Flora of Kwangtung and Hongkong/History of Botanical Exploration

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History of Botanical Exploration.—Meagre as is our knowledge of the flora of this province, it is probably more complete than is the case with any other part of China. To this result have contributed the unusual length of the sea coast, the navigability of several of the rivers, the long residence of Europeans at four of the principal centres and the fact that a well-equipped botanical station has been maintained by the British Government for many years at Hongkong, nearly in the centre of the coast line.

A concise account of the history of exploration up to nearly the end of last century may be found in Bretschneider's classical History of Botanical Discoveries in China. The collectors during that period, whose work has most abundantly contributed to our knowledge of the flora, are Hance, Ford, Sampson, Vachell, Krone and B. C. Henry. During the present century the work begun by Ford in founding the Herbarium[1] of the Botanical and Forestry Department in Hongkong has been energetically continued by the officers of that Department,[2] and several special expeditions have been organised and despatched by the Colonial Government under their care for the exploration of the less known parts of the province. Expeditions to Sanning, Hoifung and to the Swatow hinterland may specially be mentioned as filling up gaps in our knowledge, while the more thorough exploration of the colonial flora has given us a fairly accurate idea of the vegetation of a few hundred square miles of the district.

Much still remains to be done. A map has been prepared and will be found at the beginning of the book indicating the ground already more or less botanically explored; all the rest is practically untouched. Thus the whole of the area from south-west to west of Macao, representing roughly the westernmost third of the province, remains quite unexplored botanically save for a few small areas on the coast. It is probable that the vegetation of this portion contains a considerable number of species in common with the more completely tropical French possessions to the southward which are as yet absent from our records for the province.

The flora again of the region from north to east of Canton which represents another third of Kwangtung is totally unknown, except from a few collections made on mountains on its southern borders and along some of the small rivers near Canton. The northern portion probably contains the highest ground in the province and may confidently be expected to yield numerous new and interesting discoveries to the botanists who first have the time, means and enterprise at their disposal for its exploration. The months in which most species are in flower are April and May and most of the collections on which our knowledge of the flora is based were gathered in those months.

  1. See Dunn's The Hongkong Herbarium in Kew Bull., 1910, 188.
  2. See the departmental Annual Reports for the period.