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Turpan Eremophyte Botanic Garden, Academia Sinica, China

Volume 2 Number 7 - December 1996

Pan Borong

The Turpan Eremophyte Botanic Garden, Academia Sinica is affiliated to the Xinjiang Institute of Biology, Pedology and Desert Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is about 210km from Urumqi City and 10km southeast of the centre of Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Northwest China with a longitude of 89º11'E, a latitude of 40º51'N, and altitude of -95 to -76 metres below sea level.

It has a continental arid desert climate of a warm temperate zone. Its landform is the improved shifting sand land in the hinterland of the Turpan Basin which is the second lowest ground level in the world and has long been known as the "Wind Pool". The maximum wind velocity is over 40m/s which has the greatest speed of windblown sand in China.

The annual average temperature 13.9øC with an average minimum temperature in January of -9.5ºC (Minimum temperature: -28.ºC). The average temperature in July is 32.7ºC (Maximum temperature: 47.6ºC). The maximum temperature of sand surface in summer is over 80ºC. The annual average precipitation is 16.4mm, the annual evaporation is 3000mm and average relative humidity is 41.0%. The mean frost free period is 268.2 days. The zonal soil is the primary gray-brown desert soil, water table is 8-10m, the pH value of soil is 8.6-9.1.

The Turpan Eremophyte Botanic Garden was founded in 1976, when a 7 ha area of sand land was planted with desert arboreal plants under the joint management of several institutions. A key project of the Biology Department of the Academia Sinica "Study on the introduction and cultivation of fine-sand binder Plants" was undertaken by this Garden in 1982. During the project, the garden received special funds from the Chinese Academy of Sciences for roads, drainage, irrigation networks, equipment and also laboratories and office buildings. The area was enlarged to 34 ha.

The purpose of the Garden is to collect a wide range of arid desert plants, to show the characteristics of the desert flora. There are more than 400 species of eremophyte (desert plants) in this garden, and it has become the research centre for the collection and conservation of eremophytes of the arid desert regions of China.

Special Gardens

The Eremophyte Systematic Garden was established in 1976 and arranged according to the system of Engler. Almost 400 species of eremophyte belonging to 200 genera of 60 families have been introduced and cultivated. Of these species, 43 are rare and endangered with the national protection category of two or three. Taxa with distinctive desert features are Tamarix spp., Calligonum spp., Ammopiptanthus spp., Nitraris spp., Glycyrrhiza spp. and Haloxylon spp. The collection represents more than 80% of the plants from the desert regions of China.

The tamarisk collection founded in 1992 covers 8 ha. 17 species of Tamarix have been planted which account for 50% of the Chinese taxa. The Tamaricaceae (3 genera) is an ancient family that plays a key role in the desert vegetation of China. Several species of Tamarix are endemic to this area. The establishment of a Tamarisk collection is worthwhile for the systematic study of the formation and evolution of the flora of an arid region, phylogeny of the family, and the protection and sustainable utilization of its diversity.

The National Medicinal Herb Garden was founded in 1992, with an area of 0.5 ha. Primarily it will be a collection of medicinal herbs of Uygur in Xinjiang but will also have herbs from other areas such as Kazak and Mongolia. There are now more than 50 species in the collection. This collection will be useful for studies on ethnobotany and the conservation of biological diversity and be of ornamental interest in the garden.

Tourists are able to see the artificial Calligonum forest, typical shifting-sand and wind-eroded landscape, Karez - a special underground canal and ruins of an ancient city buried by sand. There are introduction nurseries, an orchard and a display area for specimens of plant and animal. Areas of rare and endangered plants, wildflowers, aromatic plants and an arboretum for precious ornamentals will be set up during the "Ninth Five-year Plan" of China.


Since the Garden was founded, the following projects were completed:

  • Study on large-scale sand-binder afforestation in Turpan Prefecture (1973-1980);
  • Study on Capparis spinosa and its planting techniques (1973-1978);
  • Study on introduction, seedling-raising and afforestation of Tamarix (1978-1985);
  • Study on introduction and cultivation of fine-sand binder plants (1983-1986);
  • Study on introduction and comprehensive utilization of Cyperus esculentus (1974-1977);
  • Study on afforestation using Cyamopsis (1975-1979); Experiments on seedling raising and afforestation with high molecular water-absorptive resin on extreme arid desert land (1984-1988);
  • Study on biological characteristics and artificial propagation of licorice (1982-1987);
  • Study on introduction and its features of rare & endangered eremophytes in Xinjiang (1987-1990).

Besides these projects, population distribution, taxonomy, physiology, ecology, morphology, anatomy and cytology of Tamarix, Calligonum, Nitraria and Glycyrrhiza have been studied.

Although this is a young garden, some achievements in scientific research and social benefit have been gained. Fine-sand binder plants such as Tamarix, Calligonum and Haloxylon have been distributed to desert regions of China. The studies on the introduction and cultivation of Tamarix laid the foundations for building large-scale sand-binder and fuel forests in the south of Xinjiang. The study on the introduction and cultivation of medical eremophytes such as Glycyrrhiza and Ephedra provided the technology and information for the practical development and use of eremophytes resources. Furthermore, in order to improve the utilization of sand land, some economic plants such as Chinese Wolfberry (Lycium chinese), Cyperus esculentus, Xanthoceras sorbifolia and Cyamopsis were introduced successfully.

Present research programmes being initiated are:

  • Study of the conservation of germplasm resources of cultivated plants and the introduction of indigenous species in eremophyte gardens
  • Study on Tamarix in China and the conservation of biological diversity
  • The introduction and cultivation of Lithospermum sp. in Xinjiang
  • The conservation of the biological diversity of germplasm resources of special, rare and endangered plants in desert areas of Xinjiang

There are 5-6 scientific researchers and 6-7 technical and auxiliary staff in the Garden. There is a herbarium, library and computer room, laboratories for seedling research, morphology, anatomy, physiology and an exhibition, and meeting room. The collection includes 1,000 seed accessions, 5,000 herbarium sheets and more than 2,000 books. There is a simple greenhouses (150mý), two nurseries for the introduction of plants that only grow on sand (psammophytes) and an automatic meteorological station.

Apart from the emphasis on primary and practical research in this Garden, there are over 1,000 tourists each year, which includes visitors, students and scholars from both home and abroad. This Garden has become the centre for field work, education and popular science in the arid desert region of China.