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Collecting at the roadside

 

Today proved that plant collecting is not all forests and mountains - as we left the limestone region aubergine relatives began to reappear (solanums do not like limestone soil in general). So we spent most of the day sitting in the middle of roads, near buffalo enclosures, collecting and measuring aubergine relatives. Jin Xiu is taking population samples in each village, so we collect and measure each plant we find.

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Bombax ceiba, the red silk cotton tree

 

Once onto the flat lands of south Guangxi we drove through kilometre after kilometre of sugar cane - all being harvested and the fields burned - the air was heavy with smoke. As in the mountains all the work was being done by hand, and all in searing 34 degree heat. The hero tree (Bombax ceiba, also known as the red silk cotton tree) is common in these regions - the flowers are the size of a fist and pollinated by birds.

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Solanum praetermissum

 

We crossed the Shiwen Dashan (million large mountains) Nature Reserve on our way to Dongxing on the coast where we found Solanum praetermissum - a relatively rare species endemic to SE Asia that grows on cliffs; I had collected its clsoe relative in Yunnan in 2007 - it was great to see this species really is quite different!

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Rhododendron in the Shiwen mountains

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View from Pao Tai (click to enlarge pictures)

 

More amazing karst formations all day long - such spectacular landscapes make up for no solanums! We climbed several mountains to see the truly endemic and interesting forest that grows only on these karst mountains - not easy, as there are often no trails! It is wonderful to be in forest that feels familiar (to a person more used to South America), but with camellias in the understory. Mr Lu, from the forest protection unit, showed us places to go - he also went with us to make sure we did not stray into any mined areas left over from the war in the 1980s. The border between Vietnam and China was heavily mined and this was part of the front line.

 

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Sugarcane, Yao village

 

In our last stop of the day, to climb Pao Tai mountain, we were greeted upon our return by the truly inebriated chief of the village (Yao people, a minority group), who was thrilled to have an English person (the niceties of my actually being American as well we decided to leave out!) in his village and made me photograph the mud walls of the houses to show the world - so here they are!

 

As in the rest of this area - farming is carried out on every available surface - all done by hand or with water buffalo. It is planting season so the fields are filled with people - mind-boggling.

 

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Manganese mine

 

As we approached the border with Vietnam we passed a truly gigantic open pit manganese mine - hopefully restoration ecology will take hold in China soon. The border in this region is a river - red flags with one large golden star and four smaller ones (China) on one side, red flags with a single golden star (Vietnam) on the other.

 

 

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China/Vietnam border

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Well, tomorrow is the big day for  going to China! If I can get through today  with Darwin’s  Birthday lectures and all the loose ends to tie up here at the NHM, it will be a  miracle.

 

Jin Xiu and Tiangang will meet me “outside” Beijing Terminal 3 – hmmmm  – I hope I find them! We then go straight to another part of the airport to fly  to Guangxi, bypassing completely freezing cold Beijing. Aubergines  await.

 

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In a rush on my way out the Museum door to a conference on biodiversity at UNESCO in Paris, I managed to sort out a ticket for China - I go on the 18th of February and will return on 8th of March.

 

Jin Xiu is organising internal travel, and it seems we will go to Guangxi province first, then on to Hainan Island, both these places are tropical and warm. But first, I go through Beijing, the opposite of tropical in February! It will be a trip of contrasts.

 

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