In the Footsteps of the Plant Hunters – Tour of Yunnan, China

Join Angus as he once again leads this fascinating plant lovers tour organised by Opulent Journeys

It will be from the 24th May to the 10th of June 2017.

The tour starts in Kunming, the capital and the largest city of Yunnan province, known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, due to its favourable climatic conditions. The Kunming Botanical Gardens are an ideal introduction to the tour, as they hold a vast collection of plants native to Yunnan province, including special collections of camellias, magnolias, begonias, rhododendrons, and rare plants of Yunnan. The extraordinary botanical diversity of Yunnan is concentrated in these gardens, providing an expansive overview, in a cultivated setting, of the plants encountered in the wild later in the tour.

Founded in 1938, the garden encompasses 44 hectares of mostly landscaped gardens, with around 10 hectares of natural vegetation. The camellia collection of the garden is regarded as unique in China, and holds 78 different species and 1000 different cultivars of camellia. One of the most beautiful landscapes of the camellia collection is a forest of 800 Camellia reticulata trees, of which many are over 70 years old. There is also a special section of golden camellias, with 30 species of yellow-flowered camellia species.

From Kunming, the tour will travel to Tongcheng and the Mount Gaoligong Nature Reserve, part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a World Heritage listed area, described by UNESCO as one of the most biologically diverse temperate ecosystems in the world, a biodiversity hotspot. The southerly latitude combined with the varying altitudes in this region results in a wide array of microclimates and species within a relatively small area. Significantly, due to these unique climatic conditions, Mount Gaoligong Nature Reserve is one of the only places in the world where there is a complete transformation from temperate forest into tropical forest, supporting many species endemic to this region. Mount Gaoligong has an astonishing amount of different animal and plant species, and is sometimes described as a ‘natural botanical garden’, with many familiar species such as azaleas, roses, raspberry, gentians, irises, orchids and ferns. There are 318 endemic species, including the genera Davidia, Metapanax, and Smithorchis. This is the natural habitat of azaleas and rhododendrons, with species including the majestic Big Tree Rhododendron (Rhododendron protistum var. giganteum). This species is critically endangered in its native habitat, with only around 100 individuals left in the wild. Young seedlings can often be disturbed and trampled, partly due to tourism, so be mindful of this when visiting the area.

Animals found in the park include many species of monkey, pangolins, red pandas, river otters and black musk deer. There is also an abundance of unique bird species, such as silver pheasant, gold pheasant, and green peacock.

In addition to the natural diversity, the ethnic diversity of this region is also incredibly varied, especially as this region shares a border with Myanmar; around 18 different ethnic minorities live in this part of south-west Yunnan.

Another wild botanical highlight of the tour is Cangshan Mountain, near the city of Dali. This mountain is renowned for its botanical diversity, but the area is also known for its Buddhist architecture, such as the Three Pagodas, which form one of the many cultural experiences to be seen on the tour, giving a full picture of the life of this region, both botanical and non-botanical. The plant life on Cangshan mountain includes wild camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Next on the agenda is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which forms part of the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge. The plant hunter, botanist, and explorer Joseph Rock spent a considerable amount of time living in this region in the 1920s, writing about the land and the Naxi ethnic group who live here.

Nearby is the city of Lijiang, with its UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town. This city is a jumping off point for the famous Shangri-La region, actually called ‘Zhōngdiàn’ or ‘Gyalthang’ in Tibetan, is an area made famous from a fictionalised account in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. The place itself is very close to Tibet, and is the site of one of Yunnan’s most impressive monasteries, the Sunsanling Monastery, a large structure of Tibetan Buddhism built in 1679, and richly ornamented with wall paintings and woodcarving.

Still in the Shangri-La region, the tour takes in Baima nature reserve on the way to the city of Deqin. This isolated nature reserve holds many virgin forests, and extremely unique wildlife, such as the Yunnan golden monkey, the monkey living at the highest altitude. The climate is alpine, with impressive and renowned rhododendron forests, the noble rhubarb (Rheum nobile), Himalayan Eritrichium (Chionocharis hookeri), and many more alpine plants and flowers.

There are many more plants species, animals, sights, and cultures in this truly extraordinary region of the world, and this broad introduction can only lightly touch the surface. As with the plant hunters and explorers of old, there is still much foreign and novel to us in this part of the world, waiting to be discovered.

To book your place on this tour of a lifetime with Angus go to Opulent Journeys now!!

Or phone: 1300 219 885            Email: