Thursday, 26 April 2012

Xi’an’s botanic garden: all about fishin’, marryin’ and tulips



Shaanxi Botanical Garden in Xi'an, China, doesn’t have the richest collection of interesting plants or the most beautifully manicured horticultural landscape. But in a city of 8 million closely-packed people it is place to treasure, particularly when the tulips are out.


Walking through the entrance, after paying you 20 Yen (£2), everything and everyone slows down. There are people strolling, sitting and fishing.


I saw six couples in various places having their wedding photographs taken.


All the signage is in Chinese so not a lot for a foreigner to learn, except that tulips are beautiful. Even here in China, adjacent to the natural source of most cultivated Tulipa in southern Kazakhstan, they pay homage to the country most frequently associated with this plant today. Still, although species of Tulipa do grow wild in China Xi’an is probably only a little closer to Kazakhstan than The Netherlands – China is a big country!


The Ottomans first cultivated tulips, about 1000 years ago, and they were introduced into Europe soon after, in the 11th century.  I gather tulip cultivars came to China via Europe. Where they have clearly been embraced.

The rest of the botanic garden is not so colourful , although still a pleasant place for wandering and contemplating. There are various ponds but at this time of year few aquatic plants doing their thing. Mostly it’s trees and low shrubs.


The Oriential Plane (Platanus orientalis) is another species from further west (Balkans to Iran) although perhaps once extending almost into China. It features in the street plantings around Xi’an, as well as in this botanic garden.


The other very popular street tree is the misnamed Styphnolobium japonica, which I’ve blogged about before. Despite the species name this tree is definitely native to China and called locally the Chinese Scholar Tree or even the Xi’an Tree. This avenue of Styphnolobium japonica is beside the 600 year-old city wall around central Xi’an – a 17 metre thick discouragement to invading forces of the time.


Also local, and in the botanic garden, is Oriental Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), which I also blogged about recently. I include a picture here just to show Timothy Walker, Director of Oxford University’s botanic garden, how the Chinese make it look a little more showy (Timothy was sceptical about my portraying it as an exceptional horticultural specimen)…



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