October 2008 Archives

After a night in Lan Gao, our group would head back to Ankang for lunch (I really don't think we could have eaten any more food) and then head on out to Xi'an.

Before we left the Lan Gao area, we would make one last stop to look at some chestnut trees.  This site would again be on very steep slopes but this time would primarily have Castanea mollissima.  We could not confirm whether these trees were wild or naturalized, but they were likely not planted.

We spent less than an hour at the site so that we could get back to Ankang on time.  Xi'an is a 5 hour - at least - drive from Ankang, so we wanted to leave shortly after lunch.  We were making pretty good time, but the roads were very twisty and turny - it took us quite some time to get onto the road that's much like a Turnpike.  We did have to stop to get gas before we got on the major Road.  And Fred needed a Slim Jim and a Coke.  The Coke was there, but he had to settle for a bag of Chinese crackers.

Most of us took little naps - it had been a long trip.  But after about 2 hours, we were stopped by a police blockade.  We were about the 4th or 5th vehicle to be stopped.  Thankfully, we were stopped right by a rest area.  We learned traffic was stopped because of a bad accident in a tunnel a few miles up the road.  Turns out there were several very long tunnels up ahead.  So, we stayed there for about 3 hours while the accident was cleared.

It wasn't such a bad time, actually.  What was refreshing about this wait is that everyone around us seemed to be taking the delay in stride.  A snack stand, complete with drinks and snacks (including two types of chicken feet), opened up outside the rest area.  The folks beside us whipped out some moon cakes, pears, and started playing cards.  Most people milled about outside their cars chatting.  Noone seemed upset.  What a different scene I would suspect we would see in the US.

Fred pondered if his extra stop to get a drink and snack saved us from an accident.  You never know . . .


Measuring Castanea mollissima at forest plot in Bashan mountains.  Having climbed down to this tree, I can tell you the slope was pretty darn steep, the steepest I'd went down so far.  I think Kim and Songlin measured it at 93%.  I had on my boots.  Mr. Liao, to my right, was wearing loafers.  I am not kidding.  They were pretty nice shoes.  It looked like he hardly even got them dirty.


Not the most flattering pose, but we all got in a nap or two during the duration of our trip, espeically going from Ankang to Xi'an.


The group waits for the traffic jam to clear up.


A magical bottle of Coke and Chinese crackers???  At least we got stopped next to a rest stop and not in the middle of nowhere next to an 8km long tunnel on up the road.  We'll give the snacks at least this special citation for their possible role in keeping us comfortable, if not safe and alive.

We would stop at Nan Gongshan National Park to have lunch.  As luck would have it, the mayor of Ankang was also dining at Nan Gongshan that afternoon.  There were TV cameras, regular cameras, and many handlers for the mayor.  Mr. Fang wei Feng was the consummate politician.  He spoke with us for several minutes, extolling the many natural wonders of the area and letting us know how interested he was in chestnut trees.  He actually was a pleasure to meet him.

After meeting the mayor and eating much, much, much more food than is really good for any one person, we set off into the park.  Our first stop would be up to the temple in the park.  Unfortunately, about half-way up the mountain, we encountered some nasty fog which lasted the all the way to the top.  So our view of the temple and anything from the mountain was quite obscured.

We didn't have any time to tour the temple since it was already early afternoon.  With the fog settling in, we knew - and were told - that it would be too dangerous to try and scale the mountains of the area to take data on chesntut trees.  The combination of 80 degree (!!) slope, skree, and pea-soup fog was just too risky.  So we decided to make our way to a fog-free zone to see what we could find.  We actually did see a lot of trees.

In fact, it was here that we saw what we could absolutely, positively be certain were wild Chinese chestnut trees.  But it was also at this point that our hosts told us something a little sad, at least for this trip.  Mr. Chen basically said that if we really wanted to see a lot of wild Chinese and possibly large chestnut trees, that we would need at least a week in the area.  He noted that we would need to backpack in about a day, camp out, and explore a couple of different sites.

Sign me up!!

But we were able to take some general measurements on about 10 more trees before it was too dark to continue.  At that point, we would head back to Lan Gao where we would eat another huge meal and stay for the night.


Meeting the mayor of Ankang at Nan Gongshan National Park.  The mayor, Mr. Fang wei Feng is the white shirt between Kim and Fred P.

2008, 09-19, C. henryi 65 ft. tall, Nan Gongshan Park a.JPG 
After coming down from the temple side, we started our data collection at a small set of Castanea henryi.  These trees appear to have been damaged during recent road construction.

2008, 09-19, C. henryi, Nan Gongshan Park.JPG

Larger Castanea henryi just down the road from the trees above.  This tree was in very good health and quite large for the area, about 65' tall and around 13-15" dbh.


Rock pile leading to C. henryi above.  The slopes here were very steep, approaching 80°+ in places.  As shown in this picture, leaves on this tree were right down to the ground and easily accessible for appropriate species identification.


Burs of Castanea mollissima, just down the road from C. henryi above.  Again, this tree is located down a very steep and rocky slope that leads to a stream below.  As I recall, the slope made this tree inaccessible for measurement. 


This is a view across the ravine from the main road along which we were measuring trees.  Across the ravine, from what we were told, is a forest just full of chestnuts, especially Castanea mollissima and C. henryi.  If you click on this picture and zoom in, you may be able to pick out the chestnuts by looking for trees with burs on them.  They were probably 20% of the trees we could view from the road on the other side.

2008, 09-19, Nan Gongshan Park, Shaanxi f.JPG

Fog settling in over Nan Gongshan Park.  It tracked us all the way down throughout the afternoon and early evening.
On our second day in Ankang, we would get up and travel to Nan Gongshan National Park, about 3 hours southwest of Ankang, near the town of Lan Gao.  This area is well-visited by tourists.  As we entered the area, there were many billboards advertising whitewater trips as well as opportunities to see a lot of wildlife.

The landscape from Ankang to Lan Gao was slighly different than what we had seen between Yichang and Dalaoling.  The major difference was the slope of the mountains - very, very steep!  Even steeper than what we encountered at Dalaoling.  As a result, there was not as much cultivation (although there was still a lot of it).  We hardly saw any tea planted here, most likely because of a difference in climate (too cold, we imagined). 

In Lan Gao, we picked up the Director of Forestry for the area, Mr. Liao.  Between Lan Gao and Nan Gaoshan, we briefly stopped at an area where reforestation efforts with Chinese chestnut ("ban li") were underway.  We asked why Chinese chestnut.  They replied that the species would not only provide stability for the mountainside (vs. planting corn or rice), but that it would also provide a crop at the same time.  Although the trees would be weeded (by hand) and planted in rows much like in an orchard, because the trees were being planted as part of an afforestation project, they would be overseen by the local forestry administration, no agriculture.

Before lunch, we would also travel to an area where some local people were cutting Castanea henryi for firewood.  As we climbed up the muddy road, the sound of chainsaws and axes grew louder and louder.  As we approached a local home, we met several local loggers actively cutting both Castanea henryi and Castanea mollissima.  We stopped to chat and measure a couple of the felled Castanea mollissima.

After meeting the loggers, we continue to climb up the mountain, past the house and through their garden, to an area where the loggers had already cut several specimens.  It was actually somewhat lucky to have them cut as we had an opportunity to look at the growth and count their ages. 

We took data on a handful of trees and then had a decision to make.  We could either hike on up about 2 miles to see a large stand of Castanea seguinii or we could make our way to the Park to begin looking at the trees there.  Having eaten so much food as we had, my vote was for the hike, but I was overruled (and for good reason - we would see more Castanea mollissima in the Park).  We would make our way to the park and, with it, lunch!


More farming with terracing.  Terracing is even more necessary in this area.  And notice the vegetables growing right along the side of the road.  Someone on the bus quipped about how this is one place [China] where you could definitely get hit by a car while gardening.

Though hard to differentiate in this picture, this whole hillside is covered in planted Chinese chestnuts as part of reforestation efforts.  The trees toward the bottom of the hill are about 1-2 years old.  The trees at the middle of the hill are about 3-4 years old.  And those at the top of the hill are about 6 years old.  Previously, this area would be cultivated for other crops, likely corn and/or rice.


The mountains here are steep and big!  Farming has to be chore in this area.  While travelling through this area, Fred H. used this opportunity to tell one of his favorite West Virginia jokes.  Something like: "A fellow was going down the road in West Virginia and spotted a farmer lying in the middle of the road.  He went up to the farmer and said 'Hey mister, you alright?'.  The farmer said, 'Yeah, I reckon.  But that's the third time this week I've fallen out of my cornfield.'".  Actually, that's probably the kindest joke about West Virginia that was told during this trip.  But actually, we saw several cornfields where you definitely could fall out.  It's much steeper than WV.


Measuring a fallen Castanea mollissima with the local loggers.


Castanea henryi nut and bur.


Castanea henryi leaves and burs.  The leaves of C. henryi are more like those of Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut) than any other species.  C. henryi leaves are typically more narrow (especially true of sun-leaves) and are totally glabrous (without hairs) on the underside.  C. crenata has many stellate hairs and 9-celled trichomes on the underside.


Songlin and Fred work their way up through the fallen trees.  All of those trees are chestnuts, either C. henryi or C. mollissima, cut primarily for firewood.  These trees were all approximately 28-32 years of age.


Cut portion of Castanea mollissima with Kim's pen. 
After resting during the morning and a very, very, very heavy lunch, our group set out to the chestnut producing region of Jihe.  We visited several pieces of an orchard that was terraced on a steep slope in the area.

The trees at this orchard were infected with several maladies, including chestnut blight.  It did appear, though, that the chestnut blight was the least of the problems for these trees.  It also appears as though there were two major influences on the amount of problems encountered by these trees. 

The first would be that the trees were planted on very marginal land.  The second major influence appears to be the poor pruning/maintenance employed on the trees.  Not all problems on the trees were identified, but did include a fungus not Cryphonectria parasitica as well as light gall wasp infection. 

Also of interest at this site were that there were planted individuals of Castanea crenata.

The orchard we visited in the Jihe region just south of Ankang.


Gall wasp on Chinese chestnut.  This appears to be an older gall, probably from an infection from last year.  Infection did not seem to be pervasive or detrimental at this orchard.


Fred Paillet stands next to an individual at the orchard that appears to be in very bad shape. The tree is infected with a couple of different kinds of fungi, including Cryphonectria parasitica. The cambiium layer on almost half the main stem appears to be missing.  Many of the trees at this site appeared in similarly poor health.


The substrate on which the trees were planted.  The substrate appeared very similar to a shale-type that one would find in the US.  I'll need to confirm w/ Paillet what this stuff actually was.


Our group poses in the orchard.  From left to right is Dr. Kim Steiner, Mr. Chen (Director of Forest Regeneration in Ankang), Sara Fitzsimmons, Dr. Fred Paillet, Dr. Fred Hebard, Mr. Cao ((Director of Extension for the Ankang Region (almost 9000 mi^2!!!), Dr. Lu Zhoumin (from Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University in Xi'an).


A woman shakes a tree in the orchard so she can collect the nuts that fall.  There were several local people at the orchard working to gather nuts while we were observing the trees.


The largest Castanea mollissima we saw on the trip.  This is what we all think is a "naturalized" specimen, likely from another orchard.  The tree was spared with the land was cleared for the current chestnut orchard.  I believe our hosts said the tree was about 200 years old.  But, also like the other trees in the orchard, it was not in the best of health.

After spending four days at Dalaoling, our group headed up to Ankang in Shaanxi province.  After a 3 hour drive back to Yichang City, our group had a final lunch with our hosts from Dalaoling in Yichang.  Then, we headed off to the train station where we would ride in a soft care - for about 10 hours! - to Ankang.

The trip actually wasn't that bad.  On the trains in China, one can either ride in a "hard car" or a "soft car".  The hard cars mean all you get is a seat.  The soft cars mean that there are four beds in a room.  There were seven of us.

We had the mistaken impression that one could kind of rent out the whole room.  But that's not the case.  Once just rents the beds, like you would any seat.  How strange that one could share sleeping arrangements with three other complete strangers!  But our group split so there would be only one other person w/ the Freds and Songlin, and he didn't arrive until almost midnight.

We finally arrived in Ankang at about 2:30am.  IT was drizzling a bit, but our hosts met us and accompanied us to our hotel.  Thankfully, they would give us until noon to rest.  Still, most of us got up early and used the morning after breakfast to go out and explore the town of Ankang.


Our last meal with our Dalaoling hosts in Yichang City.

View from the train as the sun sets.


As everywhere else on the trip, we ate well on the train.  Here, Songlin shares with us his passion for fish heads.  While I do not share his passion, I appreciate that he likes them.  And he is always welcome to those fish heads that are presented to me in the future.


Out on the town of Ankang.  Our first chance to buy chestnuts!  In the pan, the marketer roasts larger nuts of "ban li" while they call the smaller nuts in the basket at right from "mao li".  When pertaining to trees, the "mao li" would be Castanea seguinii and "ban li" would be Castanea mollissima.  Of course, it's very difficult to tell the difference between the species on nuts alone.  We had our suspicions that those in the market just call small nuts "mao li" and large nuts "ban li", without - necessarily - any connection to the actual species.  But we can't confirm that.


A scene from the part of the market with fresh produce.  It was incredible to see the amount of fresh meats and vegetables at this market.  I'll post some other images of the markets around Ankang later.  What even more impressive, though, is that most of the time, these carts are brought in by a person.  They aren't hauled by a large truck, but a person.  It was incredible to see farmers lugging these carts up the road - usually while smoking a cigarette.  They have to be very heavy.


More food!  In the foreground, you'll see what I *swear* was the Chinese version of beans and cornbread.  All I wanted was a little bit of tabasco or Frank's Red Hot and it would have been perfect.  It's hard to believe, but we ate _even more_ in Ankang than we had been.  Thanks to Madame Tang, we never had less than 20 dishes at any given meal.  You would be so full and really think there could be no way they'd bring more food, and there the waitresses would be, bringing in a whole fish, another stew, and a huge thing of rice.  Every time the door would creak open, we'd all cring, just knowing there'd be more food coming along.

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