First Days in Yachang

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By Hillary Burgess, Fairchild Living Collection Manager

Karst hills surround Leye.

After a couple of days in transit we've arrived in Leye, just outside of Yachang Orchid Preserve.  We are staying here for a few days as we accompany Richard Stone of Science Magazine on a tour through the preserve.  He is interested in writing an article about Yachang and is spending a few days exploring and learning about the orchids here, as well as the people and projects in place to protect them.  As tag alongs, Jen and I are getting a fantastic orientation to our research location and the issues at hand.  Dr. Liu's long range goals include gathering information that will be of value to preserve managers who grapple with threats such as encroachment from farmers, poaching, and climate change.  Hong and other scientists are working with managers to strategize approaches that will meet the needs of the local community while providing for long term conservation of orchid species.  I'm excited to contribute to these efforts in the coming days.

This past winter and spring Guangxi province experienced what could be the worst drought in a century. It may have had significant impacts on orchids and surrounding vegetation.  To prevent damage, preserve managers installed irrigation in remote areas to provide supplemental water to orchid habitat.  Unfortunately if this drought is a sign of new climate trends, then watering could be detrimental to conservation objectives.  Long-term survival of species requires that they are able to adapt to changes in their environment.


Corn is a valuable crop for local farmers.  Even on preserve land, they continue to clear trees and expand their plantings farther and farther into orchid habitat.

Limestone Sinkhole

Yachang is the first preserve of its kind in China, dedicated to conserving orchid biodiversity.  It is a spectacular place, not only for the species it protects, but also for its majestic landscape.  The large sinkhole above is characteristic of the region's limestone karst topography.

Luisia teres

The Luisia teres above is one of about a dozen orchid species that we've seen in bloom.  There are at least 134 species of orchids in the preserve.

Ladder to Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum population

Cascades of blooming slipper orchids, Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum, were the reward for an arduous trek up a limstone cliff face.

Richard Stone gives pastries to village schoolchildren

Richard Stone, a journalist from Science Magazine, shares pastries with local schoolchildren.