Beautifying Beijing with its Local Species
To protect vegetation native to the district, the Huairou District Gardening and Greening Bureau has been carrying out artificial reproduction since 2007.
Chengnan Park lies at a triangular area between the extension line of Yingbin South Road and Jingmi Expressway in central Huairou District. Huairou was declared a National Ecological Development Demonstration Zone by China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment a few years ago. The district plays a role in improving Beijing's environment.
Chengnan Park also serves as a scientific education centre for Huairou's native plants. The park is covered with a variety of vegetation and is cool and quiet. One can practise tai chi, take a walk or enjoy some time with one's family. It is a good place to escape the scorching heat in the summer. The park features both evergreen and deciduous trees, as well as flowering plants. There are changes in colour throughout the year. The park improves the landscape along Huairou's main roads, provides a place for leisure activities and plays a role in botany education.
Li Guiyou, a senior horticulturalist at the Huairou District Gardening and Greening Bureau pointed to some of the vegetation and explained: “This is castor aralia, which is under first class protection in Beijing. It's also called laoyezishu (“elderly man” tree) by local farmers. That's a Chinese lacquer tree, which is also called laomazishu (“old horse” tree).”
The nearly 50,000-square metre (sq. m) park is home to many plants, including Siberian ginseng, bladdernut, pearl bush and liriope. There is also a greenhouse in the park. It contains more species native to Huairou.
Native Wild Plants from Mountainous Areas
Xie Qian (1449–1531), who served as a grand secretary during the reign of Emperor Hongzhi (1488–1505) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) once said, “Huairou is an ancient area surrounded by mountains stretching more than 1,000 li (500 kilometres).” Its mountains account for 89 percent of its total area. They are a natural barrier for Beijing. Huairou also has a lot of water area, contributing to its lush vegetation. The area is known as “the pearl of Beijing's suburbs” and “the garden of the capital” due to its favourable environment.
The Huairou District Gardening and Greening Bureau has been investigating ancient trees and important species of plants every year since 2000. The bureau has discovered communities of rare species of native plants, including trees that are more than 100 years old, which have been protected according to corresponding measures. Chinese fringe trees are one of the types of old trees in the area. They are class II plants under the protection of Beijing Municipality at Anling Village in Tanghekou Town, at Baihebei Village in Liulimiao Town and at Liangzi Village in Baoshan Town. There were only two registered Chinese fringe trees in Beijing before. Some old and precious species of native plants scattered in the mountains have been neglected. Experts have been frustrated when they find the stumps of important trees that have been cut down and remains of other important vegetation. Siberian ginsengs are edible class II plants under the protection of Beijing Municipality and are hard to find. Ferns have almost disappeared in the mountains. When local farmers found that some of these plants are edible, they harvested them in large quantities and used them to make farm dishes, as a tourist attraction. Some farmers even transplanted Siberian ginseng plants from the mountains to their land. Some of these died, due to unfavourable conditions. Excessive picking and transplanting is a disaster for these edible species.
To protect vegetation native to the district, the Huairou District Gardening and Greening Bureau has carried out artificial reproduction since 2007. The bureau has established a special area that is five mu (one mu is equal to about 0.067 hectares), where Siberian ginseng, bladdernut pearl bush and liriope are transplanted and artificially reproduced. “The best protection for these rare species is to artificially reproduce them,” Li Guiyou mentioned, who searched nearly every nook and cranny of Huairou's mountainous areas looking for its native plants.
Developing Native Plants via Artificial Reproduction
The area around Xiaoliangqian Village in Tanghekou Town is mountainous and covered with lush vegetation. Visitors know the area is covered with a wide variety of plants but do not necessarily known their names. The area features striking white flowers amid dense green vegetation.
The white flowers cover a tall tree with dense leaves as if it were covered
with a thick snow. Under the tree, one can carefully observe the flowers. Each of them is umbrella-shaped and has a light fragrance. Li explained: “This is a Chinese fringe tree, a rare native species. Its tender leaves and flowers can be made into a tea after they are steamed and dried. Local farmers call this ‘white flower tea' because of its particularly beautiful colour, which isn't inferior to Dragon Well tea. Its woods is hard and can be used to make utensils. The tree's flowers are also called ‘glutinous rice flowers' and ‘glutinous rice tea' due to the shape of the buds.”
There are more than 1,500 Chinese fringe trees around the village. People may wonder where they came from and how so many got there. Li Guiyou stated that the area is a demonstration base for this species. All the trees are artificially reproduced.
More than 10 years ago, the bureau began to use artificial reproduction for rare plants. Li led his team members to investigate Huairou's mountainous areas. Li explained: “Sometimes we need some luck to locate rare species. It's not uncommon to find nothing. Sometimes what we were looking for wasn't discovered, but we discovered some other plants instead. The Chinese fringe tree is a relatively rare species and dioecious. To collect its seeds, we must find a certain number of them in the wild. It took us two or three years to find some of them.” Hard work pays off. Li and his team members found some fruiting wild Chinese fringe trees on a mountain at Shangtaizi Village in Labagoumen Township. Li elaborated: “The tree can live for a long time due to its strong adaptability to the environment. It is resistant to cold and drought. It grows very slowly though and needs at least eight years to bloom. If we use grafting, the tree needs four or five years to bloom.”
Li and his team members have encountered difficulties when implementing artificial reproduction techniques. He mentioned, “We had some seeds that were large and intact, so they should have sprouted easily. However, that was not the case.” The wild plant's seeds did not adapt to Li's lab. The seeds did not sprout, though the normal temperature, humidity level and lighting conditions were used. After looking for information and consulting garden experts for solutions, Li began to adjust the parameters. He found the seeds have dual dormancy characteristics on their upper and lower embryo axes; from August to October, the lab's temperature should be maintained around 20 degrees Celsius to enable the seeds to finish the dormancy cycle on their lower embryo axes so that their roots can grow more than 10 centimetres into the ground. The seeds need 70 or 80 days to complete the dormancy of their upper embryo axes at around five or six degrees Celsius and the seedlings emerge by the beginning of the following March. In the wild, the seeds will need about two years to go through this cycle. The tree takes at least eight years to go from sprouting to blooming. After years of artificial reproduction carried out by Li and his team members, the Chinese fringe trees began to bloom.
Li explained, “The artificially reproduced Chinese fringe trees should eventually be transplanted to a natural environment, which will help increase the population of the species.” Three years ago, 1,500 artificially reproduced seedlings were transplanted to a three- mu plot at Xiaoliangqian Village. Li still had some doubts, however. He continued, “It was hard to say whether or not they could survive the cold winters and dry seasons in the mountainous area.” The trees adapted to the environment during their three years of growth though. “This year they blossomed for the first time,” Li said excitedly. Huairou's local species, including Chinese fringe trees, have a strong ability to adapt to the natural environment after they're artificially reproduced and transplanted into the wild. Li stated with a smile, while touching a tender branch of a Chinese fringe tree: “After all, they are native to the area and originally grew in this environment. They need some time to adapt though, and we need to see if they can reproduce independently. If we succeed, we will continue to transplant them to the natural environment.”
Greening the City
The Chengnan Park greenhouse features Chinese fringe tree seedlings in pots that are being artificially reproduced. Artificially reproduced seedlings that have grown steadily have been transplanted to Chengnan and Binhu parks, playing a role in improving Huairou's urban greening.
Under the leadership of the Huairou
District Gardening and Greening Bureau, the Service Centre for Gardening and Greening is responsible for Huairou's gardening and greening. According to Jia Mingcai, director of the service centre, “The bureau focuses on the Artificial Reproduction Project for Rare Species of Plants and gives us great support. We have been supporting Li and his team members.” The artificially reproduced Chinese fringe trees now beautify Huairou's urban areas with their flowers and mild fragrances.
“We have artificially reproduced more than 1,000 pots of castor aralias,” Li stated proudly. The plants have pentagon-shaped leaves and are a pleasant sight at the greenhouse. He added, “This species is under first class protection in Beijing and its distribution is very limited. I'm glad to see the steady growth of castor aralia seedlings.”
To protect the rare native plants, the bureau began to artificially reproduce Siberian ginseng and bladdernut, which originally grew in Huairou's mountainous areas. It was also not easy for them to go from seedlings to developed, fruiting plants. The bureau sends artificially reproduced seedlings to local farmers free of charge and teaches them how to cultivate and reproduce them.
Li and his team members encourage local farmers to grow Siberian ginseng by giving them technological support. He explained: “If you say Siberian ginseng, local farmers do not know because they call it gunrcai (‘stick vegetable'). In order to better protect the edible plant, we began to carry out preliminary cooperation with local farmers who are engaged in eco-tourism. We tell them how to grow the plants and they grow them around their houses. They benefit from this and believe in us, which indirectly plays a role in protecting the plants. Later, when they met me, they talked about the good things that we brought them.”
“Old and rare trees are important to the history of the region. We need to protect them as much as possible and enable them to grow in a better environment,” an official from the bureau said.
The official added: “The greening process around Yingbinhuandao, which is a major intersection in Huairou, includes reintroducing more Siberian ginseng plants, which are easier to grow and maintain than other trees. We've planted a lot of bladdernuts as part of the greening of Huairou's urban and rural areas. This includes improving the Yanqihu area, which is not only a world-class venue for holding large, international conferences and high-end business exhibitions, but also is an ecological demonstration zone with Chinese characteristics. Huairou's native plants have beautified Yanqihu, which is an area that has drawn worldwide attention many times.”
Transplanting Artificially Reproduced Native Plants to Mountainous Areas
“Without the strong support of the bureau, my team and I wouldn't have obtained these good results,” Li stated. His
plain remarks expressed his appreciation, but he talked little about his hard work over the years. One of his colleagues mentioned: “Li often carries a large bag on his back and takes a tape measure with him when exploring mountainous areas. He's clean when he departs, but dust and mud cover his face and feet when he returns to the office and grass and leaves are in his hair.” Li waved his hand modestly, acknowledging this statement.
Li has developed good skills and sharp eyes during his years of work in this area. He has also established stable relationships with local farmers. Sometimes, he stays the night at their houses. “At first, when I talked about native species, they didn't believe me. Later they found the methods I taught them were useful and gradually trusted me,” Li recounted. The farmers would sometimes encounter species they were not familiar with and inform Li. They explained that a very large and colourful tree was found at the foot of a mountain. Li went through a corn field and followed the terrain to the area. The tree was a painted maple. The local farmers told him there was another one on the mountain also. Li climbed it and found a painted maple in the shade near the top, which was doing better than the one at the bottom. He explained: “Painted maples grow very slowly. The diameter of a 40-year-old painted maple at breast height is about 10 centimetres. This one has a very thick trunk and could be more than 500 years old or even much older.” Li has found many old trees over the years in Huairou's mountains.
Li has explored the mountainous areas countless times, rain or shine, summer or winter, looking for and analysing native vegetation. He has injured his hands and feet, met aggressive wild animals like wild boars and met other problems but always continued with his work. Unsuccessful experiments have not discouraged him either. Li loves studying Huairou's native flora and his career. He stated, “I'm really interested in the work and I think it's a joy. My constant enthusiasm keeps me coming back.”
Li graduated from the Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture in 1981 and worked eight years at a timber base for Beijing's papermaking industry in Labagoumen. As the only technician at the base, he investigated each woodland area to guide and supervise the seed selection of larches and poplars and their growth. He worked on the front lines beginning in 1989. Whether in nurseries or parks, he carefully observes trees and flowers. He will notice when tree leaves change colours at the wrong time or have other problems and when grass and flowers are growing improperly. He finds solutions to these problems after analysis and experiments. Li explained: “I think failure isn't a bad thing. You need to try and try again. One needs to do a lot of research, keep track of a lot of information and conduct countless experiments so that successful solutions can be found.” Li has studied a lot of professional materials and conducted bold tests to solve difficult issues. Li and his team have many years of practice and experience. They have helped reintroduce a variety of species into Huairou's rural and urban areas.
There is a large patch of light purple flowers in Chengnan Park, which are unique and beautiful. “They're evergreen dwarf lilyturfs,” Li clarified. Before, he had to consider the issue of vegetation that becomes withered in North China during the winter. He found this evergreen plant in Huairou's shallow mountains. Li and his team members have solved issues regarding its artificial reproduction, enabling them to increase its population. The cold-resistant and drought-resistant evergreen plant has met the qualifications of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs regarding a plant that could be used to beautify North China's cities and be able to survive extreme conditions. It became known as the “Huairou Heye Mountain dwarf lilyturf” and was issued a certificate by the ministry. Huairou's native evergreen varieties will be used to make and expand more green spaces. There are no native evergreen grasses in Beijing so it is a good solution. “The artificial reproduction of native plants is a shortcut regarding Huairou's urban greening. Various attempts and explorations are needed, as well as diversity of species,” Jia Mingcai said. When artificially reproduced native species at Chengnan Park's greenhouse begin to grow steadily, they are transplanted to an experimental field in Nanfang Park for the next stage of artificial reproduction. After that, they are transplanted to the areas that the species originally grew at.
Creating a Beautiful China
In the spring of 2018, Beijing Municipality launched a new round of afforestation, covering an area of one million mu. The project is part of the implementation of the guiding principles of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and a response to Xi Jinping's Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. The afforestation improves Beijing's ecology and environment. The project to increase green spaces in Beijing has gone well in recent years and showcases its new ecological layout: elegant parks in the urban areas, lush forests in the suburbs and green mountains in the outer suburbs.
Deputy Director of the Beijing Gardening and Greening Bureau Deng Naiping explained a large, current programme, stating: “2018 is the first year of the new round of one-millionmu afforestation. Beijing will add 230,000 mu of forest, improve 67,000 mu of forest and add 9,000 mu worth of green space in its urban areas. The governments at the municipal and district levels are continuing to implement afforestation.” According to the plan, from 2018 to 2022, Beijing will add one million mu of forest, wetlands and green spaces, enabling the city's forest coverage rate and green spaces in parks to reach more than 45 percent and 87 percent, respectively; public green space will increase to 16.6 sq.m per capita; the capital's environment will greatly improve.
New projects regarding the current one-million- mu afforestation programme will focus on the city's plains, central districts, sub- centre, new airport, green belts, and urban and rural fringe zones, the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and the International Horticultural Exhibition 2019 Beijing. The Huairou District Gardening and Greening Bureau has stated that this district has began to implement its portion of these projects. In 2018, Huairou will engage in 22,600 mu of afforestation.
Large-scale ecological improvement programmes have made new opportunities for Beijing's gardening and greening industry. The one million mu afforestation mostly involves good quality, native plants. Native plants will form a stable, natural community, similar to a forest ecosystem. In addition to improving landscapes and the environment, the needs of animals will be taken into consideration, such as their habits and needs for their foraging. Huairou's artificially reproduced woody economic vegetation will also be emphasised, including Siberian ginsengs, Chinese fringe trees and bladdernuts.
An official from the Huairou Gardening and Greening Bureau stated: “We are developing a demonstration area for Huairou's native plants, which includes trees, shrubs and herbs, and has benefited from the government's support. The artificial reproduction of native plants plays a major role in urban greening and the protection of rare species.”
Along with social and economic development, the government and the public are paying more attention to gardening and greening. The everchanging technologies in this area will open a new chapter in the beautification of China and promote blue skies, clear water and lush forests.
Li Guiyou, a senior horticulturalist, introduces some plants native to Huairou that he cultivated.
A Chinese fringe tree with white flowers
Seedlings of pearlbushes