Saturday, 19 May 2012

Last dynastic rose on way to Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, China


Rosa xanthina was described by John Lindley in his 1820 monograph of the genus Rosa. Lindley didn't see a living specimen but based his description on a drawing in the library of Aylmer Bourke Lambert, a founder of the Linnean Society (of which I am now a member!), a Fellow of the Royal Society (of which I'm not) and supporter of Kew Gardens (which I am).

Lambert had an extensive botanical library and herbarium, praised by Sir Joseph Hooker as 'one of the most extensive and valuable ever formed by a private individual'. He had gathered private herbaria from many countries, including China, but it was a collection of drawings of Chinese plants that caught Lindley's attention in 1820.

Lambert also collected living plants and donated a collection of cacti to Kew in 1841. But his rose drawing was the start of the rather slow introduction of this pretty and robust, shrub rose into cultivation. Single and double flowers occur in nature, and now in gardens. This one from Xi'an is single, which I prefer.


Rosa xanthina grows naturally on scrubby slopes in North China (and Korea) but is widely planted throughout the country. The specimens I photographed were near the 8,000 buried Terracotta Warriors, an attempt by the first Qin Emperor to take control of his afterlife in the same way he had conquered, and unified, China in real life.


In the town of Xi'an you can see traces of the Qin (200 BC), the Ming (who rebuilt the city wall 600 years ago) and if I really stretch it, the Manchu (in this rose). I suspect the name comes from the region once called Manchuria, where the rose grows, rather than the last Dynasty (officially the Qing, that lasted from 1644 to 1912) but I'm allowed some poetic licence in my own blog. This tenuous link between the tree dynasties also allows me to finish with this striking picture taken on top of the 17 metre thick city wall around Xi'an.


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