PhD Student, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Go global from China
It is hard to recall when I first became interested in plants. I have always had a strong appreciation of nature, since I was a little boy. When I was only five, I was taken to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, parts of Sichuan in west China. These areas are considered to be world’s richest temperate ecosystem in biodiversity. Although I cannot remember any specific scenery now, I do remember the astonishment and my fear of the soaring snow-capped mountains at the eastern border of Tibet. Several trips like this and frequent visits to natural history museum and parks may have exhilarated and shaped my deep love of nature.
I fell in love of pressing plant in middle school. I pressed a wide range of plants that I can get, from branches of potted plants in our yard to wild vines in the suburbs of my hometown-Chongqing, which houses more than six thousand plant species. Even though I did not know much about wild plants then, its biodiversity never let me down! It was also in my middle school years I saw Flora of China (Chinese edition) for the first time in the city library, I was so thrilled that I started a dream to be able to identify every plant in them. I became extremely interested in biology when I was in high school, which was no surprise. With my past credentials at school and winning the blue ribbon in the province-level Biology Olympiad, I was admitted without having to take an entrance exam to Nanjing University. Nanjing University (formerly the University of Nanking) is well known for its rich tradition and history in botany.
In my undergraduate years, my interests of plants exploded by Dr. Xingjun Tian, director of Nanjing University Herbarium (N), who taught us plant taxonomy. Although plant taxonomy is largely overshadowed by other biology disciplines such as developmental biology, most of my peers were not interested in plants, I simply enjoyed it. I like to visit plants in the wild. They are like my friends that I just want to visit them again and again, and at the same time, meet new friends. It is hard for me to find a more satisfying discipline to engage in. I felt so lucky that in my college years that I was able to pursue my botany dream in many ways.
When the school is in session, I would like to do botanizing in suburbs of Nanjing as well as in Nanjing Botanical Garden Mem. Sun Yat-Sen and every year I bought a year pass. I still remember one time after May vacation I became really interested in Orchidaceae. Thus, I tried to contact a botanist in Qingliangfeng nature reserve in the neighbouring Zhejiang province in east China. After he kindly gave me a list of orchids and their locations, two of my friends and I skipped a class to go see these orchids. Our crazy hike in the rain lasted for six hours, it was well worth it. At least I would not take Polygala for orchid anymore. In order to see Nothodorilis, a monotypic orchid genus endemic to Zhejiang, we visited a small village twice and finally found three individual epiphytic on a Ginkgo tree. During the summer, I went back to my subtropical hometown. Since my sophomore year, I visited several local botanists in Mt. Jinfo, which has more than five thousand plant species. It was an outdoor botany classroom for me. There, I learned many relic and endemic taxa of east Asia, such as Cathaya argyrophylla(Pinaceae) and became fascinated with east Asian elements since.
Nanjing University also gave me big and rewarding support to fuel up my dream. In my second summer I was enrolled in the university’s expedition team to Lake Baikal in Russia, to collect plant specimens. It was my first time for me to go out of east Asian flora region, my eyes opened up to temperate-dominated Arctic region flora. After that trip, I got an internship at the university herbarium. It was a botany feast for me and I enjoyed browsing collections of early plant hunters such as Joseph Rock. Most importantly, I became familiar with herbarium work and a lot of taxa in China. Later Dr. Tian planned to work on a field guide to Mt. Huangshan, the highest peak in east China and a World Heritage site. I was sent there several times to help collect and photograph plants. Thanks to its rich Sino-Japan disjunction elements and being one of the endemic centers of plants in China as well as incredible scenes, I enjoyed botanizing there even though I usually felt exhausted. In my senior year, it would be time to work on my thesis and I chose to conduct a survey with Dr. Shuqing An of epiphyll’s effect on photosynthesis in Hainan-China’s biggest tropical Island. By examining the epiphyll on leaves, I had to record the species name of the host, so I learned many tropical Asian trees and shrubs as a result, and this was my second time for me to go out of East Asia flora region. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has helped me and gave me opportunities to do something I really enjoy!
After graduation from Nanjing University with B.S. in biological sciences in 2008, I went to the University of Michigan to pursue my Ph.D. and worked with Dr. Paul Berry. Paul led me into the world of Euphorbia-the spurges, which is one of the biggest genera in seed plants with more than 2000 species. Currently I am focusing on the subgenus Esula- the leafy spurges in the Euphorbia Planetary Biodiversity Inventory project. This group is known for its number of species (more than 500) and great variations. They mainly distribute in temperate areas in Northern Hemisphere and interestingly two endemic North American species, Euphorbia purpurea (Raf.) Fernald and E. spathulata Lam., appear to be more close to a Eurasia group of subgenus Esula than to other North American ones. This gives rise to a hypothesis that North American species of subg. Esula would not form a monophyletic group, instead there could be two or more lineages independently derived from different Eurasian groups. Now I am in cooperation with Dr. Dmitry Geltman in Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other Euphorbia experts. I need to broadly sample species to reconstruct phylogeny and possible historical biogeography of this group based primarily on DNA sequence data from different gene regions and chromosome data. East Asian flora? I will never forget it, and I plan to go back to China this summer to collect several endemic subg. Esula species to enrich my research. So this is my botanical story so far, it is a great pleasure to share my story with you.
Botany fun is irresistible:
That's all for now!