, so I did not get to see the no doubt magnificent flowers they must have had earlier in the year.  There was an amazing Apiaceae of some sort, along with Melanoseris, Saxifraga, Geranium, and other wonderful things. After some wondering around I started feeling anxious, a tightness in my chest (not painful but at my age any weird feeling in the chest can be a cause for concern), and very fatigued. I told the two guys I was going back to the van since I felt ill and Grace was already in the van, not wanting to venture out into the mud as it had rained that day.  The guys came back too and I said we need to get to a lower elevation, I could barely speak and Grace told me I looked pale.  When we got down two or three hundred meters I started to feel normal again.  To this day I am not sure what it was, could it have been a panic attack or, more likely, low oxygen levels that made me feel ill?  My lung capacity is not quite what it should be for reasons unknown other than I have some minor scarring in the lower left lung which could be from a previous respiratory infection, or so I have been told.   I've never smoked (although both of my parents did and I was exposed to too much of that as a child), but I have been exposed to a lot of dirt and dust in my gardening life and when I worked at the new York Botanical Garden, so these days if I am working with particularly dusty stuff like sand or wood chips for mulching, or am spraying deer repellant or any pesticide, I wear an N95 mask for protection.  The long time readers of my blog know I got to 14,000 feet some years ago on Horseshoe Mountain in Colorado and while I felt a bit strange it was not scary like this 12,000 feet lower elevation in China was. Another odd thing is that sometimes as we drove we hit 4000 meters and I was fine just sitting in the vehicle.  Granted we didn't stay at that height very long nor was I moving so I think it has something to do with time and exertion at high altitude that isn't good for me.  I was advised to walk and move slowly which can be hard when there are so many neat plants to see. 

After we came down the mountain we had to cool off the car brakes in the nearest village with a hose, and then we got to visit Xiao Han's village where his lovely wife cooked up a wonderful dinner for us.  Grace helped with the cooking and we got to meet one of his sons, the other son was away studying in a boarding school.   I took a walk around the village and saw some interesting things like Camellia azalea, a summer blooming rare species which has been used to create summer blooming camellia hybrids in China.  While plants of this species are not uncommon in cultivation in Yunnan, seed seems to be impossible to find and the plant itself is a rather recent discovery with a very limited range much further to the east in Guangdong. It is not at all hardy so one has to wonder what could result from crossing it with hardier C japonica types or C oleifera, maybe a camellia that flowers in summer but is winter hardy to USDA Z6? 

                                                    Fallen bright red rose hips lower on the mountain 

                                Looking up the eroded slope the rose species that produced the colorful hips was                                    readily spotted
A curious blue flower, maybe a species of Swertia? 

Another Lycopodium species with sporangia

Our first view of the landslide

The red leaved annual impatiens that seemed to only grow on this mountain

It was raining at times but the small flowers were like little jewels in the gloom

There was some variation in both leaf and flower color as one examined more plants of the Impatiens sp. 

We arrive at 3,700 meters in the rhodendron patch where cows graze and trample things

Despite the cows there was a lot of diversity, no doubt a lot of it protected by the tangle of different rhododendron and other shrubby species.  Here a Polygatum sp grows that looks similar to what we have in our woodlands. 

This was a species of Primula

An Asteraceae, perhaps a species of Ligularia?

Yet another mystery Arisaema.  This one must be very cold hardy. 

A Ranunculus species? 

Very pretty but a hemiparasite, most likely a species of Pedicularis which is very diverse in China. This might be P.oxycarpa. 

A Persicaria or Polygonatum species that was quite common. 

The Impatiens species that must be quite cold hardy.  It can grow fairly tall and its spreading rhizomes wove themselves tightly into the mass of roots below

Seedheads of a clematis species that were not quite mature

A species of Crawfordia I think

Another Corydalis species, this one tended to not be as well branched as other yellow species we saw on the trip, but beautiful as almost all of its genus are.  And in China this genus is vast indeed. 

More arisaemas hiding among the ferns.  

I'm guessing a Ligularia but maybe something else entirely

A cute little Disporum I think along with many other botanical mysteries

Sorbus species also grew with the rhododendrons

The sorbus fruits must be a quite pretty red when fully ripe and most sorbus also have nice fall foliage color

I'm guessing its a gentiana species of some sort, probably not one of the prettiest ones

The persicaria or polygonatum species can look quite beautiful in a mass

A Saxifraga species most likely
The mini valley we next decided to explore.  In South Africa it would be a mini kloof. 

Awesome tiny things, maybe a species of Saxifraga?

This yellow saxifraga has cute tiny red spots on the petals

Geraniums are found on nearly all continents but China is rich in species

This aconitum doesnt win an award for flower color but was interesting nonetheless

Geranium sp foliage

Primula in seed with friends

The nodding flowers of Geranium sp. 

An astilbe or aruncus species? 

Maianthemum species? 

One of a couple of sedges I saw in China with ornamental flowers, a rarity in the family

Melanoseris species

A closer view 

Even at this height there are roses

That pretty yellow saxifrage again

Either a species of Trollius or Caltha in seed

More yellow Corydalis sp. 

A crucifer, probably Cardamine, in seed.  The Chinese species tend to be much showier in flower than our small white flowered woodland species here in the USA

The holy grail, an actual meconopsis in the wild!

Yijia found this enormous and stunning Apiaceae.   

There were a few fresh flowers among the masses of Trollius/Caltha species

Rubus or raspberries are also very diverse in China

Geranium species with masses of not quite ripe seed

So much going on in this little patch. 

A dwarf rhododendron?  Nice habit whatever it is. 

A less exciting but still impressive Apiaceae

As we come back down the mountain a rather scraggly orange raspberry showed up

Some trees, usually out of reach, were thick with lichens and epiphytes 

All manner of things were growing in this tree near the edge of a cliff

Anaphalis sp, a white everlasting not dissimilar to some we have here 

More of the small impatiens species, these had darker flowers than the first ones we saw

Hypericum is an ubiquitous genus in China, they are nearly everywhere that is still wild

Before this trip I did not know that Mimulus grew in China.  This could easily be mistaken for one of our western US species, and it liked moist areas near creeks.

Always nice views

Oh look, its another one of those red hipped rose bushes 

This little dandelion like species, maybe a Microseris sp, would look fine in a rock garden

A large tree lower down not far from where people live had interesting fruits.  Perhaps it is a hawthorne or other relative of such or do some sorbus have entire leaves? 

Fruits of said plant

A tree which had aeschynanthus among other things growing on it. 

Gotta cool the brakes off, luckily the villagers in the area all know each other and are happy to lend a hose for the effort

Xiao Han had a nice place above a store his wife manages, they moved here a few years ago when the government built new housing for local people. 

This huge photo is of a famous bend in the local river

Took a little walk before dinner and near a stream I spot another Impatiens arguta.   I love this species and its a good one that is grown in gardens and it can take cold winters if mulched. 

Yet another mystery gesneriad with a long green seed pod

Quite a few dendrobiums (and begonias) could be seen around the village

The very special summer flowering Camellia azalea.  This one is the true species. 

A closer view.  The flowers can vary in petal width among different clones I am told

Xiao Han's wife, her son, and Grace get dinner ready

There is nothing better when travelling to have an authentic experience with local people.  I've read that some travellers find China to not be very welcoming but in my own experience that is not true.   I'm sure it helps that my wife is Chinese and speaks the language (I'd be lost otherwise and rather few Chinese know much English, especially in remote areas like this) but we have had only good experiences with the kind people we met in our journeys. 

Chinese food varies a lot by region and I really liked the food we had in Yunnan.  And it doesn't get better than homemade of course. 

Chicken, veggies and rice.  Works for me. 

The iphone has a handy altimeter app that let me know just how high I was when I got ill.   I'll keep that in mind next time.