Thursday, 19 November 2009

An 80 Year Old Chinese Botanic Garden


Last night we celebrated the 80th birthday of the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou. Five hours of celebration, including a dozen speeches followed by a music and light extravaganza.

The show was actually pretty spectacular, including an women from the army who I was reliably informed was the most famous singer in China! The only negative was the extreme cold - for a subtropical botanic garden and an outdoor event that took five hours.

In the end us poor folk from the warm climates were given heavy police overcoats. This, I think, saved me and looked quite smart - but you be the judge below.

What were we celebrating? The botanic garden was founded in 1929, and became known as the South China Institute of Botany (or CAS for short) in the 1950s. In 2003 it was renamed the South China Botanical Garden, after a major government investment in landscape, infrastructure and scientific facilities.

The Garden now employs 330 people, including over 200 scientific research staff, plus another 277 graduate students. At 282 hectares, it is one of the largest botanic gardens in China and one of 14 managed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The research is wide ranging, with expertise in vegetation science, restoration ecology, plant classification and medicinal investigation. The herbarium has more than one million specimens and is part of a separate research/residential zone of 37 hectares.

In addition the Garden manages a 1,200 hectare natural conservation area called Dinghushan Nature Reserve, and several field research stations. The climate is not unlike that of Sydney - except for this obscenely cold snap - and they have the ability to grow a wide range of tropical and subtropical plants.

As I mentioned yesterday, they have recently created an Australian Garden and have a spectacular new set of glasshouses. Their goal is to be the leading botanic garden in China and one of the ones considered to be ‘first-class’ in the world.

Tomorrow we will hear about the achievements of the botanic garden and their plans for the future. We'll also visit their laboratories, including the extensive propagation laboratory with a strong focus on growing native Dendrobium orchids. Peter Bernhardt, of St Louis State University and also Research Associate of the Botanic Gardens Trust, tells me dendrobiums are not only popular pot plants in China but tea made from their leaves is a herbal cure and glue from the stems helps ease sore throats of Chinese Opera Singers.

I'm sure many of the singers tonight will need some dendrobium after singing in the chill of a Guangzhou evening. But all in a good cause.

Here are a few more pictures from the festivities...

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