Red Berries that Glint in the Desert
GUIDED by the provincial strategy of building an ecologically strong Qinghai, berry cultivation in Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture has developed in leaps and bounds since 2008. The prefecture’s total plantation area has expanded from a few sporadic patches to more than 27,000 hectares. Haixi is now China’s second largest berry growing region. A small fruit has thus promoted a big industry, so adding impetus to local agricultural structural adjustments.
Rather than merely focusing on scale and yield, local goji berry industry now seeks better quality and efficiency, ac- cording to head of the prefecture’s Institute of Agricultural Sciences Ren Gang.
Millennium-old Goji Berry Forest
Most berries grow in the areas of Dulan, Uland, Delingha, Da Qaidam, and Golmud in the Qaidam Basin. Visitors in search of the origins of the local
berry culture are often directed to a 1,000-year-old wild berry forest in Wulonggou. Hidden in Dulan County, it is the largest forest of its kind in the Qaidam Basin.
Wulonggou is situated on the Kunlun Mountains. The name, which literally means “valley of five dragons,” originates in a local legend about five dragons that once guarded the 12 divine trees that stood in the valley.
A surprising quantity of wild berries doggedly survive in the valley, on land that has sparse vegetation due to an arid climate. Some trees may grow to a height of two meters, their trunks the girth of an adult’s forearm. However, their fruits are small and scant. Most trees no longer bear fruit, even though their leaves still flourish. Local professionals explained that artificially planted berry trees often yield more, and their fruits are plumper. In a bid to make picking easier, the height to which saplings grow is controlled. Yet although wild berry trees bear smaller fruits and yield less, they taste much better than those that have been planted.
Wild berry trees grow on almost 66,667 hectares of the Qaidam Basin, of which 227 hectares are in Wulonggou. Their natural seeds provide ample gene varieties for cultivating new species. Besides, berry trees of more than 200 years old – conspicuously beyond the average age of 35 to 50 years – are still found in the region. And there are also 100 or so trees in Wulonggou that are more than 60 years old. It is said that the forest could have a 1,000-year history.
A hill shaped like a monkey stands among the trees. According to folklore, the Queen Mother of the West, a Taoist goddess who once lived in this area, ordered the monkey to protect the forest. At harvest season, the monkey would offer berries as tributes to celestials.
“The Qaidam Basin is one of the native sources of berries, and more than 10 wild varieties grow here. Among them, the wild black berry is a rare species with a medicinal value far higher than that of other varieties,” said president of the prefecture’s berry association and berry industry administration Li Jianxin.
Diversified Development Mode
Although the Qaidam Basin is a native source of berries, no proper industry formed in the past because only a few small plantations existed in Haixi Prefecture. Since 2008, when the local Haixi government named berryplanting as the priority industry for local development, the industry has made remarkable progress.
Generally speaking, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region dominates today’s
Several new berry species cultivated in Haixi in recent years strengthen their market appeal.