Flora of Kwangtung and Hongkong/Physical features
Physical features.—Kwangtung and Kwangsi, as their names imply, form the artificial eastern and western divisions of a natural area, the basin of the great river of South China, the West River. The mountain ranges of Kwangtung, which can be seen from the sea, are principally of granite and present the curious boldly rounded outlines, broken here and there by crags, which become especially familiar in a country where few visitors have the opportunity of seeing more than the ports and what is visible from the deck of a coasting steamer between them. These hills, covered with coarse grass and low shrubby vegetation, give an appearance of barrenness, which is scarcely relieved even on closer investigation by the scanty vegetation of shrubs and small trees which clothes the steep sides of the ravines through which the mountain torrents rush down to the beach.
If the province is entered by way of Canton there has first to be traversed the "Canton Delta" where every yard of the alluvial plains is subjected to the closest cultivation, orchards of Litchi, Orange and Persimmon, fields of Maize and Sugar Cane, Hemp and Ramie, groves of Banana or Fan Palm stretching luxuriantly before the eye, line beyond line, up to the horizon.
Beyond these coastal plains commence the irregular systems of rugged mountains which eventually culminate along the northern boundaries of the province. The latter follow roughly the water-parting between the rivers of Hunan and Kiangsi flowing northward into the Yangtze and the tributaries of the West River falling to the south. In this region, which is scarcely defined as a mountain range but which is nevertheless often spoken of as the Nanshan, rise the three principal rivers of northern Kwangtung. These are the North River which falls into the West River near Canton, the East River flowing into the Canton Delta through the Tungkun plains and the northern affluents of the turbid Han, which falls into the sea near Swatow. The sources of the East River, about which little is known, are among what are probably the highest mountains in the province. Elsewhere the ranges seldom exceed 3,000 feet, though isolated peaks rise here and there one or two thousand feet higher.
The approach to these mountainous districts is most easily made by boat on one of the large rivers that intersect the ranges and have afforded access from time immemorial to the interior of the province. In their lower courses the banks are low and frequent groves of feathery bamboos wave in the breeze along their summits. Between these appear vistas of rich flat pastures and peaceful villages, standing in their ancestral groves. The mountains soon close in and slow progress is made up foaming rapids, past many a gorge and frowning precipice. Whenever more open reaches permit, glimpses can be caught of the wild romantic scenery of the mysterious highlands, where no white man has been. In most parts of the mountains the bold rounded outlines indicate granitic formations. In the limestone districts these give place to the rugged crags and fantastic shapes, so often portrayed in Chinese pictorial art.
So far as it has been explored, the coast, centre and north-west of the province are fairly well known and good descriptions of the scenery are available. The southern portion on the other hand is practically unknown to Europeans, with the exception of the immediate neighbourhood of Kwangchow, Pakhoi, and a few other sea ports where traders have resided.