Taiwan Plant Exploration 2008
September 5, 2008 update
by Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery
Participants:Mark Weatherington, JC Raulston Arboretum
I have long wanted to botanize Taiwan, especially after my friend Dan Hinkley came back from his first trip there, telling me it was a horticultural gold mine for the Southeast US. Although it took many years to carve out time to go, 2008 was the year. I began calling my list of interested people I'd accumulated over the years, and one by one, they declined for various reasons from scheduling to funds availability, to work obligations. Our group narrowed down to just myself and Mark Weathington, Assistant Director of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum. This would be the smallest out of country group I'd been a part of, but as they say in Hollywood, "The show must go on."
Taiwan was also of interest because of the large number of plants from there that we already grow including Lilium formosanum, Tricyrtis formosana, Tricyrtis lasiocarpa, Rohdea watanabe, Amorphophallus henryi and kiusianus, Rubus taiwanicola, Arisaema taiwanensis, Pyrrosia polydactyla, Pieris taiwanensis, heck, any plant with a name ending in formosana or taiwanensis. While many folks think of Taiwan as all tropical, the 89 mile wide island goes from sea level to 14,000' in the middle and down to sea level again. Taiwan is home to more than 200 peaks over 9,000’. For someone who hates heights, this was a daunting proposition. As you can imagine, any ground remotely flat or mildly sloping is used either for agricultural production, human habitation, or businesses. That leaves only the steepest lands for interesting plants.
One of the interesting things I learned from years of botanizing is that winter hardy plants often grow in the wild, mixed with tropicals. Many times seed fall from higher elevations and adapt to the heat, creating strange combinations such as we would see with cryptomeria and alocasia. In the northern part of the island, the mountains only rise to 3,400', and while this is a solid Zone 8/9 climate, I have no doubt there are certainly Zone 7 hardy plants from there. As you head south, toward the Tropic of Cancer, which bisects the Yu Shan National Park, the "hardy" zone rises to about 4,500' to 5,000', although Zone 8 still extends to about 6,500'. Above 9,300', you rise above the tree line and enter the alpine zone, where plants that require heat don't stand much of a chance. Because of the harsh conditions, many plants that grow at lower elevations are dwarfed here, and have over time become genetically predisposed to remain dwarf even when grown in a more hospitable environment, with the classic example being the dwarf Lilium formosanum var. pricei.
Much of Taiwan's flora is endemic (native only there), with most estimates of 25% occurring nowhere else in the world. Taiwan is particularly known for its incredible diversity of ferns that probably exceed any other country...especially one of Taiwan’s size. The extensive Taiwanese cloud forests make for an amazing array of epiphytic (not requiring soil) ferns. Surprisingly, few of Taiwan's endemic ferns have made their way in to cultivation.
Because of its location at the convergence of the Asian and Philippine continental plates, Taiwan is also a very active island geologically. Hot springs abound on the island, evidenced by both the steam rising from the mountains and the number of hot springs resort hotels throughout the island. Earthquakes are also very common here to the tune of 8.5 per year during the last century. A small earthquake hit just East of Hualien two nights before we arrived...glad to have missed it. Taiwan is also ground zero for a tremendous number of typhoons that devastate the island as you will read about below.
Most of Taiwan’s population lives on the north and west coasts in huge cities, Taipei with 2.9 million, Taichung with 800,000, and Tainan with 700,000. Despite Taiwan’s 14,000 square mile size (245 miles north to south and 89 miles from east to west), most of the high mountains are uninhabitable, and most only accessible by overnight hikes, with surprisingly few roads to access any of them.
I had planned to drive a rental car since Dan indicated the roads were fairly well marked, but I hadn't planned on having so much trouble finding a rental car. It seems none of the standard players in the auto rental industry have offices in Taiwan, despite their being several web articles about Hertz being open there....obviously the folks at Hertz quoted in the article must have been smoking something. I finally found a company, Central Auto Rental and Leasing who had a wide array of cars and were superb at communicating in English. The rest of my experience with Central Auto (a division of the huge financial corporation, Chailease) was nothing short of extraordinary as you shall see later.
Getting good directions in Taiwan is difficult at best. A standard set of directions goes something like JingShan/ChangShan/DingDong/FengHong. You're supposed to be able to find destinations this way. If you anticipate having problems finding your destination, have your travel agent send you the name in Chinese characters also. Despite being told many folks speak English, the only words most have mastered outside of Western-style hotels are hello and goodbye. The Taiwanese people are eager to help, and if you have the Chinese characters, they will go out of their way to assist you. It will be revolutionary if Map Quest ever does Taiwan.
A problem making travel worse is the English language translation from Chinese. Apparently there are several options and each translation style comes up with a different spelling, so the same town or road could be spelled three different ways depending on which map or guidebook you use. Once you get outside the large cities, there aren't enough roads to really get lost...a good thing, as Martha would say. Then, there are the road signs you wish were in English...nothing like a good challenge.
The travel downside is the steep nature of most of Taiwan, resulting in high rainfalls loosening the stability of the mountains, taking large chunks of earth, vegetation, and roads down along with them. I can only imagine the frustration of the Taiwan road crews, having to completely rebuild a road every time it rains hard. There are only three highways which cross the mountains in an East/West direction...the North Cross Island Highway (9), The Central Cross Island Highway (8), and the Southern Cross Island Highway (20). Unfortunately, the Central Cross island highway has had a 20 mile stretch missing since the devastating 7.6 Nantou earthquake in 1999....I'm sure that's put more than a few hotels out of business along that route.
Our choice of August allowed us to see many plants still in flower, while also finding some in seed. The only downside is August is typically a very wet month in Taiwan, being right in the midst of typhoon season. Just prior to our trip, Typhoon Kalmaegi (July 18), and Typhoon Fung Wong (July 28) hit Taiwan with the latter dropping 40+ inches of rain on the central parts of the island.
With our agenda finally set and our hotels hopefully booked, Mark and I departed at 4pm on August 9, for the 25-hour flight to our starting destination in Taoyuan, Taiwan, where the Taiwan International Airport is located. It was a wonderfully uneventful flight, and despite connections in Atlanta and San Francisco, our flight and luggage both arrived on time.
Monday August 11, 2008
Losing a day in transit, we arrived at 5:30am, and after picking up our luggage, we were greeted at baggage claim by Nielson Tan of Chailease Auto Rental, who delivered our rental van from their offices in the northern Taipei suburb of Peitou (Beitou). Nielson spoke great English (better than most everyone else we met) and agreed to drive us back to our hotel, near their rental car office, which took about 30 minutes. We stopped by to visit our hotel, the Chuyan Du Spring Resort, but didn't check in because it was too early in the day.
Eager to start botanizing, we headed up the nearby mountains within the Yang Ming Shan National Park (shan means mountain). We maneuvered the winding roads until we reached over 3,000' + elevation and pulled into one of the public parking lots and began our first hike. The sky was overcast as we began, which foreshadowed our impending luck.
We backtracked about 100' up the road, then headed up a side road toward the top of Mt. Sinoguanyin. One of the first plants we saw was Rhododendron oldhamii, the species which imparted the everblooming habit to the Encore azaleas. Underneath it was Rubus pentalobus...or at least that's what it appeared to be. We would continue to see similar rubus with varying leaf sizes throughout the island. The next plant we spotted was a fern, Dipteris conjugata, I had heard about from Dan Hinkley, who had also visited this area. Dipteris is without a doubt one of the most amazing and unusual ferns I’ve ever seen, but so far, no one in the west has had luck bringing it into cultivation. Adjacent was Farfugium japonicum var. formosanum, all growing at the base of a steep bank. The leaf forms on the farfugium ranged from slightly to deeply lobed, but all looked somewhat different from the Japanese forms of F. japonicum in the trade. The farfugiums were in turn topped by Hydrangea aspera...a plant we would see throughout our trip, and the hydrangeas were then topped by Styrax japonica.
The further we walked, the more excited we got. Arisaema ringens growing with asarum and Liriope muscari (incorrectly synonymized in Flora of Taiwan as L. platyphylla), which then led to Podophyllum pleianthum, and then to 2’ tall clumps of Paris bockiana...all growing near an alocasia, which we assume to be A. odora. This was our first sighting for Begonia chitoensis with it’s large outfacing flowers, which we would later find at many higher elevations throughout the entire island. There was an amazing euonymus growing here as a groundcover, which resembled a brighter version of Euonymus fortunei ‘Wulong Ghost’. Did I mention the cicadas? These are not your grandmothers cicadas...their ear piercing noise is eerily reminiscent of the Velociraptor sounds from Jurassic Park...a sound that leaves you looking through the branches for hidden pairs of eyes.
Ferns were everywhere, especially epiphytic ones. It seems nearly every tree of any size was either covered in one of many climbing hydrangeas or epiphytic ferns including pyrrosias and in mind-boggling numbers. We darted back and forth across the access road finding more goodies with each crossing. Before long we spotted what appeared to be an illicium, but without the typically fragrant leaves. We looked around for the parent plant, hoping it would be the sought after tree anise, Illicium arborescens.
We continued up the trail for nearly an hour and a half before we returned to the van to go for lunch. We were shocked to find the passenger side window smashed and my briefcase containing my laptop, maps, hotel reservations, plant references, and worst of all, my passport...all gone. Thank goodness they were scared away before they could take the rest of our luggage. We phoned our rental car firm, who contacted the local police, which arrived after an hour. While we waited for the police, a Hitchcockian fog rolled in, engulfing the entire mountain. This would become a regular afternoon signature of the Taiwanese mountains, which certainly made driving more challenging than we anticipated.
Finally the police arrived, but unfortunately, our lack of ability to speak Chinese and their lack of ability to speak English hampered our communications. After taking our initial report, we followed the police back to the police station, where the report filing began. We were joined there by three members of the rental car firm, who helped us translate, brought us a light lunch, along with a replacement van. After two plus hours of fingerprinting our van and filling out forms, I was given police reports to sign, having no idea what they actually said. Not only was signing necessary on nearly 30 pages of forms, but I had to mark each signature with a red-inked thumbprint…my green thumb had now turned red.
The folks from our car rental agency encouraged me to go to the Taiwan Immigration Department to file a report for my missing passport. I phoned the American Institute of Travel Services Office (the equivalent of our embassy, but since we don't officially recognize Taiwan as a country, we can't have an official embassy), but unfortunately, they closed at 3:30pm...(now that's real customer service for American citizens). I asked what documents I needed to get a replacement passport and was told two forms of identification and the police report would be plenty...no papers from Taiwan Immigrations needed. No problem, since I had a copy of my passport stashed in different luggage.
The rental car folks mentioned I couldn't get a replacement passport without first visiting the Taiwan Immigration Office, so once again, I phoned the "embassy" to ask if this was correct. After checking with their supervisor, I was assured again I did not need to visit the Taiwan Immigration Office. Our rental car folks still encouraged me to go to the Taiwan Immigration Office and offered to take me there before they closed at 5pm. Since it was now too late to head back into the field, Mark took our new van back to the hotel and I rode with the rental car folks to the Immigration Office. We battled the rush hour traffic, but uncertain of its exact location, our stopping to ask directions a couple of times caused us to arrive too late to be able to fill out the necessary papers. The rental car folks were kind enough to return me to our hotel, where, exhausted mentally, we picked up takeout at the Kentucky Fried Chicken adjacent to the hotel.
Tuesday August 12, 2008
We were up early and after our buffet breakfast at the hotel, I was off via taxi to the American Institute of Travel Services passport office about 30 minutes away. I arrived as the office opened at 9am, but had been told I must have photos first, so I did manage to locate a nearby small store with a self serve photo booth outdoors. Despite no English instructions, I managed to figure out how to take the required photos, and was then able to bypass the line of over 100 Taiwan natives in line to get a US passport and proceed to the 2nd floor office to start the passport process.
I presented my documents and was told I must first have documents from the Taiwan Immigration Office. I explained we had gone through this yesterday and I had confirmed by phone twice that these documents were not needed. No, the officer explained, it was required because my police report did not say specifically that my passport was stolen. As it turned out, the police had sent me away with the Cliff’s notes version of the report, but with it being in Chinese, I was not aware of this until now. I asked them to call the police office to verify my passport was stolen, which they did and things again seemed fine. That was until the next bureaucrat got involved. Bureaucrat #2 then explained again I couldn’t get a new passport until I visited the Taiwan Immigrations Office. I went up the chain of command, even speaking with the US State Department representative, who, obviously feeling my pain, offered me a ride to the Taiwan Immigration office, which was about 10 minutes away. As it turned out, the office we arrived at was different from the office we had visited on Monday afternoon….oops.
Upon arrival, I had to duck into another photo booth for more photos, then a relatively quick amount of paperwork before I was hailing a taxi back to the US Passport Office. Finally, then end was in sight. After more waiting, my passport was re-issued with the caveat that I must return again to the Taiwan Immigration Office to have my passport stamped so I would be able to leave Taiwan. Returning for more bureaucracy, I finally finished up around 1pm, then it was back to the hotel and out into the field. Mark had spent the morning, trying to reconstruct our hotel vouchers via email and get them printed for the remaining part of the trip. The way hotels work in Taiwan is you pay in advance and simply present a voucher of payment when you arrive. Obviously, without these vouchers and with our language barrier, problems would be sure to lay ahead. After a bite to eat, we were both eager to head back into the field.
Despite our earlier problems, we returned to see more of the flora of Yang Ming Shan Park. We first headed up past our fiasco parking lot, where a side road allowed us to head higher up the mountain to the Mt. Datung peak (Grass Mountain) at around 3,300’ elevation. Much of the mountain is covered solid by miscanthus, which in spite of holding the soil in many of Taiwan’s steeply sloped mountains, doesn’t allow much other vegetation to survive. Despite this thick vegetation, Mt. Datung and virtually all other mountains tend to slough (pronounced "sluff") off in periods of heavy rain. I'm not sure how much the natural hot springs have to do with the instability of the soils, but it is fascinating to watch steam emerging from the side of the mountains.
The few plants we found near the top were growing right alongside the road including asarum growing in the edge of the asphalt and farfugium growing on a concrete block wall, both demonstrating an incredible will to survive. We finally found a small pocket of forested area just below the top and peeked down the steep bank, much of which was bordered with a retaining wall. After deciding it was simply too steep to reach, Mark spotted a stainless steel ladder which maintenance workers had obviously bolted to the retaining wall to allow them access...a thoughtful gesture, surely intended for us. Down we went into what turned out to be a horticultural wonderland.
We were first greeted with more Arisaema ringens, which we had seen the day before. This time, Mark spotted a narrow-leaf form, which was much different from anything I’d ever seen in the wild. We began finding more asarums, polygonatum, calanthe orchids, heloniopsis, and even a plant that looked like a pinellia. The group of plants I had come here to study were the ferns, and those did not disappoint. From pyrrosia to asplenium to coniogramme, the woods were just rich with ferns many of which are endemic to Taiwan. The fern that really caught our attention was the tree fern, Cyathea spinulosa, whose 10’ trunks just looked out of place in the midst of a forest of seemingly temperate plants. There were other large ferns including one we couldn't identify to genus, but the 7' long fronds make it one to try. The other shocker was when we walked up on a giant birdnest fern (Asplenium nidus) growing as an epiphyte in the trees. We stared for several minutes at this horticultural anomaly, before concluding we obviously were not as temperate as we first thought.
Here, we found our first Araliaceae family member, a group that interested both Mark and myself. It appeared to be the Taiwanese Dendropanax dentiger, but Woody Flora of Taiwan seems very confused about this genus as it inappropriately synonymized this with other species. Another broadleaf evergreen that caught our eye was a plant we tentatively identified as Machilis acuminatissima...a large shrub with very wavy and glossy leaves. It was here that we finally found a large specimen of the illicium from the day before...a 40’ tall Illicium arborescens…eureka! All we could do was wonder what the horticultural world would think of a tree illicium…very cool! After a couple of hours at this stop, we scaled the bank back toward the top when we were stopped with two other surprise finds…a mahonia and what looks to be an edgeworthia. This couldn’t be edgeworthia, since it is not listed in the Woody Flora of Taiwan, but there it was with edgeworthia’s classic form and leaf shape. Bleddyn Wynn-Jones, who has tromped these parts more than I, advises me this is in fact Daphne kiusiana v. atrocaulis. The only other thing at this stop that could have been deemed stranger was the crab parading its way over the mountainous rocks...either a remnant from the last typhoon our my first encounter with a land crab.
From here, we drove around the top of Yang Ming Shan and again visited the Mt. Sinoguanyin peak we had started to climb on our first day. Instead of parking in the same lot, we drove up the trail past the corner house with all the annual flowers out front. We started where we left off, encountering more hydrangeas, including what we think might be Hydrangea chinensis. The woods were filled with amazing woodies including a number of stunning machilis and one of my long-time favorites, Trochodendron aralioides (wheel tree). The mountain top was cleared for radio towers, and the two packs of barking dogs let us know we were not welcome there. Between the dogs and the Velociraptor cicadas, where did I leave those earplugs? By now, we were losing daylight and dinner time beckoned. We drove back by our fateful parking lot one last time hoping to find any of our belongings, but instead found another victim’s car window laying in the lot. It was very obvious these break-ins were not a random act.
We walked the streets of Peitou looking for an interesting dinner experience and wound up at a small, but exquisite 2nd floor establishment, Emily’s Kitchen. We were served an amazing 5-course meal with steak, corn chowder, sauteed mushrooms, and delicious cheesecake. I’m going to like the food to Taiwan! The one strange thing we noticed throughout Taiwan is there were only four drink choices with dinner, hot tea, coffee, beer, or orange juice. Where's the Coke? In every country I've ever traveled in, soft drinks were always an option with dinner, but not a single time in Taiwan...very curious. Hotel elevators capacities were another curiosity. Most of our hotels had them, but the maximum person capacities listed gave us a good laugh. Mark and I could easily fill most elevators listed as having a 12-person capacity...I guess we both need to go on the rice diet.
Wednesday August 13, 2008
We were awakened at 5am due to the encroaching bright sunlight from our window (Taiwan doesn’t use Daylight Savings Time), which provided a perfect time to catch up on email....thank goodness the thieves didn’t find Mark’s computer. After breakfast and a run to the nearby 7-11, which were more prevalent than the ubiquitous McDonalds, to print maps, we were off to the south for our adventure into the higher mountains. We navigated our way though the metropolis of Taipei, which I had hoped to avoid as I hate driving in large cities. Traffic, other than the barrage of mopeds, was fairly orderly, no doubt due to the large number of traffic cameras on virtually every block.
After an hour of driving, we finally made it through the city and hooked up with Highway 9, which would take us to the east toward the coastal city of Ilan. This windy road through the low mountains, which never rose over 2,000’, slowed our travel pace to a crawl, which would become typical over the next couple of weeks. At least our slow pace allowed us to marvel and the strange vegetation combination such as alocasia, banana, and tree ferns growing under cryptomeria (roadside ferns) . We arrived in the coastal town of Ilan just after noon, where we parked and walked along Highway 9 until we found a delightful roadside café. Although there was no one else inside but the staff, we took a gamble and were rewarded again with a 5-course lunch. Things are certainly looking up after a disastrous start. Our favorite sign for the day was the nearby and surely always popular, Fukun Hotel in Ilan...surely it doesn't quite translate the way it sounds.
From Ilan, we picked up Highway 7 South, which was the major North-South route on the east coast. We were off to our overnight destination of Taiping Shan (Mt. Taiping). As we drove south, the road paralleled the Lanyang (Laniang) River at 1000' elevation. At this time the Lanyang River was only about 15’ wide, but its massive river bed littered with sand and giant boulders, stretched 1500’ in width and served to transport water that rushed down from the mountains during floods. As I mentioned earlier, Taiwan had just been hit by two typhoons in the month before we arrived, and it was evident even this massive river bed had recently topped its banks. As we traveled along Highway 7, we saw more and more instances where the river had undermined and washed out much of the roadside bank along the highway. The volume of water that must move through a 1,500’ wide river bed is truly inconceivable.
It was here we first saw tetrapanax in the wild, where it formed large colonies on steep hillsides. Interestingly, as we rose in elevation, the leaves became much larger and the patches much smaller, which echos the difference we have seen in our garden with the less hardy lowland spreading form, compared to the hardier and larger-leafed T. 'Steroidal Giant'. While photographing the tetrapanax, we had our first encounter with an unusual Taiwan butterfly that seem to have 2-parted wings...a part that moved and a part that didn't...very cool.
By 3:15pm, we finally arrived at the base of Taiping Shan and paid our 400 New Taiwan Dollars (approximately 30 NTD=1 USD) admission at the guard gate. From here, it was a 45+ minute drive to our hotel near the top. As we headed toward the top, we set our GPS to track our elevation progress so we could watch which plants grew within each elevation range. Only a small number of plants thrived from bottom to top, most notably, the ubiquitous dwarf Petasites formosanus. These range differences are due to a number of factors including the need and tolerance for both cold and hot temperatures as well as the need and tolerance for moisture provided by fog at the mountain top.
We saw more Tetrapanax papyrifera (rice paper plant), primarily at elevations below 3,000', while the Cyathea spinulosa tree ferns disappeared as we topped 4,000' elevation. The Taiwanese Fatsia polycarpa started around 4,000' and lasted until we topped 6,000'. Above 6,000' and all the way to the top grew Schefflera taiwaniana...a plant both of us had longed to grow. Interestingly, throughout our trip, we would only find the schefflera growing between 6,000 and 8,800' elevation, so its tolerance of our summer heat is certainly a question, but the idea of having a 25'-tall schefflera in the garden is truly exciting.
As we reached the Taiping Shan Recreation Area, we made a really great horticultural stop at an old railway station called the Jiancing Historic Trail at 6,350' elevation (signage), (tracks 1) , (tracks2). Along the path were an incredible array of pileas and ferns including Woodwardia unigemmata with 6' long fronds and bright red new growth. I was fascinated by what seemed like a narrow-leaf pyrrosia, probably P. gralla, whose epiphytic (lives on trees and rocks instead of soil) clump resembled a liriope. There were a number of wonderful arachniodes ferns here as well along with one amazing white-backed fern that could be some sort of pteris. Along this trail, we also found our second illicium, I. tashiroi and well as Sarcococca saligna. This was also our first chance to see Arisaema taiwanensis, which popped its head out regularly among the ferns. This amazing and widespread species was just named in 1985, and only brought into cultivation by Dan Hinkley in the mid-1990's.
As dusk approached, a heavy fog rolled in, so we cut our trek short and headed on to our nearby hotel, the Taipingshan Villa at 6,142' elevation. Each National and Recreational Forest has a villa/hotel, since these areas are heavily used by the Taiwanese people to escape the big cities in the hot coastal towns...especially on the weekends. The Taipingshan Villa consisted of a welcome center (don’t miss the 700 year old cryptomeria stump) (plaque) and a number of dormitory-like buildings lining both sides of what seemed akin to the eternal "Stairway to Heaven". The hike from the parking lot to our room was a conservative 300 steps, up which we slowly lugged our bags...I see now why they call it luggage. This place would double as a great smoking cessation clinic if you had to hike these stairs many times.
After unpacking and getting ourselves clean, we trudged another 100 steps upward to the dining hall. The dinner was certainly less filling than our previous meals and didn't quite master the tastes great part either. Back in the room, we found the air-conditioning to be non-functional, but at least at this elevation, the night air, was a pleasant 64 degrees. The shower was typical for many Chinese hotels where the water just runs all over the bathroom floor. While we had cable television, watching the Beijing Olympics in Chinese just isn’t our cup of green tea and Internet connections proved non- existent. Did I mention the hard beds...sleeping on the concrete walkway outside would have provided a softer sleeping environment...perhaps that's why there are so many spas everywhere.
Thursday August 14, 2008
We awoke just after 5am to sunny skies and a pleasant 60 degrees...perfect for botanizing around the villa. The first thing I spotted was the giant Pyrrosia sheareri growing right in front of the police station. Gee...I hope I find this elsewhere! Growing from the rock walls of one of the surrounding villas was one of the native astilbes with spikes of pink flowers, growing with the cute Rubus taiwanicola, which we already grow from Bleddyn Wynn-Jones's wild collection. If these plants were a sign of things to come, it was time to get back in the field. After the buffet breakfast we were gone, but not before picking up beef jerky and other lunch supplies for our day in the field.
From the Villa, we drove higher up the mountain, then down slightly, ending at the Wang Yang Shan trail at the 6,200' Cueifong Lake. Along our drive to the top, we noticed abundant quantities of a familiar plant, Polygonum cuspidatum. Ironically, the vast majority of the plants here flowered red, with only a few white flowered clones interspersed. If I didn't know better, I’d swear this is where the genetics of P. 'Crimson Beauty' originated. Other interesting plants we encountered along our drive included Sassafras randaiense and Rhododendron formosanum, the latter forming huge thickets atop the roadside banks...it must be spectacular in flower.
This cloud forest area at Cueifong Lake was filled with many huge specimens of the endemic trees of the region, most adorned with both terrestrial and epiphytic ferns. The trail started with masses of a eupatorium resembling E. fortuei growing among the Hydrangea aspera. As we hiked further, we were greated with large plants of Schefflera taiwaniana, followed by more cool evergreens including an amazing small leaf evergreen lindera, a killer little-leaf skimmia, S. japonica var. distincte-venulosa, along with a nice selection of perennials including asarums, gentians and even soldanella, all growing among large specimens of Rhododendron formosanum and a massive overstory of Chamaecyparis obtusa var. formosana towering like giant skyscapers above our heads.
When we finished hiking the trail, we retraced our route, while rising in elevation to 6,548', where we made a stop by a steep roadside rocky cliff to see native stands of Lilium formosanum in flower. This species had fascinated me since most of the plants in cultivation are a tall-growing form with no purple on the back of the petals, while all material with wild collection data had dark purple flower backs and matured in the 3-4' tall range. If this was the real Lilium formosanum, what are the plants I and many others are growing under this name? ...stay tuned.
Growing in the rocks was an amazing davallia (rabbit's foot fern), an onychium, Pyrrosia polydactyla, and a very cool 2'-tall nephrolepis, probably N. auriculata (Boston fern), all interspersed with hundreds of astilbe that should most certainly be winter hardy. The plant that really surprised us was the European native Digitalis purpurea, which has naturalized throughout the entire Taiping Shan region.
Within the next mile we stopped again at a small patch of trees to find an amazing array of woody plants, including what we think is a chionanthus (fringe tree), Michellia compressa (Taiwan magnolia), Cyclobalanopsis moorei (Moore's evergreen oak), a lovely Acer (maple) with red new growth, the familiar Hydrangea paniculata in flower, and of course, the country’s namesake, Taiwania cryptomerioides.
As we passed our hotel heading down the tightly curving mountain road, we came to a screeching halt when we spotted a huge mass of Pyrrosia sheareri growing along the road. Little did we know that it would soon become a widespread find during the next week of our trip. At the same stop, we found a huge clone of Arisaema taiwanensis with excellent stem markings along with our first sighting of Disporopsis arisanensis (evergreen Solomon’s seal). The trees here were covered with superb climbers, the evergreen Hydrangea integrifolia and Schizophragma integrifolia.
We continued down the mountain to another stop just above 6,000', where we found some dazzling black-stemmed Arisaema formosana along growing under some high elevation Fatsia polycarpa. There were also hugh clumps of what seemed to be a davallia (possibly an araiostegia) fern with 2'-long fronds, growing on several of the large trees. This would surely make a fine garden specimen if it proves to be winter hardy, which seems very likely at this elevation. We were also at the top elevational reaches of a colocasia we saw throughout Taiwan. Although they call this C. esculenta var. aquatilis, it is nothing like the plant we grow under that name. This form, which occurs between 3,000' and 6,000' never reaches more than 2' in height and spreads vigorously by stolons.
As we continued down the mountain, not far from our previous stop, we paused to examine some unusual wavy-leaf Arisaema we thought resembled A. formosana. Unlike A. formosana, these had rhizomes instead of corms...I need more time to study this one. Unsure of how much time it would take to find our next hotel, we rushed down the mountain and headed back north on Highway 7. While we had hoped to spend two nights at the Taiping Shan Villa, we were only able get reservations for one night, so our Taiwan travel agent had booked us in to a Bed and Breakfast about 1 hour drive from the top. We were off the mountain by 315pm, not knowing how long it would take us to find our upcoming nights accommodations. The first rain we'd seen on the trip started as we exited the mountain, but it wasn't even heavy enough to interfere with driving. As we had traveled back up the stretch of Highway 7 we had come down a day earlier, we had kept our eye out for the B&B, fearing it could have been one of the many buildings swept away by the raging waters of the Lanyang River during the recent typhoons.
After only about 15 minutes on Hwy 7, we recognized our evening accommodations from the photos on the web. The Ying Shih Bed and Breakfast (www.yingshih.com.tw/index.asp) was anything but what we expected. As the rain subsided, we found a delightfully modern Japanese-style hotel, complete with a 5-star rotating restaurant...yes, a rotating restaurant. Why anyone would put a rotating restaurant in the midst of nowhere I can't figure, but I'm glad we found it. We checked into the room to find a lovely, spacious, but steamy room and an air-conditioning we couldn't get to work. After a call to the front desk, it was explained the air conditioning wasn't turned on until 5pm, but magically it kicked in just after our call.
The hotel room view to the pond of giant koi and the not so distant Lanyang River bed was quite nice, but I'm glad I didn't have this view during the recent typhoon. I was even more glad when I noticed the back of the hotel was secured with tractor tires as a retaining wall. Some how, I don’t think the ferns that had naturalized in the tires would be enough to hold back a raging river. The restaurant was exquisite for dinner, and if you're in the area, I encourage you to drop by.
The farm next door was the first, but certainly not the last place we saw persimmon trees with every fruit individually bagged. We would later see the same with both peach trees and bananas throughout central Taiwan. It appeared to us this technique was employed to grow perfect, high quality pesticide free fruit that could then be sold at a premium price. Fruit was not the only widespread crop as tea plantations also dotted some amazingly steep slopes in the Central Mountain Range. There is evidently a small backlash movement in Taiwan against fruit and other crops grown on farms in the high mountains since we saw advertisements telling people not to eat fruit grown in the mountains because of Ecocide...the tree huggers new catch word in Taiwan for those who do anything other than gaze at trees.
Friday August 15, 2008
We were up by 5:30am to use the Internet DSL line in the hotel, but found the lobby locked. When they did finally open, we found their hookup didn't fit with Mark's computer. To kill time, we walked around the hotel, where we stumbled on an amazing row of variegated, weeping Ulmus parviflora. Neither of us had heard or seen of this plant before, but it certainly would have a good market in the US. At breakfast, the front desk attendant asked us where we were headed and then informed us Highway 7 South on our way to Wuling Farm was out and we would not be able to make it to our next hotel. We asked her to call the folks at Wuling Farm and confirm this was true. After a short phone conversation, she let us know cars were able to make it through the detour, but no larger vehicles like busses.
Armed with that information and a bright sunshiny sky, we were off in the hope we could indeed make it to our next destination. As we dropped to lower elevations, rice fields were the order of the day, growing in the rich bottomland...even in the massive river beds, which get washed away with each large rain. As we finally started to rise again in elevation, the soils along our route morphed from a rich organic soil in the bottomlands to a soil...and I use the term loosely, composed almost entirely of broken slate. How the farmers grow crops in this soil is truly baffling...I never want to hear any more complaints about red clay after seeing what the farmers battle here. The irrigation was equally as fascinating as water was flying in virtually every field. Instead of burying irrigation pipes, the pipes were just laid along the roads and then bundled together in groups of 50-100 and strung across rivers alongside the bridges. Obviously, freezing weather was not a concern at these elevations. After climbing through agricultural fields for hours, most of which were used for cabbage production, we finally cleared the production area and returned to forested roadsides. Having passed through so many cabbage fields, it was obvious that this area either didn’t experience hot humid summer days or the nights were quite cool.
As we passed the town of Nanshan, we realized the roads were indeed as bad as we had heard. Entire sections of the road had simply slid off into the river bed below. Our first major detour took us out into the river bed where a temporary road had been carved amongst the giant boulders. The immense scale of both the mountains, boulders, and the river bed made cars look like children’s toys to those watching from above. After we wove our way past the missing highway sections, the roads climbed higher as we finally reached the outskirts of the Shei Pa National Park, and the windy mountain roads that lead up to Wuling Farm.
Here, on Highway 7, we made our first stop of the day at 5,400' elevation. We wandered off down the hill at one of the car pull-offs to find a horticultural richness beyond our wildest expectations. The overstory was one of evergreen oaks including a long-leaf cyclobalanopsis. Underneath Fatsia polycarpa were growing including some that stretched over 30’ tall. The vegetation changed as we walked horizontally around the mountain with each change of directional exposure. On one exposure were asarums, while on the other side, there were large clumps of Rohdea wantanabe interspersed with budded calanthe orchids. The understory was littered with Ardisia crenata, indicating at best, a Zone 8 climate.
The ferns here were also fabulous, which was to be the story over the entire trip. One side of the mountain was filled with Polystichum tripteron (which we already grow from a Japan source), Dryopteris crassirhizoma, and variegated coniogramme fern, also like the ones we sell from China. More of the Asplenium nidus like we saw at Yang Ming Shan were here also, but at a higher elevation of 2,000'. Brown-stiped polystichums and giant 6’-tall diplaziums accompanied a dizzying array of epiphytic ferns including pyrrosia, lepisorus, microsorium, and arachniodes. One microsorium is identical to the plant sold in the US as crocodile fern, while one pteris-ish fern had dazzling 4’-long fronds. The wood edges were home to other cool plants including Liquidambar formosana, Tetrapanax papyrifera, Eriobotrya deflexa, and Phytolacca japonica...the asian counterpart of our native pokeweed. Everything at this site was amazing including the bizarre tree-growing shelf fungus. Did I mention the deafiningly-loud cicadas?
We began dropping slightly in elevation as we continued toward our hotel. We turned off the main Highway 7 on to Wuling Farm Road, aka Highway 124. Our first stop at 5,800' elevation was when Mark spotted a clump of Pyrrosia polydactyla with extraordinarily long central lobes, growing near the Police Station.
Just down the road, we stopped again, this time in a wet cove, which led to jumps of joy as we spotted a 4' tall paris in full seed. This, and nearby areas would prove rich with paris, both the large species, probably P. chinensis and a smaller 2'-tall species, probably P. bockiana, which was often found with both dark purple stems and silver-veined leaves. Surprisingly, while the seed pods were still green, the seeds inside were bright red.
We had seen lots of Fatsia polycarpa near Taiping Shan, which was truly hard to distinguish from typical F. japonica, but the plants here near Wuling Farm, which were often intertwined with fruiting schisandra vines, were quite different. The lobes on these plants were much more narrow and deeply cut, compared to anything we had seen earlier in the trip. From underneath the fatsia emerged the 10'-long fronds of Asparagus cochinchinensis, which were quite different than my Korean accessions under that name. There were other interesting plants we spotted here, including our first and only sighting of Aucuba japonica. Underneath the aucuba were huge clumps of Podophyllum pleianthum along with two different cyrtomium (holly fern) species, C. macrophyllum and what appeared to a very glossy form of C. falcatum. The polystichum with pewter new growth was also quite striking, as were the terrestrial lepisorus and clumps of Pyrrosia sheari with 20"-long fronds...beyond amazing.
There was another arisaema quite prevalent in this location, whose leaves were gone, but the remining seed stalk was perched on a 1" stalk just above the ground. As we climbed back up the hill, we passed many more interesting plants including another mahonia, more superb ferns, and our first sighting of the Taiwanese Syneilesis subglabrata. Certainly the most memorable plants here were what appears to be a narrow-leaved version of Clematis armandii. One clone in a patch of solid green-leaved plants had superb silver leaf markings...a real gem.
Only a few kilometers remained before we paid our entrance toll and entered Wuling Farm. Wuling Farm is a former commercial farm located in the Hoping Township at the southeastern entrance of the Shei-Pa National Park, turned tourist attraction. Wuling Farm is a glacial river valley surrounded by mountains including Chihyou Mountain, Pintian Mountain, Buhsiulan Mountain, Tsomido Mountain, and Syue Mountain (2nd highest peak in Taiwan), all of which are cloud forest habitats. Shei-Pa National Park is divided into vegetation zones based on elevation. The Lower Quercus zone runs from 4,500’ to 6,000’ and includes cyclobalanopsis, litsea, and pasania. The Upper Quercus zone runs from 6,000’ to 7,500’ and includes other cyclobalanopsis species combined with conifers. From 7,500’ to 9,400’ is the Tsuga-Picea zone, including Tsuga chinesnsis and Picea morrisonicola. Wuling Farm is also home to the glacial relict Formosan landlocked Salmon, who had their route to the ocean sealed off in the last ice age.
We were anxious to see what our room at the Wuling Farm Hostel would be like. We had already experienced the translation problem with Chinese names, where the spelling changes with the different types of translation used. The same was true with our hostel, which turned out instead to be a hotel. Wuling Farm was one of the few places I was able to book myself from North Carolina, thanks to the email help from the Wuling Farm manager, Howard Huang, who came out to greet us when we arrived. Howard is a native Tai, who studied hotel management in England. I strongly commend him for his understanding that service is a huge part of hotel management. Coughing and nearly gagging, we made our way inside past the huge pots of incense at the front door, which is used to ward off the biting (they proudly displayed a well-used piece of fly paper at the front desk to let us know what it would be like if they didn't burn the incense. Howard escorted us to our second floor room which he had saved just for us due to its proximity to their wireless Internet access point. We were assigned a dinner time to access the buffet, which we found out later is done to stagger folks like us from the huge number of tour groups visiting Wuling Farm. The dinner buffet was quite extravagant...far more than we could have ever imagined, complete with a self-serve ice cream cabinet with an array of delicious flavors.
Saturday August 16, 2008
Dan had warned me that the weekends in these resort areas would be so packed the roads would be gridlocked, but thanks to the road washouts on Highway 7, most of the bus groups were not able to make it...too bad for the resort, but great for us. After a delicious buffet breakfast at Wuling Farm and more great weather, we set out to explore. Our first foray was to the base camp for Mt. Syue Shan. The treacherous winding road of weedy vegetation, dotted with Lilium formosanum, that took us up to the base camp was one of the worst roads we had seen. Careening around the tight curves, we almost took out our first macaque (monkey relative), sorely in need of Monkey Weight Watchers®, as he barely leaped out of the way just before our van was ready to send him to the big banana pile in the sky. We finally reached the base camp with the understanding that you need to make reservations several days in advance for the climb to the top. One look at a mountain of miscanthus for as far as the eye could see, didn't look remotely appealing, so back down the mountain we went. Once we hit the main road in Wuling Farm, we traveled further down toward the Taoshan Waterfall. This hiking trail is one which over a series of several days, interconnects a series of peaks in the Shei Pa with the Taoshan waterfall being the first stop.
The trail began at 6,250' elevation and started with an overstory of taiwaniana and pinus and an understory that included stachyurus and a different-looking Hydrangea aspera.
Within the first hour we were seeing lots of both Arisaema formosanum and A. taiwanense. At first all the Arisaema taiwanense had the typical green foliage, but after a while, they began blending in with the wonderful silver-leaved forms like those introduced by Heronswood Nursery. Alongside we also found Arisaema formosanum with narrow leaves and silver-center striped leaves. Also mixed in the populations were a few plants the size and shape of A. taiwanense, but with stem patterns of A. formosana. It appeared to us these could be possible intermediates between the two species.
The understory layer of Fatsia polycarpa had the most finely cut leaves we had seen yet. It seems the further we traveled, the more cut the leaves became. We saw our first stachyurus in fruit here as well. Many of the hillsides underneath the taiwania were carpeted with Syneilesis subglabrata with every leaf pattern imaginable. There were also several giant ferns here, which, if winter hardy, would be tremendous landscape specimens. One was a 4'-tall coniogramme that grew along the path, a fern resembling Diplazium maximum with 6'-long fronds, and another, possible diplazium, with stunning 8'-long fronds. The most amazing fern we saw for the first time was a 7'-tall clumper that branched at the tips...I haven't even a clue as to its genus. As we rose in elevation, the flat areas beside the trail evolved into shear cliffs. We stopped short of the waterfall, and after admiring a huge array of epiphytic ferns including lepisorus, pyrrosia, and polypodiums growing near vertical cliffs, decided to turn around and retrace our steps.
We stopped back by the Wuling Farm store to pick up lunch supplies of beef jerky, Coke, and fruit. I opted for the wonderful peaches that grew nearby, while Mark went for the elaeagnus fruit. It didn't take but one elaeagnus, before Mark was eyeing my peach with ill intent. I was particularly interested in a vending machine with a drink called Pocari Sweat, a Japanese sports drink, whose logo looked remarkably like Coca-Cola...possibly another knock-off?
From here, we decided to spend the rest of our day traveling south on Highway 7, and then head west on Highway 8 toward Lishan, where the road now ended about 29 km from the Highway 7, intersection, courtesy of the massive 1999 earthquake. Our entire route featured sloughed-off highway lanes as we almost reached to the literal end of the line. Although we couldn't read most of the Chinese road signs warning of danger, the universal signs were subtle enough we got the message. Where the roads aren't completely gone, the highway crews just keep adding more asphalt as the lanes continue to sink, which doesn't give the greatest sense of confidence when you are driving around twisty mountain roads, with your lane about 6" lower than the oncoming lane with giant cracks paralleling the yellow line. The horticultural finds here were few and far between, with the most exciting for us being a stretch of highway where all of the tetrapanax had very glossy dark green leaves. We also found another patch of Begonia chitoensis with both pure-white and dark-pink forms growing under Hydrangea aspera, this at a much higher elevation (5,700') compared to 4,400' for our earlier begonia discoveries. We turned around just as a light rain began to fall and returned to the hotel.
Sunday August 17, 2008
After breakfast, we began a foggy morning by botanizing the slope above the Wuling Farm back parking lot. We finally cleared the thick weedy layer near the bottom and scaled the very steep hill to find a number of interesting plants. Although with the thick fog and overstory made it seem like it was late at night, we were able to find more paris and a splendid form of the groundcover euonymus we had found earlier. There were a number of interesting ferns including what appeared to be a 3'-tall form of Pteris cretica, a 2'-tall lepisorus, and more asarum.
After a couple of hours, we returned to the van and headed out, this time back to the north of Wuling Farm on Highway 7. Our first stop for the day was for an amazing patch of abutilon. While the yellow- flowered A. indicum is native here, our find appeared to be something else. The 15'-tall clumps were quite stoloniferous and covered with large orange bells with red netting. The flower color is identical to A. 'Marian Stewart', but the height and stoloniferous nature are quite distinct. Hopefully the 6,000'+ elevation will be an indicator of good hardiness. In this region, the slopes are so steep farmers have installed trolley systems to get their crops and probably themselves up and down the mountain to their fields, which occupy virtually every reasonably flat spot in the country.
Further up Highway 7, we found our first plants of the aralia relative, Sinopanax formosana. This was our first time to see this plant in person, which made a 30'-tall tree with thick foliage resembling a cross between a schefflera and a fatsia. Here at the same site was a silver leaf Arisaema taiwanense with 13 leaflets as compared to the typical 9 leaflets. Further down the road, we had climbed again to 6,200' and spotted a break in the obscenely steep forest we were actually able to scale. As we entered the forest, we were dazzled by the incredible array of plants. Asarums were everywhere, and in an array of patterns nearly unimaginable from solid green to silver leaf, to tortoise-shell patterned leaves.
We also found our first plants of Disporum shimadai as well as an array of amazing ferns. The arachniodes with 4'-long fronds that emerge pink were simply to die for. The 3'-tall dryopteris with black stipes wasn't bad either, and the huge clumps of Pyrrosia sheareri...well, as the late philosopher Fred Sanford used to say, "Ethel, I feel the big one coming." This area was so humid due to the daily fog, epiphytic ferns grew everywhere...even on buildings. As we exited this incredible strip of forest and climbed back down the roadside bank, we found our first plants of Tricyrtis ravenii, the recently named species and our first sighting of Pieris taiwanensis and Rhododendron oldhamii in flower. Oh my, what a day.
We still weren't done for the day as we climbed to 6,350' and stopped into another cryptomeria forest. At first we weren't expecting much, but as we walked further, it just kept getting better. We found polygonatum which doesn't seem to match any of the species in the Flora along with more plants of Tricyrtis ravenii, more cutleaf Fatsia polycarpa, and a delightful small fern... possibly a dryopteris with very ruffled leaves. One of the most exciting woody plants we found was a very cut-leaf form of Dendropanax pallucidopunctata. There was also daphniphyllum growing here alongside a wonderful species of ligustrum with tiny shiny evergreen foliage.
After returning down the hill, we noticed the trail led further up Nanhu mountain (Nanhu Da Shan), so off we went...not sure why they locked the gate, but there was a well marked path around it. Before long, we discovered why the gate was locked...it seemed the floods had caused large chunks of the road to become displaced along with an abandoned crane that probably formerly worked on this former road. Along the stream that bordered the path, we found more Pittosporum and viburnum, both in fruit, then Tricyrtis ravenii along with Aconitum fukutomei in full flower (I didn't make up the name), both growing underneath Styrax formosana, and alongside a splendid machilis. One of the most unusual plants we found was an amazing forked-leaved selection of Celtis sinensis. As the daylight waned, we only managed a couple more stops before it was time to head back to our Wuling Farm hotel for the evening. Did I mention I hate those screaming cicadas?
Monday August 18, 2008
We finished our final buffet breakfast and said our goodbyes to Wuling Farm as we hit Highway 7 south again, then east on Highway 8. I got an uneasy feeling as we filled up with fuel at intersection of Highway 8 when we noticed the station sold wine along with gas...I'm not sure this would fly in the US, but at least the alcohol content of their beverages was far less than the octane content of their fuels. Warily, we continued on. One particularly nice stop on Highway 8 provided us with handmade steps up the steep mountain, which led to large trees of Sinopanax and a very cool polypodium fern with naked white rhizomes and fronds that were just emerging. No doubt at 6300' elevation, this should be good and winter hardy. The strangest thing we found here was tiarella (foam flower) growing in a wet mountain seep.
As we continued driving at a steady climb, we found a nice small sedum growing on a roadside cliff along with many clumps of Pyrrosia polydactyla, mostly with unlobed leaves...possibly a factor of the high elevation of 7,600'. Another small patch of woods at nearly 8,000' elevation yielded a new mahonia and a long, narrow-leaf pittosporum which I already grew from one of Dan's collections, all growing under Tsuga chinensis and Picea morrisonicola. Hydrangeas were everywhere here, as was the case throughout most of Taiwan. It was fascinating to see Hydrangea integrifolia growing side by side with Schizophragma, two different genera of climbing hydrangeas.
Also growing here were some very high elevation forms of davallia fern, Woodwardia unigemmata, and a stunning 4' tall, black-stiped dryopteris.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe at the small town of Dayuling, located where Highway 8 and Highway 14 intersect.After waking up the neighborhood pigs as we emerged from the van, they warmly welcomed us by showing us exactly what they thought of their American visitors. This put us the in mood for a delicious, but probably not particularly sanitary lunch of...what else...pork. We decided since we had plenty of time and a short travel day, we would take off southwest on Highway 14 from Dayuling toward the top of Hehuan Shan. Between the high winds, crazy drivers, winding steep roads, and thoughts of our pig friends, it was one of those days you hope your deodorant has good staying power.
As we topped 8,600' feet, one stop near a short trail yielded our highest elevation sighting of Schefflera taiwanense. By our next stop at 9,340' feet, we had cleared the tree line and reached the sub-alpine zone. The base shrubs here were Juniperus communis and dwarf rhododendrons, interconnected by purple-flowered Miscanthus sinensis, and carpeted underneath with Rubus pentalobus and Lycopodium pseudoclavatum. At this elevation, the Lilium formosanum was dwarfed to 18" tall, which is what is known in the trade as L. formosanum var. pricei. Among the lilies were huge populations of astilbe and ferns such as dwarf aspleniums, ophioglossum, and gymnocarpium...all known to love cooler weather.
I was surprised to find patches of origanum, dianthus, and scutellaria filling in between the occasional clumps of flowering veratrum. This was our first sighting of a bright yellow flowered gentian, which was very abundant among the rocks. Another spectacular find, Coriaria sp. was in full fruit and was amazing, but probably not growable. On the other hand, a new groundcover yellow-flowered sedum might be. We continued to climb until we reached the Hehuan Visitor Station at 10,110' elevation. Signs for the ski resort and winter tire advisories told us for certain we were no longer in a subtropical climate. We had hoped to continue down the other side and check out the vegetation there, but the sign saying 10% climb ahead deterred us...besides it was time to backtrack down the mountain in order to reach our hotel by dark. The drivers on this stretch of mountain road were among some of the craziest we had encountered, passing on blind corners around double yellow lines on one-lane stretches...and all at 10,000' elevation. If NASCAR needs some new drivers, they should recruit in the Taiwanese mountains.
After we turned around and began descending, we made a couple of final stops on Highway 8 that yielded Tricyrtis ravenii and a spotted clone of Petasites formosanus on a bank at 8,000' elevation, a nice lepisorus fern from 7,800' and finally, but certainly not least, Iris formosana from 4,400'. Iris formosana is the Taiwan counterpart of Iris japonica that is larger in all parts. As we were descending into the Taroko Gorge region on Highway 8, our daily dose of fog arrived around 5pm. This slowed the already dangerous driving to a crawl as we crept down the mountain with visibility only a few feet until the fog finally moved out. Just before 6pm, we finally arrived at the Grand Formosa Hotel in the town of Tianshiang.
The Grand Formosa was another in a string of excellent hotels and our first with showers with a glass door to keep the water from running all over the bathroom floor. After getting cleaned and semi- presentable, we enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner at the hotel. Dinner was the first time since we left Taipei that we had seen any westerners, so obviously this was a major tourist destination.
Tuesday August 19, 2008
We arrived at breakfast to find our first buffet that included scrambled eggs and bacon along with regular Chinese fare. We checked out of the hotel and backtracked our incoming route west on Highway 8 to see what we had missed in the fog the day before. Since our hotel was only at 1,500' elevation, we had a long way to climb to get back into winter hardy material. At 4,800' we saw what was the first of many plants of the widespread Hibiscus taiwanense. This amazing giant reaches 30' tall and is topped with white flowers, highlighted by varying degrees of a red central blotch. Along our route, Mark spotted our first sighting of the hardy gesneriad, Titanotrichum oldhammii...in full flower. As we reached 5,700', we found Cheilanthes argentea, (silver cloak fern), Cyrtomium macrophyllum (giant holly fern), and Corydalis ophiocarpa growing in the rock cracks along with two clones of Astilbe longicarpa with red patterned leaves...very cool. We made it back up to 7,000' elevation where we stopped for lunch at the Bilyu Sacred Tree monument.
The Bilyu Tree was an impressive, but unhealthy old specimen of Picea morrisonicola. As we were heading into the restaurant to eat lunch, we were taken by both the blaring speakers playing The Righteous Brothers, 'Unchained Melody,' and by the path that curved around behind the restaurant. We opted to check out the path first...a decision we would not regret. Thank goodness we got to the path before the destructive roadside weedtrimmer crews who we passed repeatedly along the mountain roads, mowing off all kinds of cool plants with reckless abandon. Thanks to our good timing, we finally found spores on a high elevation form of the vigorous tropical fern, Dicranopteris. Despite seeing lots of Trochodendron aralioides throughout our trip, we had never seen any with as glossy deep green leaves as we found here. Growing among the trochodendron was Schefflera taiwaniana, Ardisia crenata, and an array of great ferns including one of our highest elevation sightings of the ubiquitous, but stunning tropical ferns, dicranopteris.
After a good hour of botanizing, we trekked back up the hill to enjoy a delightful lunch on the veranda of this quaint restaurant along with more of our favorite oldies music. Returning back down the mountain, we made only one more stop to see a very cut-leaf Fatsia polycarpa and a very divided Tetrapanax papyrifera. From Tianshiang, we figured it would take at least 2-3 hours to make it to our next hotel in Hualien...this despite two people at the Grand Formosa Hotel telling us we could make it in an hour. Throughout the mountain roads, it was often difficult to manage much more than 15 miles per hour. We headed east on Highway 8 from Tianshiang, through Taroko Gorge, stopping only long enough for the requisite gorge photo moment (they were gorgeous), then south on Highway 9 into the port city of Hualien...all in 50 minutes. Geez...what a difference a straight, non-washed out road makes.
We became a bit concerned as we passed several business park entrance signs, all surrounded with razor wire...hmmm... Our first stop was at a Post Office to mail back our first packet of fern spores, then a Grocery store, where we finally found needed supplies including hard to come by paper towels.
Wednesday August 20, 2008
Being in a coastal town doesn't offer many places to botanizing for winter hardy plants, so off we went, looking for a way back into the higher mountains. You never know when you will have a learning moment and riding along that morning presented just that...did you know the opposite of "south" is "nouth"? Along the road, we passed a huge roadside tree nursery that easily covered over 1,000 acres. No doubt this was the source of many of the roadside tree plantings we saw across the entire country. Across from the nursery was one of many fascinating Taiwanese cemeteries...all amazingly ornate and spacious. Tonight was to be spent in the town of An Tung on Highway 30, just east of Yuli, about 2 hours south on Highway 9, so we headed south on Highway 9 and then west on Highway 30 (formerly Highway 18), into the Eastern Range of the Jungyang Mountains and the Yushan Trail. You've got to love the government folks who decide to change highway names and numbers seemingly on a whim.
While we had high hopes, the road suddenly turned into a hiking trail at 1,500'...far lower than our preferred altitude for good winter hardiness. Without a good alternative, we hit the trail for the long hike up.
After negotiating the swinging bridge where we walked past Colocasia esculenta with exposed stolons clinging to a vertical waterfall, we began to climb and to our surprise saw several plants with potential hardiness. As we reached 1,700', we started seeing huge patches of aspidistra with 3.5' leaves ranging from solid green to heavily spotted, on the hills above us, surrounded by Chloranthus oldhammii and topped by the second schefflera species of our trip, the lowland S. arboricola.
Wednesday August 20, 2008...Continued
The understory was also quite abundant with the spreading Ophiopogon reversus, while flowering hoyas dripped from the trees. We now felt like a real part of the hoya-polloi.
As we hit 2,000', Begonia chitoensis began appearing again, and as we approached 2,300', we were greeted with a sheer hillside of the gesneriad, Titanotrichum oldhammii, Tricyrtis formosana, Torenia sp., epiphytic orchids, an unidentified adiantum fern, and a unique cyrtomium were all firsts for our trip.
There were other cool plants, including huge patches of ground orchids, many of which could not be identified including an indigofera...like Campylotropis giraldii. A cool clematis with silver-veined leaves was growing alongside the large rocks, which were covered either in the popular houseplant Ficus pumila or dwarf lemmaphyllum fern. Interesting trees in the area included Lagerstroemia subcostata (crape myrtle), and Celtis sinensis (Chinese hackberry). Some of the trees were so weighted down my massive epiphytic clumps of Aglaomorpha meyeniana fern. I don't know how the branches kept from crashing to the ground, especially as the overweight macaque who watched us from a safe distance kept leaping from limb to limb. The most discomforting moment was the trail-side sign warning us not to disturb the bear...fortunately, we must have been there during nap time...and we thought the earlier sign warning us not to continue unless properly supplied was bad. After hiking three hours up, it was time to return in order to reach our hotel before dusk. Thankfully, once we got back on Highway 30 and crossed over Highway 9, our hotel was not far away.
The hotel was nice and quiet until we reached our room, only to have a bus load of middle-age shrieking Chinese women arrive...at least it wasn't as bad as the cicadas. The hotel was fine, but obviously geared toward both young kids and older folks who wanted to be young again. The main attraction here was no doubt the countless pools of sulfur-smelling water being touted as the fountain of youth. There was no Internet in the room and getting the computer in the lobby to stop typing in Chinese took quite a while since the staff spoke only a few words of English. My first task was to check the Typhoon warning status, which had us constantly concerned since were visiting during peak typhoon season. Sure enough a quick-forming Typhoon was battering the Philippines and projected to skirt Southern Taiwan about the same time we were going across some of the worse cross-country roads...not good news.
After getting a backlog of email and waiting for the bus group to finish eating, we headed into the second floor restaurant. There were only a few choices for dinner, and thanks to a visiting Japanese customer who helped us translate the menu, we wound up with a delicious meal including my first opportunity to try the surprisingly good daylily bud soup. After dinner chores including doing more laundry, after which we faced the perpetual problem of getting clothes dry. Because of the high humidity in Taiwan, it took days to air dry clothes. We finally settled on using the hotel hair dryer, which thanks to a bit of duct tape, worked amazingly well...except for those which weren't UL approved...hence a few pairs of pants with souvenir burn marks.
Thursday August 21, 2008
We awoke to a light rain, which subsided by the time we finished breakfast, and after checking the Typhoon status to a cranked up lobby speaker blasting Chuck Berry's 'Johnny Be Good,' we were off. Since the typhoon had shifted southward and would miss Taiwan completely, we were off to the southern mountains...the short southern mountains. Looking on the map for any roads into the high mountains from the east side was fruitless. We continued south toward the city of Taitung...think Cycas taitungensis. Our target was the Jrben Hots Spring and Amusement Park, south of Taitung, where our map showed roads into the base of the mountains. The areas around Taitung is a huge nursery district, with more large wholesale field tree nurseries running for miles along Highway 9. After a two hour drive, we found and followed Highway 24 to the west, only to find ourselves at very low elevations among a series of resort hotels. After trying many of the small back roads, we did manage to locate a winding, little used road that took us to the top of the mountain at 2,000' into a Palm farm...whoopee. After wasting the morning in an uninteresting farm flora, we decided to head back north, but not before stopping for lunch at one of the nearby Hotels, the Hoya Hotel and Resort in Jrben. All I can say is wow! We were the only ones in the hotel restaurant enjoying a five-course lunch with an entree of roasted lamb for the bargain price of $10.
After lunch, we headed back north on Highway 9 to check out the eastern end of the South Cross Island Highway (Hwy 20) that we would be traveling the next day. We were able to make it up to 5,600', before running out of daylight and heading back to An Tung. We just had time to start getting into the interesting plants as we saw more Tricyrtis ravenii and some wonderful cyclobalanopsis (evergreen oaks), but the most exciting find was a brown-flowered fragrant clematis Mark spotted growing along the roadside. If anyone knows what species this might be, please let me know.
Back home, Michelle had shipped me a new laptop to replace the one stolen earlier in the trip. FedEx Taiwan called on our way back to the hotel, explaining I would owe a $200 import tax. After several minutes of heated discussion about why I would have to pay an import tax to replace a stolen item, my cell phone call was dropped before I had time to call her an incompetent idiot. One thing about most Taiwanese bureaucrats is they are great at following rules with little or no to ability to think about why the rules actual exist.
Friday August 22, 2008
After checking out of the hotel at An Tung, we headed west again on Highway 20, the South Cross Island Highway. The lower elevations around An Tung was one of the first we had passed with taro productions. Taro was obviously an important crop, as recognized by the huge taro (colocasia) statues lining the roads. As with all other mountain roads, Hwy 20 had been severely damaged by recent landslides, so the driving was slow and treacherous. We proceeded without stopping until we reached 6,500' elevation and finally made our first stop of the day, and what a stop it was! While casing out the roadside, I noticed clumps of Disporopsis arisanensis growing on the slope amongst a Hydrangea asper-eque plant. Scaling the short bank and climbing inside the forest curtain, we found a wide range of leaf forms and sizes on the disporopsis including some with immature fruit. Nearby was Disporum shimadai and a beautiful calanthe-like orchid.
We continued slowly west, stopping only occasionally as we rose in elevation. We particularly enjoyed the international road signs, both the car over the cliff sign and the rocks falling on your car sign, we had seen each regularly since leaving Taipei. So, what are you supposed to do about falling rocks on your car? Dodge them? Don't drive? Drive armored vehicle? I guess they just have ambulance-chasing lawyers here also and are just looking to avoid liability, but geez folks...it's pretty darn obvious rocks are going to be coming down from the mountains.
At 7,800', we found many of the lower elevation ferns growing at one of the highest elevations we had seen these species including what appeared to be an onychium, lepisorus, a polypodium-esque fern, and more Woodwardia unigemmata. At 8,400', we found more patches of Lilium formosanum growing with wonderfully purple-spotted forms of Tricyrtis ravenii. Not far away, a typical roadside bank yielded patches of paris and Trillium tschonoskii growing side by side...two lost cousins, reunited again. Hovering atop these gems were large flowering plants of Schefflera taiwaniana. It is hard to conceive of paris and trillium growing wild under schefflera.
We crested the high point on Highway 20 and then began to drop again in elevation. At 8,100', we made a stop where we found the delightful narrow leaf dwarf Ophiopogon intermedius growing with a short polystichum near a giant Chamaecyparis obtusa var. formosana. Note to self...this gets much bigger than the conifer books indicate. Later at 7,500', we stopped by a dry river bed, only to find sinopanax growing right beside a high elevation, and a very cut-leaf form of Fatsia polycarpa. It appears the higher the fatsia grows, the more cut-leaf the foliage becomes. The road continued to drop in elevation until we found hedychium growing at 6,500' elevation. We also found the tree fern, Cyathea spinulosa at this elevation, but spores were unaccessible due to the near vertical cliff on which the tree ferns grew. This was dramatically higher than we had seen this particular fern growing throughout our trip. Fortunately, we found a solitary plant just down the road at 5,600' which was much more accessible and loaded with spores.
As we reached the town of Paoli (aka: Baoili Baulai), the road got dramatically worse with huge stretches of asphalt missing along with entire lanes and bridges. Electric lines, trees, along with huge clumps of a splendid clumping bamboo had either slid down the mountain or were poised to do so. It was interesting to see the latest technique in road recovery, which involved cementing the side of the mountain with drain pipes inserted and then trying to rebuild the road banks. In some areas, more than 100' of the bank had washed away leaving only a vertical cliff, so it was either concrete the banks or build tunnels. The stretch from Paoli to our hotel site in Jinhaisen (aka: Chiahisen) was truly horrible, but we finally made it only to discover Jinhaisen consisted of not much more than a Buddhist temple.
We sat by the temple examining our maps and wondering if our hotel, supposedly in Jinhaisen, was actually back in Paoli. It didn't take us long to arrive at the conclusion we had passed our hotel, so reluctantly, we set out backtracking on the worse stretch of road for the day. Passing road crews was even nerve-wracking the second time as we watched one backhoe operator moving rocks where perched precariously on the precipice of a cliff that had already partially given way...I hope they pay those guys well.
Arriving back in Paoli, we followed the signs to the hot spring and shortly on the right we saw the signs for our destination, the Hsien Paoli Hot Spring Resort. We arrived to find the 10-acre resort nearly deserted. Not only had the road washouts on Highway 20 affect the resort, but we could see the nearby Launung River had overflowed and rendered many of their parking lots and a recently constructed hotel building unusable. This typically bustling resort was deserted except for us and two other families. Our bungalow, which looked 1960's vintage, was surrounded by an eclectic collection of labeled plants and cycads among the many koi pools. None of the restaurants on the property were open, so we had to find somewhere to eat.
We unloaded our gear and headed down the access road to see if any of the other hotels were open for dinner. The first place we found was the brand spanking new Wang Men Resort Hotel, located at a higher elevation than the Hsien Paoli. All we could say was wow! The restaurant was indeed open and once again playing American oldies music. There was only a dozen cars at the entire hotel, so the effect of the landslides were felt by all of the resorts in the region. We had a wonderful dinner, then back to our hotel to clear the dead ants out of the shower, so we could get clean. We also had no Internet service, but then I didn't have a computer either. Supposedly, however, my new laptop was waiting for pickup in the town of Tainan, 2 hours to our west. The Hsien Paoli Hotel wasn't bad, but if you find yourself in the midst of the Southern Cross Island Highway, check out the Wang Men Hotel.
Saturday August 23, 2008
Our first order of business for the day was to make the 2-3 hour drive west to Tainan to find the FedEx office. After about 40 minutes of traversing washed out roads, the conditions finally improved as we descended in elevation. Armed only with the names of some main streets and the physical address, we entered the outskirts of Tainan to find a huge city, seemingly the size of New York. We continued on the main road for nearly an hour, distracted only by the street lights modeled after grasshoppers. We entered on Highway 20, which eventually changed names to BeiMen Road, while looking everywhere for any of the roads on our list, with no luck. Realizing most of the roads had at least two and in some cases three different spellings, we tried to match up roads on our map with anything that sounded remotely like our target streets. Finally we found one somewhat similar, so off we went...soon another, then another and before you knew it, we were sitting in front of the FedEx office. During this time, Mark was on the phone with FedEx Taiwan who kept telling us to look for the 7-11, which was right beside the FedEx office. The only problem is there were four 7-11's in a one mile stretch of the road we were on. If they had only told us to look for the cow hitched beside the mopeds, we'd have spotted it more easily, as this was the only cow we saw in the midst of the city. Thanks to the great work of FedEx US, we picked up my replacement laptop and briefcase with incredible ease and were off to find more plants.
We opted to connect with the north-south Interstate 3 just outside Tainan, which would cut lots of time off our trip north to Ali Shan. Despite a few unexpected detours trying to find Highway 3, including passing the mother of all Taiwan Buddhist Monasteries, we finally found our highway and were off. We made amazing time on Highway 3, and before we knew it, we were off to the east on Highway 18 toward Ali Shan. We began to climb in elevation as we headed up the top of Ali Shan, finally stopping for the first time at 5,000' elevation, merely to answer the call of nature. While stopped, we spotted a small hole in what appeared to be a bamboo forest and decided to peer inside. We were first greeted by more Begonia chitoensis, then a cane-type begonia, then as our eyes began to wander, we quickly spotted a huge clump of asarum, then another, then, we noticed we were in an entire forest of <<b>giant bamboo and giant Asarum hypogynum.
What do I mean giant...how about 8" long x 8" wide, with leaves in every shape, size, and leaf pattern? We had already found lots of asarum on the trip, but none a fraction of the size of these giants. Even more, they were in full bloom with flowers that resembled A. magnificum. We could have looked at asarums all day, but there was more...large clumps of aspidistra, another cane-type begonia, white-flowered Begonia chitoensis, Disporum taiwanense, Aucuba chinensis, and one of my target plants, Arisaema grapospadix. Sometimes blind luck beats all the research in the world.
Emotionally exhausted from all of the exciting finds, we continued straight for our accommodations at the Ali Shan Forest Recreation Area. Arriving at the police checkpoint at 6,200', we paid our entrance fee and were directed to a giant parking lot. This is point zero for the Ali Shan Forest Recreation Area, stacked with a host of shops, food vendors and tea cafes, anchored by a giant Starbucks. At the bottom of a steep walk is hotel row, and above it is the entrance to the forest area.
Since it was already after 3pm, we chose one of the many cafes for lunch where we enjoyed a fantastic meal that made us ready to see more plants. Before heading back into the field, we first took the walk down the steep stairs and checked into our hotel, the Kao Feng. The Kao Feng has a nice granite interior and the rooms were certainly more than satisfactory. From here, we quickly climbed the stairs again, located our van, and exited the parking area to drive into the mountains, only to find the road inside the park area is limited to service vehicles and residents who live in the park. The only way to enter the park is by bus, train, or foot. We opted for plan 2, which was to exit the park and continue east on Highway 18 into the western side of Yushan National Park.
Our first stop outside the park was in a cryptomeria forest with Schefflera taiwanense understory, that yielded some cool finds including a perennial impatiens with swollen stems, our first spotting of Smilacina japonica, and some wonderful Arisaema formosana with jet black stems. We found another, or possibly the same calanthe orchid...this one with light lavender flowers that faded to yellow.
Further up the road, our final stop for the day yielded some interesting woodies including what appeared to be a large version of Ilex latifolia, which doesn't match anything in their flora, so it's possible it may not be a holly. Also some very narrow-lobed Dendropanax pallucidopunctata was growing along the seemingly deserted path that in spots was completely grown up in miscanthus. We botanized until nearly dusk, then back into the van for the short 10km drive to our hotel. After dinner at another of the nice Ali Shan restaurants, except for Mark's tough sauteed wild boar, we were ready to call it a day. After laying down in our beds, it became obvious soundproofing was not a priority at the Kao Feng as we could hear the loud conversations in Chinese outside our 3rd floor window, seeming like they were standing beside us. Thank goodness it was nothing a good set of earplugs couldn't cure. The next morning, Mark told me about the ruckus outside our room around 3am, that sounded like near riot proportions. We assumed it must have been some patrons who had far too much to drink the night before.
Sunday August 24, 2008
After finding out our hotel had a less than acceptable breakfast, we found one of the local restaurants offered a much better option, so we headed there. Interestingly, all of the Ali Shan restaurants displayed the same photo on their walls from March 2005, when Ali Shan endured a huge snowfall that looked from the images to be in the 8-10" range. After breakfast, we decided to catch the train into the Alishan forest area in search of cool plants. When we arrived at the station and were examining the different options, we found the train to the Sunrise Viewing Area departed at 3:30am...a ha...no wonder the ruckus outside our room started at 3am. The only train ride in the late morning went to the Giant Sacred Tree Site, so on board we went. We arrived about 15 minutes later at a dead cryptomeria...a very big, but very dead cryptomeria. Evidently, the tree was so old and in such bad shape it was finally cut to keep it from falling on the train, but even in death, it still draws tourists. Ali Shan was originally settled as a timber plantation because of the natural cryptomeria forests. Cutting has now ceased and the forest has regrown to 1-2' diameter trees, but the understory was disappointingly sparse. This area may have qualified as a recreation area, but it had little to offer in the way of interesting plants, so we hiked back to the parking lot, picked up lunch supplies, then headed out of the park again on Highway 18 and further up into The Yushan Park.
Today was some sort of bicycle day as we passed hundreds of bicyclists of all ages, climbing to the crest of the mountain as we passed from Ali Shan to Yushan. At our first stop at 7,800', we found huge patches of the 3' tall white-flowered Astilbe longicarpa. This differed dramatically from the pink flowered shorter plants I had found earlier, but the Flora of Taiwan didn't give us another option, so the astilbes certainly need more study. From there, another forested knoll was rich with cyclobalanopsis, Hydrangea chinensis, Rhododendron oldhamii, all at a much higher elevation than the Yang Ming Shan plants, along with our first sighting of Cephalotaxus wilsonii and a beautiful white-fruited gaultheria. There were seemingly new ferns at each stop, and the 4' long polystichum and 8' long Diplazium species certainly got my attention. After a long drive, it was time to retrace our steps back to the hotel.
Although we made several stops on the way back, nothing new of interest was seen...until our "Hey, Hey, there are the monkeys!" moment...actually it was another Formosan macaque (Macaca cyclopsis). Up until this point, the macaques had kept their distance, but here, unsuspecting visitors near a favorite tourist picnic site were feeding them, despite pleading signs to the contrary. It's a little weird to see macaques sitting on the Jersey barriers as well as car hoods looking for food. We kept our distance with windows barely open, well aware they are ferocious attackers when looking for food.
Longing for one final stop, we spotted a waste area for large boulders on the lower side of the road, but one that appeared to have forests that stretched back on a more gentle slope. The typical roadside trees are on such a steep slope, nothing short of repelling could keep you from tumbling down the mountain. As we climbed over the huge rock piles and entered the forest, we realized we were in one of the horticulturally richest sites of the entire trip. We found an old road bed, which was obviously from an earlier highway, and was now nearly 200' further out from the cliff than the current road. When the rest of the road went down the mountain, this section miraculously remained...along with those damn loud cicadas...oh, but for a can of Raid®.
Cool broadleaf evergreens were everywhere from oaks to hollies and including Daphniphyllum membranaceum, a new mahonia, viburnums, and very narrow leaf forms of Eriobotrya deflexa. Trees were again covered with both epiphytic ferns as well as Hydrangea integrifolia. There were finally good spores on the amazing white-backed Pteris fern, Dryopteris atrata, and well as a another dryopteris that was a spitting replica of Osmunda cinnamonea. The 6' tall clumping Arachniodes almost sent me over the edge...literally, and then there was the miniature epiphytic birdnest asplenium. There was more Disporopsis arisanensis, athyriums with solid black stipes, a great clumping narrow leaf carex, the biggest clumps of Pyrrosia gralla I'd seen yet, and even cool parasitic orobanche (broomrape)...I could go on for hours, which we actually did.
As we were driving back to the hotel, Mark screamed for me to stop. While it took a minute to find a pull off, we retraced our steps to find the plant he had glanced out of the corner of his eye when we rounded a sharp bend in the road...a terrestrial orchid with 4'-tall bright yellow spikes in full flower, but no foliage. The plant seemed wedged beneath several feet of rock, so it was difficult to tell whether it could have been an cultivated escapee, on some fabulous native that should be in cultivation. It was the only plant in the area, so possibly the others slid down the mountain in one of the many landslides to hit this area, but at 7,200' elevation, this should be a great plant to try in temperate cultivation. Upon return, several readers let me know that the orchid is the saprophytic Galeola nudifolia...virtually ungrowable. Oh well.
After returning to the hotel, enjoying another excellent dinner, and catching up on field notes with my new laptop, we finally collapsed in our beds, only to be awakened by the 3am exodus to catch the Sunrise viewing train. Not only were the crowds noisy, but they rang the village bells for what seemed like an eternity, and although I had installed my earplugs by then, Mark tells me the hotel actually called the room to tell us the train was departing. It's obvious lots of people find a reason to get up at 3am to see the sunrise, but from the point of view of a non-interested guest, the hotel staff didn't seem to get it.
Monday August 25, 2008
Being our last day in the field, we knew the botanizing would be brief since we needed to make it to the coastal town of Taichung in Northwest Taiwan by evening. We headed back down Ali Shan on Highway 18 to connect with Interstate 3. Our first stop was just down from the Ali Shan police checkpoint, where we entered another cryptomeria forest at 6,600'. One of the first plants I found was an impatiens with amazing black calyxes and white petals. Only later when we saw it again, did Mark correctly suggest it was instead a gesneriad, Hemiboea. We found more of the red foliaged form of Begonia chitoensis, but at 1,600' higher than before. A dark-foliaged schizophragma and an array of epiphytic ferns adorned almost all of the trees here. We even found Alpinia here, much higher than we had seen it before, along with many more calanthes. Some of the most interesting ferns included a glossy form of the normally dull-leaved pyrrosia, an arachniodes that produced plants from leaf bulbils, another naked rhizome polypodium, and a stoloniferous woodwardia resembling W. virginica.
Heading further down the mountain, a stop at 6,000' yielded an amazing 8' tall callicarpa with huge clusters of developing fruit growing among lithocarpus (evergreen oaks), and a patch of acorus growing nearby in a dry rock stream. Further down at 5,500', we stopped by a sheer roadside cliff covered with Tricyrtis growing right on the rock face without what appeared be a speck of soil. We initially assumed this to be more T. ravenii, but a second stop several hundred feet lower with more advanced plants revealed this to be our third tricyrtis species of the trip, T. lasiocarpa. Also here, we found a carex resembling C. morrowii, and a peperomia. What I initially assumed to be an escapee turned out to be one of many native species of peperomia. Another strange find was what appeared to be a ramonda in flower (later id'd as Conandron ramondioides), growing near the peperomia. In the fern world, there was a very long leafed pteris here, that look superficially like P. cretica and a lovely small white-backed cheilanthes with deeply cut foliage...possibly C. farinosa.
At 5,300', we stopped to check out another slope of cryptomeria and bamboo, only to find it rich with understory plants we hadn't seen before. Underneath the cryptomerias were masses of Alocasia odora...a strange looking combination. As we meandered down the steep, but rich slope, we encountered the wonderful Zingiber kawagoii in full flower along with paris...a plant we certainly didn't plan to find growing with alocasia. Above us, we again spotted large clumps of the epiphytic Aglaomorpha meyeniana fern in the trees. There were numerous masses of aspidistra here, some solid green, while others were heavily spotted yellow. Nearby plants included Disporum taiwanense, both in a branched and unbranched form, more of the 4' tall cane-type begonia, along with more Arisaema grapospadix including a stunning silver center form Mark spotted, among large patches of lepisorus fern. The scheffleras had switched here from the higher elevation Schefflera taiwanense to the mid-elevation S. octophylla. We wondered if this might be hardy from this fairly high location? Along the roadside was an interesting clone of Colocasia esculenta with silver speckling on the leaf. Initially I thought this might be insect damage, but none was evident and none of the other nearby clones showed the same pattern. Down the road just a bit, we even pulled off to see a massive patch of Tradescantia zebrina...a nice and unique form that was obviously an escapee.
Our final stop of the trip at 4700' was a steep sunny bank topped with a solid line of more Tricyrtis lasiocarpa. This clumping species has one of the most spectacular flowers of the genus, and to my knowledge, all of the material in the trade represents a single population. I was surprised to find it growing in full sun and producing large 2'+ tall plants, some with leaves reaching 8" long x 4" wide. It was hard to tear ourselves away, but realizing it was already 2:15pm and we hadn't made it far past our starting point or stopped for lunch, we drug ourselves away.
As we continued toward our hotel in Taichung, we continued west on Highway 18. Not far away, we stopped at a small country store where we purchased instant noodles which we enjoyed on their public picnic deck, overlooking the forest below. One of the interesting things we noticed around the town were more Lilium formosanum, but all without the purple back we had seen in the high mountains. This form was also much taller than what we'd seen earlier, perfectly resembling the form widely cultivated in the US. As we traveled further along Highway 18, we continued to see this same form of Lilium formosanum dotted along the roadside...only one flower in the wild, but when brought into cultivation it had between 5-10 flowers just as it does back in our home garden. It appears the commonly cultivated form is simply a lower elevation form, but is indeed L. formosanum. When I relayed this to Dr. John Grimshaw of the UK's Colesbourne Garden on my return, he shared a passage from the 1950 publication in Woodcock & Stearn's, Lilies of the World, which quotes William Price: "'In the plains the flower is pure white, but as one ascends the perianth becomes faintly marked with red on the reverse. Above 6000 feet it is wonderfully different, being quite a small slender plant about one foot high with a perianth of confirming size. At the higher elevations the red markings become deeper and take the form of rich red bands on the keels of the perianth segments. The change is so gradual and continuous that it is obviously the same species all the time.'" That's pretty cool!
We had hoped to find Amorphophallus hirtus, which grew near Highway 18, but despite our best efforts, it was nowhere to be found. If there was anything disappointing about the trip, it was our inability to find any of several Amorphophallus species that grow here including A. kiusianus, A. henry, A. paeonifolius, and A. hirtus.
We continued west on Highway 18, then north on Interstate 3 into the huge city of Taichung. Although it took a bit of backtracking in the city to find Highway 12, the main route through town, we finally found it. Riding down through the city, we couldn't believe our luck when we spotted our hotel, The Splendor, right on our road in the midst of 5 o'clock rush hour traffic. We were greeted by the concierge...a first for Taiwan and directed to the front desk, who directed us to the hotel check-in on the 12th floor. Things were certainly looking up. We arrived at the 12th floor to find a lush lobby, complete with a variety of restaurants, a business center, and virtually anything a traveler could ask for. Our room was equally as amazing. I've stayed at plenty of nice hotels, but this probably tops the list...especially with our expectations being quite low.
I must thank travel agent Dale Mackie of Whose Travel in Taiwan. I had struggled for months trying to make reservations in Taiwan with folks who spoke little or no English. I was ready to give up when I stumbled on an on-line article mentioning Whose Travel and the American who ran it. All I had to do was tell Dale where we wanted to stay, our requirements, and how much we wanted to spend, and he found us hotels that fit our needs. If anyone plans to visit Taiwan, I can't say enough good things about Whose Travel. Whose Travel was started by Dale, who moved to Taiwan in 1997, where he taught English to groups of travel agents. Dale eventually married one of his students, Vivian, and the two of them formed Whose Travel in 2003. When booking hotels rooms in Taiwan, you must pay in advance of your trip, for which you will get a paper travel voucher. All you have to do when traveling is to present the travel voucher when you arrive at your hotel and you're in like Flint.
Our dinner buffet at The Splendor Hotel is hard to describe. The spread from which to choose was literally the size of a football field...I've never seen anything like it. Overindulging was the order of the day, from soups, to entrees, to deserts...simply outstanding!
Tuesday August 26, 2008
After a breakfast buffet, equaling our previous night's dinner, we returned to our room to work. Today was a processing day, where each accession is checked for good health, proper moisture levels, and repackaged if necessary. Then comes identification of unidentified plants, using both the printed Woody Flora of Taiwan and the On-line Flora. Next was the least fun part of the process ... paperwork. Every accession must be documented as to how many of each and whether it is a tuber, seed, spore, or plant. After a full day and night, we still weren't quite finished, but nothing a short morning couldn't wrap up.
Wednesday August 27, 2008
We finished our paperwork early, and after indulging again in the giant buffet breakfast, we were off to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) office to get our phytosanitary certificates. For me, this is always the biggest headache of the trip and today would be no exception. Finding the Inspection office was quite easy our hotel concierge explained ... go out the front door on Highway 12, head west for almost an hour and after there are no more buildings, look for the giant yellow one. That's too easy, we thought, but sure enough, other than arriving in only 30+ minutes, she was right on track.
When we walked into the Plant Quarantine office and asked about phytos, we were first greeted with frantic looks of terror, then with "We can't do that here", followed by, "Do you have an import certificate?", and then, "Open your boxes". The meticulous inspections were going along fine until the inspector announced each of our plants had to be weighed separately ... 8.4 grams of asarum, 12.2 grams of arisaema, and so forth. After several hours, we completed that worthless task, then we were asked for a total weight for each genus, then a total weight for the entire shipment. These folks were used to shipping huge cartons of plants and were trying to apply the same rules to our tiny boxes of plant samples. At least the inspectors were nice about the bureaucratic nightmare as they brought us several cups of hot tea, instant noodles for lunch, and then lemon wafers when we turned down the noodles. Finally after 6 hours of stressful bureaucratic hell, we finished and were issued our phytos, which we took to the post office next door and mailed our samples home. We hope these will survive in our ex-situ conservation setting and that some may even turn out to be great garden plants for gardeners both in the US and around the world.
Thursday August 28, 2008
With our plant work behind us, all that remained was completing both our plant notes and expedition logs, then taking our rental car to our airport hotel 3 hours north. We hated to leave the wonderful Splendor Hotel in Taichung, but Taoyuan awaited. We arrived at the City Suites Gateway Hotel within eyeshot of the airport in time for lunch and our rendevous with Nielson from Central Auto Rental to pick up our rental van. The City Suites is another hotel I recommend with high marks if you need a place near the airport. Only a few hours remain now before we board our plane home and resume our "normal" life. We count ourselves very fortunate to have had such a wonderful trip with near perfect weather, great hotels and food, no illness, no snakes or even land leeches, and minimal ncidents of getting lost. The trip was almost good enough to make us forget our terrible first day. There is still much botanizing work to be done and I am more convinced than ever there are still plenty f new species to be discovered in Taiwan's central mountains. I hope this provides an unvarnished insight into the possibilities.