Nanman, Shuiluo Valley
Shaxi Projekt
The Shuiluo Valley
Geographical aspects and plant diversity of the Hengduan Mountains and the Shuiluo Valley   

Hengduan Mountains – The Hengduan Mountains in SW China are located between 26° and 34° north latitude and 96° and 104° east longitude, making up a total area of 790’000 square kilometres. They belong to the earth’s richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal live, spanning SW Sichuan, NW Yunnan and part of eastern Tibet. Referring to the topography they are also called “High Mountain and Deep Gorge Region“. Mountains reach altitudes of 7500 m while stream networks and rivers, including the Mekong, Salween and Yangtze, dissect innumerable small and large valleys. Southwest monsoon from the Indian Ocean strongly influences the climate resulting in a rainy season from June to October and allowing tropical vegetation in the valleys to reach almost 29° north latitude.

Botany – Botanically, it is one of the richest temperate area in the world with approximately 12’000 species of vascular plants. The area harbours 47 strictly endemic genera. A high amount of endemic species is proposed in several articles but the number is not specified. A National Geographic article reports 3500 endemic species for the Hengduan Mountain region.

Medicinal plants – The Hengduan Mountains are a rich source of traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicinal plants.The bulk of those is still harvested from the wild. Since several medicinal species of the area are over-exploited and threatened, models of sustainable collection or cultivation are urgently needed. Until recently logging was one of the most important income sources in the area and only 10-20% of the original forest cover survived. Recently, the Chinese government applied a policy to preserve the remaining primary forests and banned lumbering in the meantime.

Shuiluo Valley – The Shuiluo Valley is situated in the south of Hengduan Mountains (ca. 28° N; 101° E), at an elevation of 2000-6000 m. The Shuiluo River, a tributary of the Yangtze, is approximately 80 km long. The climate is characterized by seasonal monsoon from June to October with an annual rainfall mean of about 1000 mm. The vegetation types of the Shuiluo Valley can be divided into a dry to semi-dry valley bottom, open bush lands, subtropical evergreen broad-leaved, temperate and cold-temperate conifer forests, alpine bush woods with a timberline at about 4000 m, and alpine vegetation.

For a panoramic view of the characteristic vegetation zones click on the links below (large files!).

Vegetation types Altitude Characteristic species

Semi-dry valley bottom

2000-2400 m Shrubs: Jasminum nudiflorum, Osteomeles schwerinae, Pistacia weinmannifolia, Rumex hastatus, Myrsine africana

Mixed pine and oak woodlands

2400-3500 m Trees: Pinus yunnanensis, Acer paxii, Phyllanthus emblica, Quercus spp.
Shrubs: Capparis subtenera, Morus acidosa, Rhododendron cephalantum, R. chartophyllum, Berberis spp.
Vines: Polygonum spp., Tetrastigma spp., Vitis spp.

Mixed coniferous forest and Rhododendron thickets

• Pictures

3500-4400 m Trees: Abies delavayi, Larix potanini, Picea likiangensis, Quercus dentata, Sorbus vilmorini
Trees/shrubs: Juniperus squamata, Rhododendron recurvum, R. taliense, Salix spp.

Alpine vegetation

• Pictures

above 4400m Dwarf shrubs: Cassiope selaginoides, Juniperus squamata, Potentilla fruticosa, Rhododendron spp., Salix spp.


Cultural diversity and social aspects
back to the overview


Used literature

Boufford D.E. and van Dijk P.P. 1999. South-Central China. In Mittermeier R.A., Myers N., Robles G.P., and Mittermeier C.G. (eds), Hotspots: Earth’s biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions. CEMEX, Mexico: 338-351.

Guan K.Y., Zhou Z.K., Sun H., Fei Y., and Sun W.B. 1998. Highland flowers of Yunnan. Yunnan Science and Technology Press, Kunming.

Handel-Mazzetti H. 1921. Übersicht über die wichtigsten Vegetationsstufen und –formationen von Yünnan und Südwest Setschuan. Botanische Jahrbücher 54: 578-597.

Morell V. 2002. China hotspot. National Geographic 201: 98-113.

National Environment Protection Agency of China. 1998. China’s biodiversity: a country study. China Environmental Science Press, Beijing.

Olson D.M. and Dinerstein E. 2002. The global 200: Priority ecoregions for global conservation. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 89: 199-224.

Pei S.J. 2001. Ethnobotanical approches of traditional medicine studies: Some experiences from Asia. Pharmaceutical Biology 39: 74-79.

Wang C. 1961. The forests of China with a survey of grasslands and desert vegetation. Maria Moors Cabot Foundation Publication 5. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wang W.T., Wu S.G., Lang K.Y., Li P.Q., Pu F.T., and Chen S.K. (eds) 1994. Vascular plants of the Hengduan Mountains. Vol 1-2. Science Press, Beijing.

Wang X.P., Yang Z.H., Horng J.S., Iwatsuki K., Yong S.K., Hamilton A.C, and Davis S.D. 1995. Regional overview: China and East Asia. In Davis S.D., Heywood V.H., and Hamilton A.C. (eds), Centers of plant diversity. Information Press, Oxford.

Xiao P.G. 1991. The Chinese approach to medicinal plants – their utilization and conservation. In Akerele O., Heywood V.H. and Synge H. (eds), The conservation of medicinal plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.: 305-313.

back to top of this page