Subtropical Xishuang Banna with Its Rare Plants and Animals

The climate, while not always comfortable for ideal forplant and animal life. There are approximately one hundred thousand hectares of virgin forest here with over five thousand species of woody and herbaceous plants, ranging from huge arbors to primitive ferns. Rare and precious animals and birds thrive in the relative safety of the dense tropical jungles. The beauty of the tropical forest is many faceted. It is the flowers that the year round color the green of the trees and fill die air with their perfumes. In early spring, the “firecracker lowers” herald the advent of spring. In late spring, crimson flowers tip the naked branches of the Silk Cotton Trees like flaming candles. In summer, the blossoms of the Flamboyant Tree clothe it in a red gauze. In autumn, white and pink camellias spot the green hillsides and by winter the tall mango trees blossom with yellow flowers. Bees are bore in symbiosis with the countless flowers. At times they swarm in the hundreds flying overhead, blocking out the sun and shaking the treetops with their deafening buzz. Tile beauty is trees, tall and ancient, thick vines and bushes. The largest trees found here arc tour meters in diameter and seventy meters tall. There are rare timber trees here: sandal wood, mahogany, camphor and teak. Some are as hard as steal, others rich in color a~d texture. Still others are survivors of the Ice Age, “living fossils” found nowhere else in the world. The beauty is the fascinating adaptability and peculiarities of plant life. Vines as thick as your arm climb up trees and then dangle in midair. Clusters of rcd and pearl-like fruit grow on the trunks as if “blossoming”. The roots of some trees grow above the ground and radiate in all directions. This “buttress root phenomenon” sometimes extends as far as a dozen meters from the trunk axis forming a wall which is sometimes one or two meters in height. The aerial roots of the Ficus Microcarps reach out first upward and then turn downward to touch the ground. There they will sprout again. If the seeds of this tree lodge on another tree, they will take root there and grow parasitically causing the host to wither slowly and die.

The Yunnan Provincial Research Institute of Tropical Plants is located here in the forest. Their botanical garden is host to plants from the world over and include many of industrial interest. The syrup of the sugar palm, extracted from the stalk, can fill a small bucket. The “mystery fruit” is a berry as big as a thumb and so sweet that even anything sour eaten after it will seem sweet also. The ilang ilang or ananga ororata tree, emits a penetrating aroma. During the blossoming season even the vicious tropical mosquitoes are repelled by it. Cananga oil. the world famous aromatic essence, is extracted from its flower. The Upas Tree or Antiarias Tocicaria produces a lethal poison “dragon’s blood”, a remarkable Chinese medicine.

Xishuang Banna is the natural habitat of forty percent of China’s native wildlife with more than four hundred species of birds and sixty species of mammals. Among the rarer animals found here: jungle fowl, helmet crowned hornbills, black gibbons, slow loris, wild boar and elephants. The jungle fowl is a cousin of the domesticated chicken with a smaller body and stronger wings. Slow loris are the only primitive monkey found in China. With a small, slow moving body it sleeps by day and is active at night. People have nicknamed it the “lazy monkey” for its seeming inactivity. Throughout the forest you will find crowds of long-armed black gibbons chasing and playing among the trees. Troops of wild elephants bathe in ponds and at maturity are four to six tons in weight, three and a half meters in height. They are, without dispute, the largest animals in Xishuang Burma. These animals are all protected now by order of the government and several natural reserves have been set aside for their safety.

The area has now been opened to visitors. A one day journey by air and bus brings you from Beijing to Yunjlnghong, the capital of Xishuang Banna Dal Autonomous Prefecture. Facili- ties for visitors have been recently built here along the Lancang River and one may stroll along the waterways, roam the forests or visit native Dai villages.