Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Come to my Lecture!

Please join me on February 21, 2008 at the Lang Performing Arts Center of Swarthmore College, PA from 12-1pm where I will guide you through my April 2007 trip to China. I will show images of plants, people, and landscapes from Beijing to Yunnan Province, as well as share with you important information concerning worldwide plant conservation efforts that I learned about while attending BGCI’s 3rd Global Botanic Garden Congress on Plant Conservation in Wuhan, China.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Almost home

So the Tibetan song and dance show turned out to be quite an interesting event! It was in a beautiful Tibetan style building and when we got off the van we were each given a silk scarf around our neck. We walked to the second floor where there were Chinese tourists sitting at the tables eating yak cheese, barley and buckwheat bread. The Yak cheese was delicious! The evening was a kind of Tibetan variety show, with a woman acting as an m.c. and entertaining the dozens of Chinese tourists. There was an unlimited amount of barley alcohol, which is like 60% alcohol, so things got a little loud!

The next day, we visited Bita lake, which was absolutely beautiful. It was rainy and a little cold, but it actually made for a picturesque setting. The lake, along with the conifers, oaks, and rhododendrons, reminded me so much of the lakes in Maine. The air even smelled similar. Others were commenting that it reminded them of British Columbia. I'll post pictures soon.

We also visited a traditional Tibetan home, complete with a pet monkey! This was fascinating. We flew back to Kunming for our last night. We ended the tour with a visit to the Kunming Botanical Garden. I found lots of new plants and will post pictures and info when I get home. I'm in Beijing right now getting ready to fly home. I'm looking forward to seeing everything I've missed at Scott and getting back to work.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yunnan Province

It's been a few days since I've written and lots of things have happened! We wrapped up the congress with some excellent final lectures. I explored Wuhan some more afterwards. We took a ferry across the Yangzi and found the old part of town with one of the oldest markets still working in China. It was beautiful. We definitely stood out in this area, as there were no other tourists around.

I said goodbye to some new friends that I made in Wuhan and bright and early the next day we flew to Kunming in Yunnan province. This is another pretty large city. After a delicious dinner we saw a show that featured many different types of the Chinese minority groups that live in this provence. This has been so interesting to learn about. Not only is Yunnan province one of the most biodiverse places in China, but it is also the most culturally diverse. The Stone Forest was an absolutely amazing landscape. It is a natural wonder that has really bizarre limestone pillars throughout a very large area. This area was underwater about 270 million years ago. The shapes and placement of the rocks gave me a different perspective on Chinese gardens and the use of rocks in cultivated spaces.

We flew to Lijiang and visited a beautiful park called Black Dragon Pool. We also visited a museum of the Naxi people. The Naxi people are the largest minority group in Lijiang. They are a matriarchal society, with the women doing all of the work and taking charge of the family. Their written script, Dongba, is the only hieroglyphic writing system still in use. It's been facinating to see the different traditional costumes of many of these people. This part of town has lots of shopping and tourists. We were commenting that it was a bit like Chinese Disney World! But after we got away from the crowds, we explored another part of the town where people live. We watched firemen practice drills and a kindergarten class be let out for the day. We shared some tea with a wonderful man in a tea shop. Then off to dinner and an evening in Old Town.

Joseph Rock was a famous botanist who lived in Lijiang from 1922-1949. He gathered over 80,000 plant species and contributed many reports and photographs to National Geographic. While living with the Naxi people, he created their first written dictionary and allowed the rest of the world to see the way these fascinating people live. In 1996, Lijiang was hit with a terrible earthquake that destroyed thousands of people's homes. After this earthquake, however, the city built a new section called New Town. Our tour guide, Jack, lives in New Town. He invited a few of us over to his apartment one evening and it was such a treat. His apartment that he shares with his wife was huge! Not at all what I would have expected. He and his wife are both tour guides and speak very good English. They are also both Naxi and speak Naxi, Mandarin and English fluently.

The absolute highlight of my time in China so far came the next day. We drove to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, named so because from the air the 13 peaks of the mountain chain resemble a dragon. The highest peak on this mountain is a virgin one meaning no one has ever gotten to the top. We took a chairlift up and a few of us went off the beaten path and hiked over several valleys to get the best view we could. We got to about 12,000 feet. The altitude hasen't affected me too much except for a little diziness. The air was clean and crisp and beautiful. We all felt glad to be alive after that day's hike.

We visted the local market in Lijiang, where the locals buy fresh meat, produce and handmade goods. It was fascinating! It does not even compare to the farmer's markets at home. The variety of food was amazing.

We took a scenic drive up to Shangri-La this morning. It is a few hour's drive from Lijiang. Our first stop was Napa Lake, which acutally wasn't a lake at all. During the dry seasons like now, there is no water and the area is a grassland pasture for yak. It is really great traveling with adventurers and botanists. All of the sudden they will start yelling for the bus driver to pull over so we can all jump to the side of the road and take pictures of new plants. On our trip there are several Americans, a few Australians, some from the UK, Czech republic, Russia, Spain, Africa, The Netherlands and a few other places that I'm forgetting. It's just as exciting getting to know these people as it is learning so much about China.

I'm off to a show on Tibetan dance and song. This area has primarily Tibetan people. I might make a stop at the oxygen bar afterwards. The air is pretty thin up here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One World

This week has been extremely busy and intense! Dinner in Wuhan with Kang was delicious. It was definitely the best food I've had so far. And wonderful company!

Tuesday's sessions were primarily about plant conservation issues with climate change. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) has 16 targets and goals associated with things like deforestation and habitat destruction. But when they were written just a couple of years ago, global climate change was not the threat that the scientific community sees it as today. Now many plant conservations and ecologists are realizing that a much bigger number of plants need to be protected for the future because of the amount of unknowns associated with our changing climate. This called for much debate and heated discussions! The director of the Forest Research Institute in Malaysia expressed his concerns for the 3rd world, or developing, countries and their ability to meet any of the goals set out by GSPC. But Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, reminded us all that it is dangerous to use terms like "3rd world" when discussing plant conservation. In his eyes, we are one world. I took from this the idea that we must work together at all levels, as individuals and governments to protect our only planet through the conservation of plants and therin the future of humanity. In the words of Dr. Stephen Hopper this morning, "Act globally, think locally."

After another delicious dinner in Wuhan with Kang a group of us went back to the hotel for drinks and further discussions of climate change. A horticulturist from the UK says much of Europe is optimistic about the ability for humanity to make a change in the positive direction because they have seen their governments make changes that have helped. Things like taxing cars, fuel, renewable energy and recycling have really improved their way of life. Several Americans at the table expressed their feeling of doom-that the damage to our earth is irreversible and humanity is on an unstoppable path to its own destruction. Others remarked that much of the world blames America for the amount of greenhouse gases that are significantly contributing to climate change-and yet it is Americans who seem the most pessimistic for change. Maybe we are the ones who actually have the chance to make the most change.

We also had a North American meeting where David Galbraith handed out the North American Plant for Plant Conservation, which is really a reiteration of the global strategy. It will be launched sometime in the next month or so, with perhaps something formal at this year's AAPGA meeting in Washington, D.C. in June.

Yesterday was a day off of the conference and a day tour in Wuhan. The botanical garden was beautiful, but I wish I'd had more time there. I hope to go back tomorrow if I can find some time. And last night was a formal banquet and then an acrobatic show for the delegates. It was amazing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress

Yesterday we left our tour guide, Katy, and flew to Wuhan. Our plane was a little late, so we missed the opening ceremony at the Wuhan Botanical Garden. We'll be back there on Wednesday, though. I'm staying at the hotel right across the street from the conference.

This morning's opening comments were inspiring to say the least! There are dozens of journalists covering this event. When we arrived there was even a red carpet. It is hard for me to describe in this blog the energy and excitement here. There are people here from all over the world. Joan Walmsley, the Chair of the BGCI Board gave the most exciting opening speech. She reminded everyone in the room that the world's greatest challenge right now is our own making. The rate of plant, animal and clean water destruction is our own doing. Our future wars will not be about land or religion, but rather about water. She told us all in the room that because politicians are solely focused on reducing emissions, and not understanding the fragility of ecosystems the way botanists, conservationists and horticulturists do, that we must all become politicians. We must devote our time and work in influencing the government officials around the world about the true meaning of conservation and sustainability. How exciting! I couldn't believe I was in the same room with all of these people. She announced the possibility for the next Conference in 2010 to be in Dublin, Ireland. Although she said this isn't finalized and that other countries should discuss and submit their application. Philadelphia anyone???!!! She also announced the opening of a BGCI office in China. The details haven't been worked out, but this was really exciting news.

After the opening remarks I met an American who commented on how lucky I was to be here at such a young age. I'm definitely one of the youngest people here! He said he'd wished he had the opportunity to go to something like this 23 years ago when he first started his career in horticulture. He is headed on a plant exploration trip in Southern China after the conference. There are just so many interesting and exciting people here!

I met up with Claire and she introduced me to Kang! Many of you may remember him from his time at the Scott Arboretum. He showed us pictures of his new baby. He seems like a wonderful person and I'm looking forward to spending more time with him this week.

This afternoon's topics were about various networks of botanic gardens around the world and their history. Steven Clemants from BBG also spoke about The North American Botanical Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation and its role in conserving plant diversity. We will get a copy of this tomorrow at the North American regional meeting. I also met David Galbraith, who is the chair for the North American Partnership for Plant Conservation. He works a the Royal Botanic Gardens in Hamilton, Canada. We learned about various plant networks globally, including two in both South East Asia (SEABG) and East Asia.

After break I attended a workshop on managing living collections for conservation using technology. Several great speakers talked about databases and collaborations around the world. Mike O'Neal and Kerry Walter from BG-Base spoke about their tool. David Aplin of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium spoke to us about the use of bar codes in his garden. He encouraged us all to implement this technology in our gardens to ensure quick and accurate data collection and retrieval. Exciting!

Tonight: dinner in Wuhan with Kang! Today was a wonderful start to the Congress.

Magnolia Conservation

A new report published by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and another organization called the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has identified 131 wild magnolias that are in danger of extinction. Worldwide, there are 245 species. You can download the report, titled the Red List of the Magnoliaceae from BGCI. Here's the link:
Download the Red List of the Magnoliaceae

Listen to Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI, on NPR's All Things Considered.

At the conference this week, the BGCI will be launching China's Strategy for Plant Conservation which will hopefully strengthen the conservation efforts of Chinese magnolias. I am so excited to be a part of this conference! The Red List report shows the amazing amount of work that BGCI has already done in developing a strategy for the conservation of Magnoliaceae. I look forward to posting additional information that I learn from the conference concerning this work.

Also, for more information on Magnolias, check out the Magnolia Society International website: