A study of orchids in Yunnan
by Jinyong Chen
In June 2000 I had my threee weeks study tour in Yunnan Province, southwestern China. The topography and climate vary a lot in Yunnan. There are over18,000 species of higher plant, among which 540 species are orchids. The aims of the trip were: to understand the collection and conservation work in the botanical gardens in Yunnan; to gain knowledge of orchid cultivation, especially on medicinal plant Gastrodia elata and other commercial ornamental orchids; to understand the habitat of terrestrial and epiphytic orchids, especially Cymbidium, Cypripedium, Dendrobium, and Paphiopedilum.
I flew to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan on the 8th of June. First, I visited Kunming Botanical Garden and saw the flowering Calanthe argento-sriata, Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum, Dendrobium falconeri, Phalaenopsis wilsonii, Cleistoma paniculatum etcetera in the orchid house. I also visited two other gardens in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, southern Yunnan. I visited Xishuangbanna Medicinal Plant Garden in Jinghong first. Formerly, they grew more than 100 species of orchids, but now most of them are horticultural species. I saw flowering Aerides rosea, Hygrochilus parishii, Dendrobium falconeri, Cymbidium lowianum, Thunia alba, Phaius tankervillea and Trichoglottis etcetera in the orchid house. The next one was Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Menglun town. Previously, the garden collected over 275 wild species of orchids, but now only some 100 species remain. I saw flowering Arundina graminifolia, Pholidota imbricata, Dendrobium chryseum, D. moschatum, Phaius columnaris, Aerides rosea and Hygrochilus parishii in the orchid garden.
On the 9th of June, I went to Xiaocaoba Forestry Administration, Yiliang County Zhaotong Prefecture, in northeastern Yunnan to see Gastrodia elata cultivation. The site is on the top of Baigongshan mountain at an altitude of 1,960m. Gastrodia requires a cool, humid, cloudy climate, and most soil with good drainage. It also grows in close relationship with the fungus Armillariella mellea. I saw the flower stalk coming up in a shady place.When the flowers come out, they will be pollinated by insects and get fruit pods. Then seeds will be sown on the prepared bed where branches and leaf mould are layered to stimulate the growth of fungi. The rhizome usually develops underground for more than three years before it is mature and flowering. When the flower stalk comes out, the rhizome can be dug out and washed, then dried slowly on the stove.
In order to see the industrial production of orchids, I visited Jingzheng Flower Ltd. In Anning County near Kunming. It may be the largest orchid company in China. The major products are the cultivars of Phalaenopsis, Cymbidium hookerianum, Oncidium, and Dendrobium phalaenopsis. I visited the tissue culture house, the young seedling houses, the mature plant houses and the plant sale house. It is large-scale production and flower quality is good. They produce pot plants and cut flowers for the market.
My interest was to study the habitat of tropical and temperate orchids and to see their conservation status. First I went to a limestone mountain near Menglun town in Xishuangbanna. The altitude is above 1,000m and the vegetation is very rich. The epiphytic orchids grow on the trunks and branches of the trees and on the rock surface. I saw a lot of Bulbophyllum and Eria there, as well as Liparis, Dendrobium, Coelogyne and Pholidota.
To study the habitat of Paphiopedilum I went to Wenshan Prefecture, southeast Yunnan. First I went to the Malipo County and climbed the Mingzishan Mountain. At about 1,060m I found three species of Paphiopedilum, P. dianthum, P. henryanum, and P. micranthum. They grew under the trees on the humus soil were the humidity and soil moisture are high. Moreover, I saw Liparis, Malaxis, Eria, Pholidota, Hemiphila cruciata, Vanda concolor, Thunia alba, Bulbophyllum odoratissimum and Geodorum as well. Then I went to Dashidong, Manguan County. At the altitude of about 1,400m I saw Paphiopedilum malipoense and P. dianthum and Cymbidium cyperifolium, C. lancifolium, Dendrobium densiflorum and Malaxis. They grow in limestone forest where it is shady, moist, and the soil is rich in humus. I also saw Dendrobium chryseum growing on trees.
My last interest was Cypripedium in northwestern Yunnan. I went to Ganheba grassland in Lijiang and at 3,050m I saw Cypripedium flavum, C. tibeticum, C. margaritaceum, and Calanthe delavayi. Then I travelled further north to Zhongdian County. I went to Napahai grassland and at an altitude of 3,200m I saw two more species, Cypripedium guttatum and C. yunnanense. Cypripedium usually grew at the edge of the forest, or on the open land with other perennial plants. Normally they liked humus soil which can keep moisture and have good drainage as well.
After the trip to Zhongdian, I finished my work. It is great to travel to some parts of Yunnan to see the diverse species of orchids. I saw the typical Chinese medicinal plants Gastrodia elata and other ornamental orchid species. I saw the habitat of epiphytic and terrestrial orchids in the tropical area and terrestrial orchids in the temperate region. I gained a lot of knowledge and understanding from the trip.