When botanist Asa Gray hiked his way through Tennessee in 1843 searching for seeds of the rare piratebush to plant in the Harvard Botanic Garden, he could not have known that nearly 180 years later plant scientists from the other side of the world would retrace his steps.
But this fall, in a historic collaboration, The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University welcomed Chinese botanists from the North America-China Plant Exploration Consortium (NACPEC) on a joint expedition to the Appalachian Mountains to collect seed from North American plants to grow in scientific plant collections in China.
Since NACPEC was founded in 1991, plant explorers from the Arboretum and other member institutions have traveled to China 18 times to collect seed, herbarium specimens, and plant DNA samples for study and conservation in North American collections. The Appalachian expedition in September, coordinated by Andrew Gapinski, head of horticulture at the Arboretum and chair of NACPEC, and Kang Wang, research horticulturist and director of education at the Beijing Botanical Garden, furthered the group’s mission of building international partnerships in support of the study and conversation of the world’s temperate flora.
Focusing on Appalachian flora, Wang and his colleagues Tao Deng of the Kunming Institute of Botany and Xinfen Gao of the Chengdu Institute of Biology created a list of target species to collect for their research and collections in China, including magnolias, ashes, and maples.