Compared to developed countries, China’s history of establishing botanical gardens is much shorter; however scientific advancements in the country are rapidly aligning with the nation’s giant leaps in social and economic development.
China has experienced two peaks in the development of botanical gardens. The first one appeared between 1955 and 1960 as the country achieved the first round of the economic boom following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The number of botanical gardens increased from 13 to 34 over the course of the first economic upsurge.
As China further opened its gate to the market economy after starting to reform and open up to the outside world in 1978, the country sped up its all-around development in politics, economy and culture, thereby ushering in the second golden age of botanical gardens. Again, the number of botanical gardens soared from 70 to 138 in the two decades from 1980 to 2000.
In 2013, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the State Forestry Administration, along with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, set up the Chinese Union of Botanical Gardens. By 2016, China had, in total, built 195 botanical gardens, of which approximately 25 percent are labeled as classic botanical gardens since they include introduction records of the plants and value the conservation, study, education and resource integration regarding plants.
There are now 1,285 species-divided gardens in the 195 existing botanical gardens in China. Inside these species-divided gardens, there are roughly 288 families, 2,911 genera and 22,104 species of native Chinese plants of ex-situ conservation being cultivated. The figures make up 91 percent, 86 percent and 60 percent of all Chinese native plants, respectively. In particular, the South China Botanical Garden, CAS alone has introduced 14,800 species of native Chinese plants. It is, by far, the botanical garden with the most species of ex-situ conservation plants in China.
By 2015, the botanical gardens and arboreta in China had successfully introduced and conserved 85 percent (around 270 species) of the country’s first batch of national priority preserved wild plants and 40 percent of the 6,459 endangered plant species. A total of 154 plant species have been planted in wild fields.
Constant achievements have been made in the past years. The Wuhan Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed and implemented a systematic project to preserve 82 endangered species, including Myricaria laxiflora, which were affected by the Three Gorges Dam project, and cultivate the species in other places. The Fairy Lake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen has reintroduced the Cycas debaoensis to Guangxi. The South China Botanical Garden, CAS has also concluded the establishment of theories and modes for the return of 28 endangered species in South China, including the Primulina tabacum Hance. In southeastern China, the Kunming Botanical Garden has managed to reintroduce six of the wild plant species with extremely small populations, including Paphiopedilum malipoense, to nature.
In addition, there are around 10 botanical gardens in China that have installed digital information systems to manage their plants and gardens. These botanical gardens also have developed comprehensive cultivation systems, that function as plant seed banks, DNA banks, chemical resources banks, isolated resource banks and live plant resource banks. The systems allow the botanical gardens to realize multi-layered cultivation of plants ranging from the level of genes and chemical resources to tissues, organs, individuals and ultimately groups.
Meanwhile, Chinese botanical gardens have been conducting a large quantity of scientific research on plant taxonomy, biology conservation, resource botany, landscape horticulture, phytoecology, global change biology, environmental education, plant molecular biology, plant physiology, restoration ecology and the like.
Each year, the botanical gardens publish around 800 SCI theses and the number and quality of these papers have been showing an upward trend as years go by. In particular, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences and the South China Botanical Garden, CAS have published theses about the new flexistyly mechanism and the self-pollination mechanism of sliding pollen to prevent idiogamy in Nature magazine, respectively.
As for developing plant resources, Chinese botanical gardens have developed a total of 1,514 new species and 502 of them were granted with national permission. Also, the gardens have developed 751 economic plants and 284 functional plants. Particularly, the Wuhan Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has cultivated a series of new species of kiwi fruit and promoted them to other countries. While cultivating a new species, the Wuhan Botanical Garden also created a mode known as the 3R mode (Resource, Research, Resolution) for the use of economic plants.