Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology’s nursery in Huanglong, a lady slipper orchid bonanza

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.

Cypripedium tibeticum
Cypripedium tibeticum

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.

Cypripedium flavum red spots
Cypripedium flavum with red spots

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.

Spotted leaf Cypripediums
Cypripedium sichuanense and Cypripedium bardolphianum

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.

Cypripedium sichuanense
Cypripedium sichuanense

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.

Cypripedium fargesii
Cypripedium fargesii

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.

Cypripedium tibeticum alba
Alba flowered form of Cypripedium tibeticum v. amesianum
Cypripedium wardii
Cypripedium wardii

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.

Cypripedium yunnanense
Cypripedium yunnanense

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.

Cypripedium guttatum
Cypripedium guttatum

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.

Cypripedium palangshanense
Cypripedium palangshanense

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.

Cypripedium flavum maculata
Cypripedium flavum – red spotted lip form
Cypripedium shanxiense
Cypripedium shanxiense

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.

Cypripedium farreri
Cypripedium farreri
Cypripedium farreri seedlings
Cypripedium farreri seedlings

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.

Cypripedium Wenqing
Cypripedium Wenqing (C. farreri x C. tibeticum)

Anyone interested in getting on their mailing list for plant offerings or wish to attend a botanical tour should contact Wenqing at sales@hengduanbiotech.com or info@hengduanbiotech.com or visit their website. Also check out the article I wrote about their company: Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology, LTD..


2 Replies to “Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology’s nursery in Huanglong, a lady slipper orchid bonanza”

  1. It is with great regret that I must inform the author of this blog of the death of Holger Perner. This was mentioned on social media but it has been confirmed by his long time friend and colleague, Professor Luo Yi-bo in Beijing. Holger was a committed grower of orchids, conservationist and authority on the orchid floras of southwestern China (especially Huanglong) and Japan and the taxonomy of the genus Paphiopedilum. He conducted orchid tours in China and propagated native species from seed in his facility in Chengdu. Those who knew him may wish to express their condolences to his widow, Wn Qing Perner and daughters . The cause of death appears to be a heart ailment.

    I’d known Holger for several years and attended to orchid symposia with him in China within the past decade. The last time I saw him Dr. Ren and I literally ran into him and his wife in 2015 when we visited the Yulong Snow Mountain in Lijiang, Yunnan. He and Wen Qing were conducting an orchid tour for German and Japanese orchid enthusiasts. Ren took some photos of us which I’ sure he would share upon request 任宗昕 .

    1. Hi Peter. Yes, the passing of Holger has been confirmed by the family. His death was both unexpected and devastating. The loss was of course most devastating to the family, but also to the orchid world and the people’s lives he touched throughout the world. The efforts of Holger and his wife Wenqing to bring Chinese plants (in particular orchids) to the attention of humanity was unselfish and idealistic – nobody “get’s rich” doing this kind of work. In the end their tours and tireless travels around the world lead to his early death.

      He leaves behind not only Wenqing, but two daughters, Isabell and Stefanie. The responsibility of their large nursery operations (they have 15 employees and a large greenhouse complex), the extensive tour schedule, and also the girl’s welfare and education now firmly falls on Wenqing’s shoulders. In the face of this reality, Wenqing has decided to continue on with their business, but of course the path will not be an easy one. For that reason, they need all the support they can get.

      In the US, their good friend Mary Gerritsen has decided to help by receiving funds that will be direct deposited in Wenqing’s account. These will be mostly used to fund Isabell’s and Stefanie’s education. Here’s the information if you are interesting in helping out:

      USA residents can mail their checks, payable to Wenqing Perner to:


      541 Parrott Drive
      San Mateo, CA 94402

      100% of the proceeds will be deposited to Wenqing’s US bank account.

      Outside of the USA, please visit the following link to help out. YouCaring donates 100% of the proceeds to the recipients, but there also is a optional donor fee. These funds will be sent via PayPal directly to Wenqing.


      Words cannot express fully the loss of this wonderful man. He will be missed sorely.


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