Cypripedium in China (2)
Letter from Dr. Holger Perner in China

The slipper orchids of the genus Cypripedium in the Minshan, northern Sichuan
The Minshan, a small mountain chain in northern Sichuan and adjacent southern Gansu lies at the northern border of the Hengduan mountains, which stretch from northwestern Yunnan to northern Sichuan and is home to about 370 orchid species in 91 genera. It is the distribution centre of the genus Cypripedium, the slipper orchids of temperate zones. 22 species grow in this region and including nearby areas they even sum up to 26 species. In the Minshan I have so far found 11 species:
Cypripedium bardolphianum, flavum, franchetii, guttatum, henryi, palangshanense, plectrochilum, shanxiense, sichuanense, smithii and tibeticum. I expect a further 4 species to grow here, because I know them from nearby areas: Cypripedium debile, fargesii, farreri and fasciolatum.

One of the most spectacular growing sites for cypripediums in the Minshan are Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, which are both UNESCO World Nature Heritages and Biosphere reserves and of course national nature reserves. Let me introduce Huanglong reserve a little more detailed because I work there since September 2001 as an ecologist and senior advisor in the management of the reserve. It covers an area of about 700 km2 and has an altitude range from 5588 m (the highest peak of the Minshan) down to 1700 m. Its scenic centre is the Huanglong valley, literally meaning Valley of the Yellow Dragon, which lies between 3100 and 3600 m. The valley contains the biggest travertine formation in the world with over 3300 tufa ponds with blue, turquoise and green water, waterfalls, caves and a 1.3 km tufa bank. It is one of the most spectacular natural sceneries of the world.

And it is a fantastic natural garden, because the tufa keeps the area open and a park-like area, surrounded by dense primary forest has resulted. In June over 10 000 (!) flowering stems of Cypripedium flavum, tibeticum and bardolphianum fill the small islands between the colorful pools and can be easily admired from a wooden plank way (photo 003), that leads through the 3.5 km long valley. 23 more orchid species including a small population of Cyp. smithii, as well as Calypso bulbosa, thousands of golden Phaius delavayi (formerly known as Calanthe delavayi), Poneorchis chusua and Galearis diantha, to mention just a few, add to the beauty of this place.

Below the Huanglong valley lies the Danyun gorge (photo 004), stretching over 18 km from an altitude of 2500 m down to 1800 m. Here Cypripedium henryii and sichuanense can be found as well as many Cyp. plectrochilum. 6 Calanthe species are also at home here ( Cal. alpina, tricarinata, brevicornu, davidii, hancockii and a dwarf not yet identified species), as well as numerous Epipactis mairei, Pleione bulbocodioides and Cymbidium faberi. Of course a lot of other orchids can be also found in the Danyun gorge and its side valleys, which are the home of two Dozen giant pandas, takins, lesser pandas and the colorful snub-nosed golden monkeys, to name just a few of our rare animals. Many thousand tourist visit Huanglong valley every year, but Danyun gorges still remains a tranquil place with only a few visitors.

Cypripediums in the Minshan
Let me now briefly introduce the slipper orchids of the Minshan, as I found them growing in their native habitats:
Cypripedium tibeticum grows in the region at altitudes between 2400 and 3800 m. It can be widely found in alpine meadows and open shrub, always on and underground of limestone. The forms growing here have a more or less wine-red color on white ground (photo bellow).

Photo : Cypripedium tibeticum

Cyp. tibeticum can form spectacular flowers that outshine most tropical slipper orchids like the specimen on photo left from the Huanglong valley, which has 3.5 cm wide petals and a floral diameter of 10 cm. Cyp. franchetii is a little similar to Cyp. tibeticum, but has a taller habit and a more leafy stem. The flower looks very much like Cyp. macranthos from Manchuria. The main distinguishing character is the dense pubescence on the stem and especially on the ovary. Also Cyp. tibeticum sometimes has a pubescent ovary, but never that dense.

Photo : Cypripedium tibeticum

Continue to NO. 3

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