I do need to reorder these photos so they are in sequence but it is tedious to do so from what I know of how to use blogger. Nonetheless I wanted to get this post published so I can post many more about the current year in my garden so forgive the lack of precise identifications on some photos and the somewhat mixed sequence they are in. I might come back at some point in the future with more specific identifications and perhaps more photos.
The Taipei flower market was a neat place to visit, plants of all kinds were there including some lovely orchids, both for sale and in a small but high quality paphiopedilium show exhibition. I was able to find some native cymbidium cultivars for sale at about 5 for 20 US dollars which is a steal. Phaleonopsis cvs went for about 3 dollars US and paphs for around 10 dollars but because they are on Appendix 1 (I think that might include hybrids too, but not sure) I didnt get any of them. I was able to get the appropriate CITES paperwork for the few things I did buy but I also knew not to be tempted by the paphs because they require additional paperwork from the country they are going to, which is basically impossible to get. So I had to be content to just look and photograph the paphs. I also found a very rare South African species, the vivid red Jamesbrittenia bergeae, a stunning species discovered in a particular location not far from the Limpopo River after my last visit to SA in 1993. Unfortunately it had no seeds and although I did bring back cuttings after getting the phyto for them, they did not survive. I would really like to acquire seed of this species, and that can only come from somewhere where more than one clone is in cultivation as most Jamesbrittenia are self infertile. I dont know if the material in Taiwan is one clone that is propagated asexually or if there are other clones there. If any reader knows of a source for seed, please contact me, I would love to put this species into my South African garden which I will blog about in a later post.
We then went to the eastern coastal town of Hualien. Its a place for tourists, and so we took a bus with our friends Yi and Yen and their 2 kids who were also with us for part of the trip to a weird sort of park to the south. It featured a collection of exotic birds including many gorgeous pheasant species, and also a cast of giant dinosaur replicas, which I had some fun with as you can see. There were other animals too, including an ostrich that was in a pen where some Isotoma longiflora were growing. The ostrich had eaten all the grass in its pen but didnt touch the isotoma which is toxic and which bore some nice fat seed pods I was intent on getting. But every time I tried to reach through the fence I had to step back as the angry ostrich came for me. So after some thought Grace and I had the brilliant idea of throwing some fresh grass we gathered outside its pen to it at one end to keep it focused while I snatched some seed pods. It worked, the ostrich was evidently quite hungry, and I got some seeds of this lovely plant. There are some pink and blue seed strains of this species or something close to it in cultivation in the US and probably the straight species as I saw it also grows in tropical places like Florida but I dont know for sure so I wanted to take some seeds back to plant in my garden one day.
We then hired an excellent driver who spoke only Mandarin (well maybe Taiwanese too), to take us up thru the Taroko Gorge near sea level to about 10,000 feet elevation at the top of Huehuanshan, one of the tall mountains in central Taiwan. The road is fine in the lower parts of the gorge but it gets scary as one ascends in elevation. These hillsides slide easily during the frequent typhoons and earthquakes that hit Taiwan, and they drop rocks even when neither event is occurring, Tourists have infrequently been killed by falling rocks in the gorge and most likely above it so it required a bit of courage to do this trek. But I am glad we did, it was the best view I got of the native flora and there were spectacular vistas on the way as well. In the lower gorge area I found a rather pretty species of utricularia and some very interesting small ferns growing on a vertical wall with a thin layer of mud and seepage. As we went up it got cooler and we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had the usual excellent food we got in Taiwan. Near the roadside a very nice pink flower grew, I have no identification on it but was able to collect some material as I also did of a native begonia I that I also could not identify. Both are growing well in pots now. We saw a very old native Taiwanese conifer that is another tourist stop, apparently many such trees were logged out earlier in the past century but this giant old one remains. Plum trees that were planted along the road were beginning to flower on naked branches, and a variety of wildflowers including an indigenous aster not unlike our wood aster was frequent at relatively low elavations. Once we cleared the main gorge area, the road got more narrow and at one point we saw workers attaching what looked like a giant chain link fence to the slope above the road, presumably to reduce rock falls. We climbed higher into a pine forest, where many choice wildflowers could be found,and with some careful inspection, seeds as well. Dianthus superbus ssp taiwanensis was a relatively common sight in this area and on one slope we found the exquisite Viola formosana, the most beautiful of the three Taiwanese violas I saw. Even the leaves were exquisitely marked. One can only hope it might be hardy in the US, as a number of Taiwan's higher altitude flora has proven to be reasonably cold hardy here. A contoneaster species with abundant orange berries grew in one location as a flat mat which adhered to the rocks and ground it flowed over. A yellow corydalis and potentilla were also in this area as were some low growing rubus species. I even found a European plant, Geranium robertianum, which apparently has naturalized in the cooler areas of Taiwan just as it has done here in the US. Ferns, probably Taiwan's most diverse group of plants, were to be found at every stop in a variety of forms. One that I found lower down in the gorge had very hirsute leaves, others resembled species I have seen elsewhere but not being a fern expert I was not familiar with most. I did collect some spores and after a careful reading of my import permit regulations and information on the site concerned with such things, learned that fern spores do not require a written permit to be imported into the US. That was a surprise but I suppose the reasoning is sound in that pest organisms are highly unlikely to be travelling on and persist with tiny fern spores, which also can theoretically travel via wind around the world too. As we got into the high alpine areas I was thrilled to find on the slopes of Huehuanshan seeds of Lilium formosanum var pricei, the dwarf Taiwan lily. It is sometimes grown in rock gardens and it is hardy and quick from seed. All the stems I saw bore only one upright capsule and the wind had long scattered most of the seeds but I did find a few capsules with abundant seed trapped inside. A couple of Gentian species were also present in these high altitude areas, including one were I found a late season flower. It had imbricate leaves sort of like a heather or juniper, the other species had rosettes of foliage. Again careful examination of the plants revealed seed capsules which had tiny seeds in them. I have a lot of experience finding and gathering seeds from my gardens as well as in the wild, so I know most of the "tricks" to find them. The imbricate foliaged gentian bore them on the ends of stems whereas the rosulate gentian had thm among dead leaves right at ground level.
We left our hotel at about 7 in the morning and by the time we got around to heading back it was already getting dark. Fog rolled in and it was pretty frightening going down the mountain, thru the pine forests and back down the gorge. We saw that a few rocks had fallen on the road in a couple of places, and large trucks that bring cabbage down from the highlands were barreling there way back up the road. Although the road had a rail at its edge, we knew that in the event of a crash there was no way a vehicle would escape a long plunge into the ravine in many locations. But our driver had taken many others up this road before and his confidence was reassuring. Still I wish I had taken a video of the ride thru the front window as we went down through the fog in the darkness. Not for the faint of heart, and I am not a particularly brave person to be truthful. We arrived safely back at our hotel later that evening and when we returned to Taipei I had to sort out and clean all seeds and propagation material and prepare it for inspection by the Taiwanese authorities that deal with such things.
There were many other flowers to be seen even at this late time of the year and this was for me the highlight of the trip. I was able to collect seed and propagation material and had no problems at all getting them inspected so I could get the necessary phytosanitary certificate and, in the case of the few orchids I purchased, the CITES certificate, to bring them back to the US with my plant import permit. I had heard from experienced plant hunters that obtaining the paperwork in Taiwan could be difficult but my experience was frankly wonderful. Perhaps it helped that my wife speaks Mandarin, or maybe I just was in luck, but I have to say that in all of my travels I have never found more helpful people than the folks who did the necessary inspections and provided the paperwork. It didnt even cost anything, and I was impressed with both their efficiency and willingness to be helpful.
I came away from Taiwan with a deeper understanding of the island's culture and flora, and would heartily recommend a visit there for anyone wanting to experience an Asian country that is very safe, genuinely friendly, and very accommodating to tourists.