Alpine Garden Society

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Arisaema candidissima Dates

Around 7th to 24th June, 2014 (16 days in China)

Leader:  Phillip Cribb

Cost:  In the region of £4,400 per person, including flights

The south-western Chinese province of Yunnan has been a Mecca for plant hunters for over a century. Its flora contains a wealth of garden-worthy hardy plants including many of the choicest of our garden plants. Nowhere else in the world will you find so many beautiful flowering shrubs and trees - rhododendrons, magnolias, dogwoods, birches, maples and conifers have all proliferated here to produce some of the temperate world's richest and most exciting forests.

The golden age of the plant hunter in South-west China lasted for only about fifty years finishing abruptly in the 1940s. It is only since the 1980s that many of the favourite hunting grounds of the famous plant collectors such as Forrest, Rock and Kingdon-Ward have become accessible to western enthusiasts.  Visitors to Lijiang, Dali and Zhongdian can at long last marvel at the abundance of flowers, shrubs and trees that dazzled the early adventurers into these botanical paradises.

The 2014 tour will visit some of the richest areas of western and north-western Yunnan. The itinerary has been designed to provide the maximum time in the field looking at plants in their natural habitats while still leaving time to explore some of the best preserved ancient cities of the region.

Incarvillea zhongdianensis


From Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan we will drive west to Baoxing and Tengchong,, ancient cities on the old Burma road that many of the early plant hunters visited on their journey into western China. The road to Tengchong crosses both the Mekong (Lancangjiang) and Salween (Nujiang) rivers. We also cross the Nushan and Gaoligongshan mountain chains with their rich woody floras. Tengchong is the place where George Forrest died and was buried. We will drive north-west from Tenchong  into the wooded hills near the Burmese border.  These forests are rich in rare trees and shrubs and the home of many delightful herbaceous plants, notably arisaemas, pleiones and calanthes.

We then head south to the famous walled city of Dali, nestling beneath the flanks of the Canshan range, one of the best preserved ancient cities in China and the home of the Bai people. It was used by Père Delavay, the French missionary and plant hunter, as a base for many years in the latter part of the 19th century. The slopes above the city boast a rich variety of trees and shrubs that is scarcely equalled even in this part of the world. Highlights are the rhododendrons, Mag­nolia wilsonii, and Paeonia lutea. For the orchid enthusiast Cangshan is most famous for being the home of the golden pleione, that most prized of orchids.

The ancient Naxi city of Lijiang in NW Yunnan featured in the award-winning TV series “Land Beyond the Clouds”. A massive earthquake led to the rebuilding of much of the walled city but it remains a charming place. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (5596m) forms the backdrop to Lijiang and is one of the wonders of China. Its backbone of snow-covered peaks snakes south from the Yangtze (Jingshajiang) for thirty miles and its eastern slopes were the favourite plant-hunting ground of George Forrest and of the American Joseph Rock. The precipitous limestone slopes of the mountain chain are home to a wonderful diversity of enticing plants. Many species of rhododendron can be found here, and gentians, lilies, meconopsis, primulas and anemones abound. The golden daphne, whose fragant mounds can be smelt before they are seen, is a speciality of the screes at 3000 m. In the pine and spruce forest on the flanks above the torrential streams can be found carpets of orchids. Even the rocks in the streams are garlanded with primulas, pleiones and dwarf rhododendrons. The plain north of Lijiang looks bare and dry as it slopes up to the mountain but it is the home of the blood-red tree paeony, Paeonia delavayi, delicate pink Clematis chrysocoma, the purple trumpets of Incarvillea mairei, violet and lemon-yellow roscoeas and golden Primula for­restii. Finally hidden in the hills above the city is a hanging valley whose grassy floor and slopes are the home of several species of slipper orchid.

From Lijiang we head north across the great Yangtze on the way to Zhongdian. Crossing the river is an awesome experience, the river's yellow-brown waters flooding down out of the Tibetan highlands through the precipitous green-flanked Tiger -leaping Gorge over a mile deep. Zhongdian (Chungtien), another famous collecting station of Forrest and Rock, is set in a high green basin beside a large seasonal lake famous for its overwintering cranes. The meadows are rich in colourful herbs, especially candelabra primulas, irises and marsh marigolds. The slopes around the rim of the plateau abound spectacular rhododendrons beneath which can be found rare slipper orchids, lilies, arisaemas (Cobra lilies), meconopsis and anemones. The town boasts a fine Tibetan monastery, recently restored after the ravages of the Red Guards in the 1970s. 

From Zhongdian we travel a further day north to Deqen (Frank Kingdon- Ward’s Atuntze) where we will botanize on the slopes of the high mountains nearby. Here, on the Sichuan border, the scenery is awe-inspiring and the botanising literally breath-taking.

The drive back to Kunming takes us back along the Burma Road and through a traditional Chinese landscape of rolling rusty coloured mountains and broad green plains of rice paddy and water buf­faloes. You will have experienced in this journey some of the finest scenery and plants that China has to offer, an experience to savour for a lifetime. 


The Tour is limited to 16 participants plus 2 leaders and bookings will be processed in order of receipt. If you intend to book your own flights, please do not do so until we have confirmed there are sufficient participants for the tour to go ahead.


For further information please contact:

AGS Centre, Avon Bank, Pershore WR10 3JP.

phone - 01386 554790 or email

Chris Barber
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