In 1910, in the valley of Sichuan’s Min River, a group was on an arduous trek. The leader of this trek, a man named Wilson, was being carried by two others in a bamboo sedan chair. They had been traveling for days in search of a wildflower called The Regal Lily. As they were walking, a rockslide came without warning and the group was unable to avoid the huge rocks falling from the mountain. Once everything had settled, Wilson found that one of his legs was buried under the rocks and smashed completely. He moaned in agony, took out his camera tripod, and bonded it to his leg. Three days later, the group returned to civilization but he was left with a limp. Years later we would mock his limp and obsession with the Regal Lily referring to his walk as the “lily limp.”
Wilson was a botanist and a collector who left the UK at the age of 23 and traveled to America and Asia in search of rare plants. He first spent time at the Boston Arnold Botanic Institute to study how to transport and store seeds and plants. Then he came to China, in search of the Chinese dove tree. After China, he made his way to Japan and collected 63 kinds of cherry flowers. Years later, he introduced these species to Europe and America. Later on, another botanist recieved some azalea seeds from Wilson, and successfully cultivated difference species of them.
Wilson’s enthusiasm helped to spread these now well-known flowers throughout the world. As an amateur botany enthusiast, I don’t know much about flowers. However I have begun to notice connections between the places I visit and the flowers that grow there. Many years ago, Ernest Henry Wilson and his “lily limp” became famous in Yunnan, and today I passed the path that he went down. And as I’ve traveled I’ve found evidence of the flowers and seeds that Wilson helped to spread throughout the world. In the spirit of springtime, here are some of the flower connections I’ve found during my travels:
The Blue Poppy. National flower of Bhutan. Also found in China’s Yunnan province.
Southwest of Lijiang, about a two hours drive, there is a habitat for golden monkeys. Last year, I went hiking with Jack from the Yunnan natural reservation foundation, and went past a stream. There were the Blue Poppies. I didn’t know at the time that it is also the national flower of Bhutan.
The Rhododendron. National flower of Nepal. Known as the “beauty” of Yunnan and Sichuan’s high-plateaus. Also found in Boston, Washington D.C. and Switzerland.
Many of those who have been to Yunnan know about Dr. Lock in Lijiang. He is the Wilson of our time and has collected Rhododendrons for many years.
Chinese Wildlife photographer Xi Zhinong also noted that 60% of the Rhododendrons in the world have spread from Yunnan’s Huangduan mountain area. His favorite is the Azalea in Baima Snow Mountain. We went trekking there years ago on a frozen February day. We only found evergreen azalea trees.
The Cherry Blossom. We automatically think of Japan, but this flower can be found around the world.
I’ve found these flowers at Dali College in Yunnan, which is filled with cherry trees.
In Boston, every April, the last two miles of Boston Marathon ends in the Boston Common Park area. When you are tired at the end of the run and surrounded by the cheering crowd, the flower petals fall upon you with the breeze, and a new stream of strength runs through your body.
Every year, there are cherry blossom festivals across America, one in Washington D.C. from March to May, and one in San Francisco, hosted in Japantown.
In Bhutan, there is a Cherry Blossom festival every year, held in the Lamperi Botanic Garden. Blended with art exhibitions and dance performances, this is a festival for cultural celebration and tasty street snacks.