Heinrich Handel-Mazzetti: [A Botanical Pioneer In South West China] - chapter 34


Chapter 34. To Sandu in Southeast Guizhou

Quartzite mountains — die forest gorges of Majiadun — heath meadows — giant salamanders — Duyun, Maocaoping and Danzhai — Miao villages

A pass at 1300 m led south-eastwards over a mountain range built of quartzite. Its contours were much gentler than those of the terrain we had traversed before reaching Guiyang, but there were still plenty of deep, steep-sided valleys. The descent brought us into a valley running eastwards which belonged to the system of the Yuan Jiang, a river which debouches into Dongting Lake in Hunan. We had hence left the territory drained by the Wu Jiang, which ultimately discharged into the Yangzi in

Sichuan. Close to the steep downhill track was a little river gorge filled with woodland of a most unusual kind. Schefflera delavayi, a small tree belonging to the Araliaceae, was more or less dominant, and its almost unbranched trunks, topped by whorls of large thick grey-green palmate leaves, each segment almost threequarters of a metre in length, presented an extraordinary appearance, not unlike the crowns of a grove of palm trees. Hardly less strange were the thick shaggy, softly thorny fruit [p.149:] each segment almost threequarters of a metre in length, presented an extraordinary appearance, not unlike the crowns of a grove of palm trees. Hardly less strange were the thick shaggy, softly thorny fruit spikes of Mallotus nepalensis, a small tree belonging to the Euphorbiaceae. On the hilltops there were oak woods, with Cunninghamia on the slopes lower down, while the steep sides of the narrow cultivated valley and the lateral gorges were covered by bush and forest which was obviously of great diversity.

The hamlet of Majiadun, situated at 1080 m in the middle of this landscape, made an ideal centre for botanical exploration, and I spent 9th July there. Everywhere on the open hillsides the bushes were lit up by the dense umbels of Hydrangea aspera in various shades of blue and violet, sometimes with double flowers. My main goal was the little wooded ravine opposite the village. All the trees and bushes in it were entwined with small or medium-sized climbers, notably Schizandra henryi, Jasminum lanceolarium with white flowers, Trachelospermum axHlare with small red flowers, even more cloyingly scented than the jasmine, and Rubus swinhoei, thickly hung with black fruits each backed by a purple calyx; they looked as tempting as our finest blackberries, but their flavour was tart and astringent. Hanging down over steep rock faces was Gleichenia glauca, a large fern with finely cut leaves. Growing in moist recesses in the rock was Gymnotheca chinensis, a herbaceous plant related to the pepper vine, with a powerful odour reminiscent of cow parsnip (Heracleuni); it had stems extending as runners and rooting where they touched, and lax spikes of white flowers devoid of petals. The shrubs included Acer fargesii with reddish leaves and fruits, and Dichroa febrifuga, a small bush with soft pith-filled twigs and skyblue flowers. Towering above them were huge trees of Castanopsis tibetana, perhaps the finest oak (hi the broadest sense of the word) that I have ever beheld; its rather narrow, leathery, evergreen leaves had a brown felty covering beneath and were up to 25 cm long, while its upright spikes of thorny fruit capsules were 15 cm in height. There was also a new species of bamboo (Indocala-mus longiauratus); its lush shoots were putting forth leaves up to 10 cm broad with long auricles edged with bristles, and it occurred frequently from there onwards far into Hunan. Below Majiadun the valley diverged to the northeast. The road left it and followed a tributary south-eastwards. The steep slopes, beside the stream and above the road, were studded with the round golden-yellow flowers of Caesalpinia nuga, and its long slender shoots weighed down the bushes over which it scrambled.

At Gudong we crossed a stream flowing directly northeast, and next day, without any major ascents or descents, we finally reached the Duyun valley, which at first ran southwards. Once again the mountains were deeply dissected and showed some similarity to the conical hill formations we had seen earlier, though here they had evidently been modelled from quartzite by the action of the climate, but all the terrain was green and lacked any sharp-angled outlines. Near Wendun limestone hills reappeared beyond the little river, and the valley continued as far as Duyun between strata dipping eastwards at 45°. The river, bordered by the new Rhododendron rivulare and other plants, received a large tributary from the left and another from the right. The latter ran at the foot of an impressive forest-clad mountain, but because of my prolonged stay in Guiyang I could not spare even one day to explore it Although I was no longer plotting a route survey, it was clear from the distances stated in li and from the time taken by my caravan that Duyun lies some 20 km east of its position as shown in Stieler's atlas. Very early next morning, before we were ready to start, the local official came to call, bringing with him gifts for which I had nothing to offer in return. Lao Li declared that there was no need for me to offer presents while I was travelling, but I doubt whether he was correct; more probably he just wanted to avoid extra work.

The river at first continued in the same direction, but my route turned".eastwards here and climbed up to a saddle at 970 m. All the slopes were grass-covered; not a vestige of forest remained. Beyond the col, on flatter ground, there were small areas of dry meadowland with low-growing plants, in many respects comparable with our heath meadows. Their characteristic species included various herbaceous plants of low stature, notably Oldenlandia uncinella which resembles our woodruff, Potentilla chinensis with deeply cut leaves, the scarce Burmannia disti-cha with winged blue calyces, a few small orchids such as Calanthe angusta var. laeta and Phyllompax galeandra, and Melastoma repens which arises from a woody rootstock and spreads out into mats dotted with large flowers.

From a man coming from the opposite direction I bought two giant salamanders (Megalobatrachus maximus), creatures no less than 42 cm in length with a crest along the spine and a flattened head 6.5 cm broad. He said they had been caught in the river and that a medicine was extracted from them, but I pickled them hi formalin. After we had passed through a little valley where we encountered sandstone once more, trees began to reappear. At first they were only pines, but as we descended into the next valley the woodland became more diverse. Among it was Meliosma pannosa, a small tree with brown hairs on its leaves and inflorescences. To judge from the steppe-like appearance of the grasslands, the whole of this district seemed to be somewhat drier than the rest, possibly because it was shut off between two chains of mountains. By the stream at the bottom, near the village of Duojie, was a small hill consisting of limestone strata overlying the sandstone and dipping steeply westwards. Though I had no time for more than a brief foray, I collected several novelties there, including Sorbus folgneri, its leaves white on their undersides, Lorvpetalum sinense, a shrub with small, rough-surfaced leaves, now in fruit, and among the bushes beside the stream Apios fortune! with green flowers. The wood on the hill above looked so enticing that I decided to break my journey for a day (13th July) at Maocao-ping, a village half an hour further on.

Next morning I went back to Duojie and investigated the hill more closely. The gently sloping surface formed by flat beds of sedimentary rock was blanketed by a layer of humus soil carrying tall [p.150:] bamboos (Phyllostachys puberula). Towering above them were huge oaks and Liquidambar trees together with Enobotrya and Photinia davidsoniae, and in the shade cast by the trees a small pink Ardisia was flowering, accompanied by Rubus chaffanjoni, a bramble with white spots and lyre-shaped leaves. On the crest, however, and the steep scarp beneath it there was maquis woodland of small-leaved trees, none of any great height yet gnarled and obviously ancient There were hornbeams, Quercus phyllireoid-es, Pittosporum floribundum with small round fruits, the evergreen Euonymus dielsiana with vivid yellow flowers, and Platycarya. The most remarkable however, was a tree which resembled a Uthocarpus. Its erect flower spikes were clothed with golden brown hair, as were the 3-pirmate or less frequently 5-pinnate young leaves. It finally turned out to be Engelhardtia chrysolepis, a relative of the walnut I spent the afternoon hardly less enjoyably in exploring a meadow bog situated on spring-watered gravel in a hollow in the ridge. Apart from Mariscus chinensis the main element was the tall Schoenus sinensis, a new species of sedge which formed exceedingly solid tussocks ultimately developing into rings.

Travelling on next morning, we soon reached the' little river coming from Duyun, at an altitude of 660 m. The ferryboat took only a few strokes on the oars to carry us across, and we at once began the ascent up the 1200 m mountain. Twice we crossed strata of limestone sandwiched between the sandstones which made up the ridge. Liquidambar and Cunninghamia, the latter huge old trees, covered the hillside; Callcarpa lyi was less common. I met Miao tribes-people in festive attire, perhaps going to a wedding, but they were extremely timid. At the top of the ridge the strata were disposed vertically; it was presumably the persisting synclinal component of a fault, for further on the strata dipped in the opposite direction — to the west On the short descent to the market town of Danzhai Hydrangea paniculata, a shrub which I had already seen more than once, was now blooming; its yellowish-white flowers, some of them enlarged and infertile, were aggregated into large panicles. The room which I found was tolerably clean, but after the sun went down I had to make a hurried move; clouds of mosquitoes came swarming out of a rat hole in such numbers as to make work impossible; though I could have crawled under my mosquito net to sleep I could not work inside it The landscape to the east of Danzhai was in some respects similar to that of the Yunnan plateau; there was a the same red earth derived from sandstone (or clay-slate?), and there were low ridges and gently sloping conical hills mantled with forests of oak and pine.

However, my route did not lead through that district I turned southwards and went downhill, as I wished to explore the low-lying valley of the Du Jiang, my curiosity having been aroused by meeting numerous porters carrying huge, ponderous planks which must have come from gigantic trees — even though they were only pines. To the right of the little valley was the mountain chain which we had just crossed, and on its slopes were some large Miao villages. From a distance they resembled Naxi villages, and the buildings gave the same impression of loftiness, but here it was produced not by the grain-drying racks which jut up above the roofs of a Naxi village, but by the dark wooden houses themselves, which were taller and narrower than those of the Naxi. Here, as in the Naxi homelands, the Chinese had not yet encroached on tribal territories and the forests were still largely intact; dense stands of tall evergreen oaks covered the low hills above the Miao villages. The people here were certainly not accustomed to Europeans; that evening, as I was ransacking the bushes outside the village of Qiaoli, two women who had come to fetch water from the spring burst our screaming when they saw me standing there, rushed back into their house and bolted the door with a loud clatter, and next morning, only a few hundred metres further on, a peasant took to his heels on seeing me, even though I was quite alone.

Beneath the shrubs I found Lysimachia paridiformis, an unusual plant with a single whorl of four broad leaves, and Mahonia leveilleana, now putting forth splendid flowers. Growing wild in large numbers on the dry hillsides was the tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), with small diamond-shaped leaves like those of a poplar. Here, at 500 m, we entered the subtropical zone and soon encountered cultivated orange trees (Citrus aurantium) together with another kind having larger fruits almost devoid of flesh — probably a new species. After passing through a tract of more or less barren country we were joined by another stream, and at midday we entered the small town of Sandu, situated on the Du Jiang. The river flowed from the west and in the distance we had a clear view of the cone hill terrain which forms the entire southwest part of Guizhou. Looking as if it were a forest, it stretched far away towards the horizon.

[chapter 35:]