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MBG Flora of China - Plant Tour

Last updated over 6 years ago

Throughout 2012, Missouri Botanical Garden will be celebrating "The Year of China," recognizing the near-completion of the Flora of China, an international collaborative project to publish a comprehensive catalog of all Chinese wild plants, with full descriptions of 31,500 species and illustrations of about two-thirds of them. Today, China has the richest flora of any country in the northern temperate zone. This EOL Collection, the "MBG Flora of China - Plant Tour," highlights 20+ Chinese plants of significance that MBG visitors can experience first-hand on Garden grounds. The Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation in the nation and a global center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display.

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    Acer pentaphyllum

    Extremely rare and endangered in the wild in China. A botanically distinct and beautiful maple. During an expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society in 1929, Joseph Rock discovered Acer pentaphyllum in southwestern Sichuan near the small Tibetan town of Muli.

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    Aspidistra elatior

    Cast-iron Plant

    The "cast iron plant" was fashionable in England in Victorian times, primarily because it could survive in gloomy Victorian parlors, where the light levels were presumably as low as in the dense evergreen forests where it grows wild.

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    Camellia sinensis

    Chinese Tea

    Most tea is made from Camellia sinensis. For black tea, the leaves are first crushed or rolled, then allowed to partially ferment, and then dry. Green tea comes from the same plant, but the leaves are not fermented. When tea was introduced in Europe in the early 17th century, it was strictly for the wealthy—a pound of tea cost the equivalent of a year’s salary. Today, tea is the world’s most popular beverage.

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    Castanea mollissima

    Chinese Chestnut

    In cultivation in the U.S., the Chinese chestnut is replacing the American chestnut (C. dentata), which was wiped out by chestnut blight. Invasive diseases and pests are among the significant threats to a diversity of species.

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    Dendrocalamus giganteus

    Giant Bamboo

    Dendrocalamus giganteus is the tallest of all bamboos with gigantic large culms. This bamboo species grows in tropical and subtropical moist areas and produces a large amount of biomass.

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    Eucommia ulmoides

    Gutta-percha Tree

    This is the sole member of the family Eucommiaceae, which is one of the few endemic families in China. From the Flora of China: Eucommia ulmoides is a rare species in the wild in China, although it is much cultivated. The timber is used for furniture and fuel. The bark, which contains aucubin, is used medicinally as an invigorator, a tonic for arthritis, and for reducing blood pressure. The plant's solidified latex is used for lining pipes, insulating electric cables, and for filling teeth.

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    Liriodendron chinense

    Chinese Tulip Tree

    Chinese tulip tree is a fast-growing, columnar tree that typically grows to 50-70’ tall. It is named for its cup-shaped, tulip-like flowers (same family as magnolias) that bloom in late spring to early summer. This tree is very similar to Liriodendron tulipifera (native to eastern North America), except it is denser, slightly smaller, has smaller flowers without orange banding, has more deeply lobed leaves and is not as cold hardy.

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    Magnolia denudata


    Native to eastern and southern China, Yulan magnolia is a small deciduous tree, also sometimes grown as a large shrub. The genus name honors Pierre Magnol, a French botanist (1638-1715). However, this species has been grown in Chinese gardens for at least 1,000 years.

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    Morus alba

    White Mulberry

    Morus alba is the primary food source of silkworm larvae, therefore crucial to China's production of silk. Silkworms will also eat the leaves of a distant relative, North America's native Osage orange. In 28 days, a single silkworm produces 1 kilometer of silk. This tree's roots, leaves, and fruits are used medicinally.

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    Nelumbo nucifera

    Sacred Lotus

    The flowers, seeds, roots and young leaves of N. nucifera are used in many Asian dishes and medicines. No other plant or flower is as revered as the sacred lotus, which occupies a unique role in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Most Asian deities are either placed upon or connected with the lotus. Zhou Dunyi, a Confucian scholar, wrote: "I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained. It represents purity as it floats above the muddy waters of attachment and desire."

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    Taiwania cryptomerioides


    In the wild, this single species of the conifer genus Taiwania grows in SW China, N Myanmar (Burma), and Taiwan. It is a threatened species, preferring undisturbed, old-growth forests, which are nowadays rare. Nick Turland, Missouri Botanical Garden researcher, was fortunate to see this species growing wild in the Gaoligong Shan range that separates SW China and Myanmar. The trees he saw were huge, up to 50 m (160 ft.) tall, rising majestically above the canopy of an old-growth evergreen, broad-leaved forest.

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    Trachycarpus fortunei

    Chusan Palm

    The Chinese windmill palm, or Chusan palm, grows in China south of the Yangtze River and the Qin Ling mountains. The thick, matted fibers on the trunk are harvested by local people and made into rain-capes, rather like carrying your personal thatched roof around when you work in the outdoors.