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Blogpost 3 from Vietnam - to the heights of Fansipan

20th – 23rd Oct 2016
Post 3: The view from the summit of FansipanPost 3: The view from the summit of Fansipan
A clear view to the summit of Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Indochina at 3143 m prepared us for our first four-day trip into the field. We took the recently constructed cable car to the summit and this gave us a flavour of the mountain’s floral offerings, rice terraces filled the lower valley and forest clothed its steeper gradients and gullies. As we crested 2800m, stands of Abies fansipanensis stood out, the trees forming a sparse flat-topped canopy.

From the cable car station we descended through bamboo thickets, a plant community resulting from degradation of the forest at the peak. We were able to make collections of forest remnants, including a number of Rhododendron species, Schefflera, Arisaema and some ferns. As we fell below 2800m, the bamboo reduced in abundance and Rhododendron forest replaced it with giant specimens of R. sinofalconeri towering over our heads. The vegetation beneath dripped with filmy ferns and mosses and poking out of these were many species of Gesneriaceae (relatives of the African violet).

We camped in the field and returned to the summit the following day to follow the path out to Ton Station and Sapa. The coming two nights were to be spent at the mercy of hard wooden floors in shacks along the main path on Fansipan. As we descended, the forest composition changed, with many opportunities to collect. Highlights included a range of Magnolia species, a couple of potentially new species of Rhododendron, some massive witch hazel relatives and many herbs and ferns. With our collecting bags and herbarium presses filled to bursting point and camera and GPS data nearly at its limit, we arrived at Ton Station to head back into Sapa.

The coming day was spent processing all our finds and its associated data. However, never turning down an opportunity to collect, we headed back to Khoang village with Du to see if we could locate Aesculus wangii. Whilst the weather was very much against us, luck was in our corner. We hacked up a river valley, with sparse forest and cardamom and finally there they were, the familiar sight of horse-chestnut fruits hanging from a number of trees. Their massive size is a sight-to-behold and with 18 packaged in Andy’s collecting bag, we retreated to the hotel and a well-earned beer.

Alex Summers, Glasshouse Supervisor, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, @CamPlantsman
Publication Date
24/10/2016