Meet “hidden” plants on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

  On August 19, 2022, the high-profile China’s second comprehensive scientific expedition to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (hereinafter referred to as the “Second Qinghai-Tibet Scientific Expedition”) ushered in the fifth anniversary of its launch. The Second Qinghai-Tibet Scientific Expedition is a major national landmark scientific project. Facing the world’s cutting-edge science and technology and the country’s major needs, it has formed a number of original theoretical achievements with world influence, and proposed a number of supporting national major strategies and major project construction research program. Let us follow the botanists at the Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and see what new discoveries they have made!
First collection by Western ‘plant hunters’

  From the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, in order to obtain more precious trees and plant specimens, the western gardening circles sent a number of plant collectors to collect plant specimens and germplasm resources around the world. These people were called “plant hunters”. Among them, several “plant hunters” went to China to collect plant resources, and Ernest Henry Wilson was one of them.
  From 1899 to 1911, Wilson went deep into western China four times, collected more than 65,000 plant specimens, and transplanted nearly 1,600 species of plants unique to China to western gardens, becoming the person who opened the “garden” in western China. Among them, in 1908, he collected 3 specimens of Euonymus in fruiting stage in Washan, Sichuan. In 1913, German botanist Loesener and Alfred Rehder of Harvard University named it with the Latin word Euonymus Aquifolium.
  In the following hundred years, no matter whether it was the compilation of “Flora of Sichuan” and “Flora of China”, or field investigation and collection involving plant diversity projects in this area, the plant was not collected or observed again.

fruit of euonymus

Flowers of Euonymus japonicus

Plants of Euonymus japonicus

  According to the naming conventions at that time, experts in the compilation of the fourth volume of Flora of Sichuan (1988) changed the aforementioned Latin word to Euonymus aquifolius, and at the same time proposed the Chinese name for it as Euonymus aquifolius. When compiling “Flora of China”, researchers of the Euonymus family transferred it from the genus Euonymus to the genus Glyptopetalum based on the observation of the morphological characteristics of Euonymus cuspidatum, especially the fruit shape, and proposed the name Glyptopetalum aquifolium. It is called holly ditch petal.
Difficult to find the last trace

  In recent years, many botanists have searched hard for this plant at the collection site recorded by Wilson and the adjacent areas, but they have not found any trace of it. The inconvenient transportation in the mountainous area caused some researchers to fall and get injured, but this did not dampen their hope and determination.
  In 2019, I was honored to participate in the second Qinghai-Tibet scientific expedition, and undertook part of the task of investigating the forest and shrub ecosystems in the western part of the Sichuan Basin. When I checked the literature once, I noticed that there was a lack of more specimens and information about Euonymus cuspidatum, and I kept it in my heart since then, hoping to find this plant in the nearby area. In May 2021, a colleague took some photos of plants during a field trip, and the shape of one of the plants was very similar to the literature I found. We deduced its flowering period based on the fruit specimens collected by Wilson and the photos provided by colleagues. In August 2021, we followed the location guided by our peers to a deep canyon on the southeast slope of Mount Gongga, an administrative area belonging to Jiulong County, Sichuan Province, looking for live plants of Euonymus cuspidatum.
  There are towering cliffs on both sides of the stream, and a tributary of the Dadu River covered with gravel at the foot, requiring repeated wading. After spending two or three hours advancing 2 kilometers into the canyon, we finally met this critically endangered plant at the bottom of a cliff!

Snake vine, rattan shrub, Rosaceae Rhamnaceae, distributed in the coastal areas of Guangdong, Guangxi and Taiwan provinces (drawing / Luo Mei)

  The euonymus we found is distributed in the dark and humid forest on the right bank of the canyon. There are about dozens of them, the short one is 50 cm, and the high one is no more than 2.5 meters. To our delight, purple-red flowers are hanging on some of the plants. This is the second time in 110 years that Euonymus cuspidatum has been found alive and its flowers have been observed for the first time in 110 years.
  The flowers of Euonymus cuspidatum are purple-red, obviously 5-base, that is, there are 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 5 stamens, and they are divided into 5 chambers in the well-developed ovary. These morphological characteristics are inconsistent with the characteristics of 4 sepals, 4 petals, and 4 stamens in the genus Dichrophyllum. Therefore, we further renamed it Euonymus cuspidatum based on molecular genetic evidence.
New Species of Plants Discovered in Hengduan Mountains

  Also in August 2021, we collected a species of Rhamnaceae during our investigation in the Jinsha River Valley in Derong County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, in the hinterland of Hengduan Mountains.
  Because we couldn’t correspond to the existing Rhamnaceae plant groups, we consulted Dr. Yang Yi from Jiangxi Agricultural University, consulted the literature and specimens, compared the Rhamnaceae species at home and abroad, and finally confirmed that it is a new species of Rhamnaceae. , and proposed a Chinese name for it, “Wagul Snake Vine”, to indicate that this species is distributed in the dry valley area of ​​the Jinsha River at the base of the Hengduan Mountains.

Snakevine, which differs from Snakevine in that its young branches, veins below leaves, petioles and inflorescences are pilose, and the fruiting stems are 8-12 mm long). It is distributed in the Lancang River, Honghe River and other river basins in southern Yunnan

  There are 38 species of snake vines in the world, distributed in southern Asia, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Africa, southern United States and Latin American tropical and subtropical coastal areas. There are two kinds distributed in China, namely snake vine and hairy snake vine.
  Snakevine wadi is the third species of the genus Snakevine distributed in China. Compared with Snakevine and Snakeweed, Snakevine wadi is in the state of a dwarf shrub, and the concavity at the top of the leaflets can be well distinguished.
Inheriting the spirit of scientific research in the name of predecessors

  Mr. Liu Zhaoguang, a famous Chinese ecologist, devoted himself to the development of resources, ecological construction and biodiversity protection in the mountainous areas of western China for a long time during his lifetime. He organized and published monographs such as “Sichuan Vegetation” and “Gongga Mountain Vegetation”. The main force and leader of the vegetation investigation in western Sichuan during China’s first comprehensive scientific investigation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. He proposed “building an ecological barrier in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River”, advocated the idea of ​​”mixed forest”, “biodiversity” and “linking local production and farmers’ income” to manage the ecological environment, and outlined the construction of Sichuan as an ecological barrier in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. grand blueprint.

Habitat of wadi snake vine (referring to the living environment of individual organisms, populations or communities, including the necessary living conditions and other ecological factors that affect organisms)

flowers of wadi snake vine

fruit of wadi snake vine

  Since the wadi snake vine was discovered in the Hengduan Mountains, and there was no plant named after Liu Zhaoguang before, we proposed a Latin name for this new species, Colubrina zhaguangii, to commemorate the older generation of scientists who were not afraid of hardships, dedication, and dedication. The great spirit of choosing a career for the rest of your life inspires the new generation of young people to learn from the older generation of scientists to love their jobs and work bravely, to serve the needs of the country bravely, and to pursue the lofty realm and life journey of establishing words, making meritorious deeds and virtues!
  The discovery of Euonymus cuspidatum and Snakevine not only enriches the diversity of plant species in China, but also highlights the importance of basic biodiversity surveys. The second Qinghai-Tibet scientific expedition still has a lot of research on scientific issues such as biodiversity, carbon cycle, and mineral resources. I hope that young people can learn the basics well and climb the peak of science with us in the future!