When browsing through garden catalogs, you've probably been struck, as I have, by how many of the staples of Western landscaping are Chinese in origin. Indeed, many of us have, at some point or other, lived on a property where at least one of the famous plants of China have graced the landscape. These plants are so ubiquitous in the West that non-gardeners take them for granted, as if they were native to their own region.
A little research helps explain the ubiquity of the plants of China in Western landscapes. "With an area almost exactly that of the continental United States, China has nearly twice as many plant species, about 31,000 or one-eighth of the world's total, versus only about 20,000 for the U.S.A. and Canada combined," according to the Flora of China project. The authors note that "Many plant species that were once widespread throughout the entire northern hemisphere were wiped out by glaciation in North America but survived in China."
The Plants of China
The following examples of "plants of China" constitutes just a brief sampling of the many trees, shrubs, vines and perennials with a Chinese connection. That is, at least some of the familiar varieties of the following specimens have a Chinese origin:
We owe the availability of ginkgo biloba trees to the Chinese Buddhist monks who cultivated them. Ginkgoes are among the plants of China renowned for their medicinal qualities, as well as for their beauty.
Read article: Ginkgo Biloba Trees
The names of our landscape specimens -- even their scientific names -- can be misleading. Such is the case with the scientific name for rose of sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, where the species name would indicate an origin in Syria. Botanists now know, however, that this flowering shrub is a plant of China and India.
Read article: Rose of Sharon
While the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) originated in Eastern Europe, many lilacs are plants of China (for instance, the Miss Kim Manchurian lilac (Syringa patula 'Miss Kim'). No spring is complete for me without inhaling the heavenly fragrance of the lilacs!
Read article: Lilac Shrubs
I continue with my introduction to the plants of China on Page 2....