Looking good now
The multitude of golden black-eyed Susan is setting the Autumn Garden aglow.
The multitude of golden black-eyed Susan is setting the Autumn Garden aglow.
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Vietnam blogpost 2: Heading north from Hanoi

18 & 19 October 2016
Post 2: Andy and Alex take a photograph of a specimen at Xa Ban KhoangPost 2: Andy and Alex take a photograph of a specimen at Xa Ban Khoang
I guess enjoying a morning bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and watching the local news channel with a group of army personnel is not unusual at the Army Guest House Hotel in Hanoi but it was somewhat surreal for me. I was soon joined by the rest of the expedition party who were all set to head to Sa Pa in northern Vietnam after breakfast. A few coffee stops and 213 miles later we arrived in the the Bac Ky region. The journey had all of us excited by the flora we saw before us, from the exotic agriculture to the towering trees and palms. It was however the flora of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range which was of interest to us, so we were all happy to arrive at the Mountaineer Hotel.

After a quick look around the town and the local market we all met back at the hotel where a gentleman named Uoc started detailing some of the trails and plants we were likely to see. At first, I was somewhat confused because earlier in the day Uoc was the hotel owner, now he was conversing with ease about the plants of the region. It later transpired that not only was Uoc the owner of the hotel but a keen amateur botanist too. The meeting concluded with a slide show featuring many of the plants that Uoc had encountered whilst out botanising and a plan of action for the following day.

Xa Ban Khoang
After heading next door from the hotel for another delicious bowl of pho, we jumped in the van and headed for Xa Ban Khoang. During the journey I should of been paying more attention to our driver as he negotiated a narrow and winding road up the mountainside but it was hard not to be distracted by the dramatic landscapes all around us. When we reached our destination, which was a small farm growing gourds, we all jumped out of the van in high spirits. The hope was that in this area was Aesculus wangii, a species of horse chestnut which is only known from limited populations and is vulnerable to extinction (1). It was hoped that if a sufficient number of seeds were found from the species that the botanic gardens involved in the expedition could help in its conservation by establishing an ex situ conservation programme in the UK and Hanoi. As we started our journey with A. wangii in our thoughts, we of course came across a varied range of plants. Amongst the ever present cardamom and bamboo were many herbs and trees. At one point while I was marvelling at a raspberry (Rubus sp.) with striking maroon colouration on its leaf, I turned around to see Richard scaling a Rehderodendron sp. (at an impressive speed) to gather the large seeds. By this point the plant collecting and surveying had started in earnest. I could go on to list all of the specimens we collected but in the interest of brevity, I have included three of my personal highlights below:

As a representative of Glasgow Botanic Gardens, I am always looking for specimens which are prioritised in our collections. Richard spotted a large fern which he thought may be a Cyathea, but on a closer inspection it was something else. The sori along the veins and clathrate scales indicated it was in the Aspleniaceae family and the black stipe and sizeable fronds suggested it would make a fine garden specimen.

Although it is not in our remit to collect orchids, it is exciting to see them in their natural habitat. Many of the orchids we see in our homes and local botanic gardens are cultivated beautifully but there is no better way to appreciate and understand them than seeing orchids growing on a tree in their native forests. I can’t wait to get back to show some of the photographs to Christine, our orchid specialist in Glasgow.

Sometimes plants can show us how small the world really is. I have seen species of Acer with their distinctive key-shaped seeds growing in the wild in North America, Europe and now Southeast Asia. Although it is autumn in Vietnam, many of the species we saw did not exhibit the vibrant colours we normally associate with maples at this time of year. They did however impress in other ways with their formidable size and interesting leaf shapes.

After 63 successful collections and climbing 2,000 m, we were unable to find the elusive Aesculus wangii. I personally hope that it was due to its ability to camouflage itself well in the forest rather than further reductions to its populations. Our expedition is far from over however and I am sure it won’t be the last time we go looking for the species. A. wangii will have to wait however, our next trip is to Fansipan.

Will Ritchie, Curator, Glasgow Botanic Gardens

(1) Aesculus wangii – The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved October 23, 2016, from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/32381/0

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