Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology operates two nurseries in China, one in the high mountains of northern Sichuan, and the other on the hot Sichuan Plain on the outskirts of Chengdu city. The high mountain nursery is located nearly within the boundaries of Huanglong National Park in a deep valley at around 3000 meters elevation. Here the winters are cold, long, and dry, extending from November through March uninterrupted. Summers are cool and wet with most days overcast and temperatures rarely, if ever, above 25 C.
In this climate Holger and Wenqing Perner have their temperate ladyslipper orchid nursery. Several long shadehouses containing thousands of Cypripedium seedlings as well as adult stud plants make up the bulk of the nursery. Native Chinese Cypripediums flourish in these conditions. In late June 2013 I visited the nursery on one of Wenqing and Holger’s botanical tours of the region. What follows is a pictoral essay showing what was in bloom at the time of our visit.
Just couple kilometers up the highway from the nursery is Huanglong Valley, home to literally thousands of Cypripediums, especially C. tibeticum, C. flavum, and C. bardolphianum. For this reason it isn’t surprising the local climate is perfect for growing Cyps. The plants are grown in a mix of four to five parts perlite to one part sedge peat taken from the alpine grasslands of the region. In this mix the plants flourish in beds overlain with conifer needles. Lets take a look at some of the plants we saw at the nursery the day we visited.
This lovely white based colored C. tibeticum is one of their stud plants at the nursery. As you can see, this form lacks the white rim around the lip orifice. Flowers of this type are the largest of the this variable species. If you buy plants from them, then expect flowers similar to this one.
C. flavum is a common, yet endemic orchid of western China, found only the cool wet conditions these high mountains can provide. Flower color is highly variable form pure yellows, to near white flowered ones, as well as spotted flowers such as this lovely plant at the Huanglong nursery.
A challenging group of Cypripediums to grow are the spotted leaf types (Sections Trigonipedia and Sinopedilum). Here are clumps of C. sichuanense (left) and C. bardolphium (right, out of flower) growing with abandon. These plants cannot withstand wet conditions in winter and so must be protected from winter rain and snow.
C. sichuanense is a very rare plant, hailing only from northern Sichuan in the Min Mountains (Minshan). Virtually all plants on the world market today have been collected and then shipped illegally out of country to Europe, Japan, and North America. Most if not all are destined to perish due to poor collecting methods and the long road to someone’s garden. This past fall (2013) Holger was able to offer for the first time young lab produced plants to gardeners the world over. These will have a far greater chance at establishing compared to wild collect plants, and their production doesn’t threaten this endangered orchid in its native home.
Closely related to C. sichuanense is C. fargesii, another endemic of southwestern China, that has proven to be perhaps a bit more easy to grow than other members of Section Trigonipedia. People often wonder if this plant is cold hardy and the answer is yes. Holger has successfully grown C. fargesii, C. margaritaceum, and C. sichuanense at the Huanglong nursery where winters are long and cold. It is interesting to note that he has had no success maintaining C. lichiangenese however.
One of the more fascinating plants we saw at the nursery were these alba C. tibeticum v. amesianum plants. This form of C. tibeticum is small in stature, and the flowers are half the size of a normal C. tibeticum. They also are self pollinating. Alba flowered plants have only been found at one site to date and are therefore rare as hen’s teeth.
A surprising plant to see at the nursery were two small clumps of C. wardii, the dwarf C. subtropicum relative found only in a tiny area where northern Yunnan meets southern Sichuan. It was nice to see them being grown and with any hope they will produce seedlings in the future. This species is found at much lower altitudes than at the nursery which has the odd effect of delaying their development in the spring, hence they were just in bud.
Another plant of southern Sichuan and northern Yunnan is C. yunnanense, a dwarf looking version of C. tibeticum. The plant’s flower is tiny in comparison with its larger cousin. The pink staminode with a broad band of purple down its length is one common feature of this dwarf species.
A plant found mostly in the boreal forests of northern Asia as well as Alaska and the Yukon is C. guttatum. This miniature bifoliate species has a unique flower shape resembling a Paphiopedilum more than a Cyp. The Hengduan Mountains of southwest China are home to a disjunct population, left here after the last ice age. This species is totally intolerant of high temperatures while in growth.
A tiny member of Section Enantiopedilum found only in the mountains of southwest China is C. palangshanense. Though found at lower elevations than the nursery, the colder winters here apparently are not injurious to them, proving their cold hardiness as well. These are truly tiny plants, so much so that a flowering specimen would easily fit in the palm of your hand. Once thought a close cousin to C. debile, another tiny Asian Cyp with pendent flowers, it is now considered to be closer to the western North American species, C. fasciculatum.
Another color form of C. flavum is this lovely one with a red speckled lip and lime green sepals and petals. This plant was found in a valley at a much lower elevation than the species is normally found and tends to flower latter than the ones from higher areas. Another lovely group of stock plants at the nursery.
An unusual self pollinating plant very closely related to C. henryi and C. calceolus is the orange-brown flowered C. shanxiense. This species is odd not only for its self pollinating habit, but also its linear, band-like distribution across northern China, into extreme SW Russia, North Korea, and onto a few outlier colonies on Hokkaido Island in Japan. Not the most visually striking species of Cyp, but unusual indeed. This is one plant commonly offered by Hengduan Mountains Biotech.
A truly rare plant, both in the wild and in cultivation, is C. farreri. This species has been recorded from only a handful of sights, all confined to the Hengduan Mountains. Holger and Wenqing are the first to offer legal, lab produced plants, in fact the plant in the photo below is the first seedling they have flowered out. This species is fairly simple to grow in fact and should become more common as a garden plant in time, taking at least some collecting pressure off wild populations.
Here is their first batch of near flowering size seedlings of C. farreri. This year their stud plants produced many pods, so Holger thinks that in a few years he’ll be able to have thousands of plants. That’s good news for this species and for buyers since the price will come down appreciably.
Finally, a plant of C. Wenqing, an artificial remake of the naturally occurring hybrid, C. x wenqingiae (C. farreri x C. tibeticum). The plants in flower at the nursery were very beautifully colored such as this fine flower. In times past they have offered flasks of this hybrid and this year they also offered flowering sized seedlings.
Anyone interested in getting on their mailing list for plant offerrings or wish to attend a botanical tour should contact Wenqing at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website. Also check out the article I wrote about their company: Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology, LTD..