Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 11


Chapter 11. To Manhao in Tropical Yunnan

The descent from Mengzi — a troublesome escort—rain forest remnants and savannah —tree ants — doctoring the sick — blind valleys and sinkholes

A major journey in the winter would not have brought results commensurate with the expense unless it were devoted to the tropical zone of Yunnan. My request for additional financial support had been met by the safe arrival of 3000 crowns [note #51: About £120 or $600 in 1915 values.] from the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, but as I had no idea whether I would receive any further grants I thought it best to err on the side of caution and made plans for the shortest and most economical trip. The point most easily reached was Manhao, on the Red River south of Mengzi [note #52: Mengtz on Bartholomew's map, Meng-tzu on Davies' map. Davies went there at the end of his third journey, in May 1899.] at less than 200m above sea level. Judging from the richness of the genuinely tropical vegetation which I had studied at the nearby Phomoi in Tonkin and seen from the train at Nanxi, even a short visit to Manhao promised to be extremely rewarding. If I went there I would be able to collect an abundance of material in a short time, return in two days with the spoils to the drier air of Mengzi and then to the favourable climate of Kunming, and thus avoid the necessity of drying plants under tropical conditions, where mould is so difficult to prevent.

Through the consul Herr Weiss I gave notice of my intentions to the dujun (military governor) and received from the latter a written reply to the effect that I might call upon the daotai (circuit intendant) in Mengzi to provide me with an escort of soldiers, as the district was at the time infested with bandits. Armed with this letter, I travelled there by rail on 20th February, and was hospitably received by Herr Andersen of Speidel & Co. My first call at the daotai's was fruitless as he was away in Kunming, and his deputy knew nothing of the malter. A telegram to the consul brought this reply: "Authorities request you wait Mengzi'. The police commander promised to find me some good soldiers as soon as he received authorization, and sent a messenger to see whether there were any bandits on the road and to announce my impending arrival in Manhao.

"If I'm kept waiting too long, I'll just go by myself, I declared, for I certainly did not wish to waste time in the vicinity of Mengzi — territory which had been thoroughly explored by Henry [note #53: Augustine Henry (1857-1930), an Irishman in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, resided at Mengzi from 1896 to 1900, collected plants tor Kew and studied the Yi (Lolo) language. For details see his biography " The Wood and the Treed', Sheila Pirn, MacDonald, London, 1966.].

'Wo, you can't go," said he. However, there was no further argument; Herr Weiss made idl the arrangements and on 26th February I set off wth an Annamite servant as interpreter and cook, a riding horse, four pack animals and an escort of five police soldiers under an exceedingly swollen-headed corporal who tried to tell me that photography was not allowed, but I took no notice of him.

Once past the little town of Asanzhai the road climbed gradually out of the unattractive plain up a slope with a scattering of bushes. Higher up there was more extensive shrub cover and some bamboos with broad pale green leaves, but otherwise thu flora of the steppe was still very similar to that around [p.55:] Kunming. At 2065m, 760m above Mengzi, we reached the pass or rather the crossing over the mountain range, which consisted of short, steep rock edges projecting from a broad ridge and running northeast to southwest. Everything was bare, but while descending the south-facing slope I found remains of luxuriant summer vegetation, notably teasels and Artemisia as tall as a man. The steep winding path, with steps in places, led down into a blind side-valley of the Red River; in fact the valley was a series of dolines without any exit In it was the village of Shuidian, where we spent an uncomfortable night. Even after dark had fallen the corporal kept on grumbling and I had to impress on him that 1 wished to sleep. In the yard there was a water buffalo. They are ugly creatures at the best of times, and this one had lost its entire snout — torn away by the nose ring. This hideous sight was enough to put anyone off the hostelry.

Here, on a SSW-facing slope at 1300m, was the first of the tropical vegetation. All around me the "jungle" was being burnt, and the air was filled with blue haze and smoke which hid any distant prospect and falsified the perspective so that the descent — which was hi any case nearly 2000m in all — seemed truly gigantic. Below Yaotou the paved road climbed over a low col to the east and led straight down the slope to Manhao. In some parts it was very steep and best negotiated on foot. Arriving at Manhao at 3 pm I had a friendly reception from the official and was accommodated in die police barracks. I immediately hung up my thermometer and hygrometer, but the corporal regarded them as a serious danger to the security of the State and fetched the official to inspect them. Fortunately, he was not 5ucb an idiot and showed me a thermometer of his own. Because it had been left hanging upside down it read 50°C, but by careful shaking I was able to put it right.

Until the railway was opened Manhao was the main entrepot for trade from Tonkin to Yunnan. Whet I was there many of its huts — mostly thatched — were falling down and even the telegraph was no longer connected, though dangling wires and broken insulators were still to be seen. I stayed there for six days, seeking out the scanty remnants of natural vegetation which survived in that sadly devastated district Tropical rainforest was still to be found in meagre patches in a few lateral gorges, especially on the shady side along the right bank of the river. Among the Indian trees which I found were Dysoxy-lon procetum, Markhamia stipulata var. kerrii with broad downy brown pods 80cm long, Stereospermum chelonoides with narrower shorter woody pods, and Brassaiopsis papayoides, a new species. Beneath them grew Alocasia odora, an aroid with heart-shaped leaves of metallic appearance almost a metre in length. In contrast to Laokay, only 80km distant, there were no thickets of tall bamboo, though along the river there were extensive tracts of "jungle" consisting of wild sugarcane (Saccharum arundinac-eutri) with panicles beset with silvery hairs, tussocks of giant reed (Arundo donax), tiger grass (Thysanola-ena procera) with large panicles of thousands of tiny grey-green spikelets, and Themeda gigantea. All these grasses grew in clumps, their close-ranked leaves and stems rising to 2-2.5m, though their panicles reached twice that height Twining among them were Thunbergia grandiflora with large blue flowers, Pueraria alopecuroides with dense pink spikes, and Mucuna bracteata. Especially on the south side of the valley the hillsides were covered with tropical savannah woodland comprising Bischo-fia trifoliata, Colona (Columbia) floribunda, Mayode-ndtvn igneum with flowers sprouting directly from its trunk, Wendlandia tinctoria sprinkled with small white flowers, one of the commonest species, and Callicarpa mactvphylla with small white fruits. All these were intertwined with the ferns Lygodium flexuosum and L. polystachum. Most of these trees had small leaves and an open pattern of branches. On them, in large numbers, were ants' nests (Crema-stogaster art/fex) made from chewed leaves, looking like large hornets' nests. I cut one down with the twig on which it was fixed and placed it in formalin to kill and preserve the ants and, even more interesting, the larvae of a cockroach (Phyllodrvmiinae) which the ants had domesticated. Leafcutter ants (Oecophila smaragdina) were also common, and while collecting them, both here and subsequently, I was surprised that they never bit me. On the north side of the valley the slopes were steeper and the forest had been felled. In its place was subtropical savannah, just the same as I had seen from the train in the Naupan Jiang valley. It extended down almost to the river and up to an altitude of 1650m. One of the most striking sights was the umbrella shrub Woodfordia fivticosa, with narrow dark green leaves and clusters of fine scarlet flowers. Before I set off on a trip upstream on the other side of the river the official warned me not to accept anything to eat, for "the people there put poison in the food'. This trip was one of the most rewarding, as the vegetation had suffered less from human interference than elsewhere. Arching over the path were shrubs with slender flowers (Eranthemum polyanthum and E nervosum), and growing in the shade beneath them were fan-shaped patches of the vivid green Selagi-nella pseudopaleifera, a new species. At the corner of the next valley entering from the south the hillside was colonised by a peculiar evergreen shrub community dominated by Taxotivphis mactvphylla, a prickly-leaved member of the mulberry family. Further up this side valley I once more encountered Caesalpinia morsei, a large leguminous tree with bristly seed-pods 20cm long hanging from its branches. The spoils which I brought back from my visit to Manhao were far less than might have been desired, chiefly because so little of the natural vegetation was still untouched, but the herbarium material, initially dried at Mengzi and then in Kunming, was successfully preserved, and colour photographs taken to show the principal vegetation types were also successful. Even down at Manhao the climate during my stay was not unpleasant: the temperature did not exceed 28 and the humidity was often a little below 50%.

Guards were posted at the exits from the town and they presumably had orders to see that I did not go out without an escort On my outings I was always accompanied by two soldiers who had to give the corporal a report of my activities, especially the number of photographs which I took. On one occasion the corporal felt obliged to see for himself what I was doing. I lured him first straight up the steep hillside, up a woodcutter's track which was no more than a series of separate footholds, then through savannah woodland intertwined with thorny climbers and blackened by scot from a fire and finally into a deep pit filled with primaeval forest [p.56:] accessible only by clambering down from one handhold to the next There he had to sit and wait, muttering curses, his uniform torn and soiled, while I browsed upon the delights of the tropical flora. This quenched his curiosity and no doubt gave him plenty to tell his cronies about the crazy doings of the "waiguoren" (foreigner). Every evening I was confronted by sick people who expected that the five medicines at my disposal would cure them of every imaginable ailment Skin diseases of all kinds were common, notably a condition characterized by circular patches 2-3cm in diameter, at first red and later forming blisters which discharged black fluid. It was apparently a refractory complaint, for the patients displayed old scars of similar shape on various parts of the body (? ringworm). I followed the adage "even if it does no good, it will do no harni', with the result that next day they all declared themselves better and wanted more, or in some cases had discovered yet another ailment, so that before long my stocks were nearly exhausted.

The official invited me to a meal; he evidently wanted to show that he could do everything in European style and perhaps for that very reason he held it in the open entrance hall of his house, where the soldiers and other rabble crowded round the table. He had the board laid with forks and open clasp-knives and began the meal with horribly oversweetened black coffee. The repast itself was excellent, hit was accompanied by teacups — fortunately nothing larger — of revolting beer seemingly at the same temperature (25 Q as the hot spring outside the village, and wine which had turned to vinegar months before. It ended with mouldy litch-ees and a huge glass of the same excessively black coffee, vile enough to infuriate anyone.

For reasons to do with the pack animals I had to travel on market day and I therefore left Manhao on 6 March, having received from Mengzi only three instead of the five horses I had expected; luckily I was able to get two more at the market in the next village. I took the same route as on my outward journey but travelled more slowly, wishing to spend a whole day in the district round Yaotou and Shui-dian. We made our midday halt at 660m, where the first stream crossed the track, and there I found a remnant of primaeval forest which yielded a goodly haul. Growing beneath Melodorum chloroneurum (a new species) was a small Pandanus, a large fern forming nests on the tree trunks (Asplenium nidus), Rhaphidophora decursiva (Araceae) climbing up the rock-faces, and in rock crevices along the stream itself, the clubmoss relative Psilotum triquetnim The figtrees Ficus hispida and F. roxburghii which put forth their fruits from the old trunks were particularly numerous. Higher up we saw a party of fifteen to twenty people on a hill top a few hundred metres away. The soldiers claimed they were bandits, said they were thirty in number and loaded their rifles, whereupon the people promptly made off, a few

carrying lances, but most of them with bales of hay on their backs — not part of a bandit's conventional equipment Between Yaotou and Shuidian, at an altitude of 1100m, there was a deep sinkhole at the foot of a cliff. Where the stream tumbled into the hole the limestone was worn so smooth that one had to take care not to slip into it Splendid tropical flora grew all round: Brassaiopsis papayoides (Araliaceae), a handsome little tree with a whorl of large circular simply lobed dark green leaves, wild bananas, Veronia volkameriaefolia (Compositae), a situ ill tree with spreading panicles of large violet-blue flower-heads, and many others. All of them were overgrown with woody creepers, predominantly Tetrautigma planicaule (Vitaceae) and Japanese hops, though the latter is not woody. Because of this dense tree cover there were not many herbaceous plants, but in less shady spots I once more found the lush, sappy Alocasia odora..with its white spathes. Being somewhat drier, the steep sides of the gorge were overgrown with thorny lianas (Caesalpinia) together with flowering creepers, Senecio scandens, Jasminum bifarium and /. polyanthum, which weighed down the less robust shrubs and made an impenetrable tangle. There was of course a dragon who had his lair in the sinkhole, and while I was looking round my men tried to fool me by imitating his roars. Shuidian was situated at 1300m among the uppermost slopes of the tropical savannah zone. Between the fields there were still a few large trees of Dua-banga grandiflora, its twigs bowed down from its dark spreading crown by the weight of the flower heads grouped at their tips; each flower consisted of a heavy calyx of juicy sepals enclosing a con alia of dainty white or yellowish petals. A common sight in the wayside hedges was the sprawling climber Blumea chinensis (Compositae) with yellow flowers, later turning red. Among the bushes were Ltvcosc-eptrum canum (Labiatae), a large shrub with thick upright spikes of beautiful violet-blue flowers projecting from a layer of white fur, and Oxyspora paniculata (Melastomaceae), a shrub with pink flowers. In the savannah woodland itself true best find was Sterculia henryi with dainty racer (ies of carmine flowers. On the pass I wanted some more plants of the small Primula sinodenticulata and gave orders for them to be dug up.

"What, just ten of them?" said the little mafu, whom I had engaged for such work, "I'd like to go on another trip with him for my master". 'If you only knew what real work is", I thought. On 8th March I arrived in Mengzi and, after missing the train owing to the breakdown of arrangements for transporting my baggage to the station and after further delay caused by the railway — one of my bales of plants was mislaid for a day en route — finally got back to Kunming on 13th March.

[chapter 12:]