Our Chinese Cycad Connection - SB Independent

By Jeff Chemnick on Aug 30, 2016 at 02:03 PM in Newspaper Articles

Earlier this year, Lotusland research associate Jeff Chemnick traveled with his wife, UCSB marine science and policy advisor Satie Airame, to China in search of rare cycads, an ancient plant that still thrives there. Specifically interested in Cycas debaoensis, the couple, along with a research team, went to the remote Fuping Valley in Guangxi, which is the only place this species of cycad grows.

Most of the forest that the plant used to grow in is now cut down, but people left the cycads alone, since they are considered “attractive and ornamental.” Villagers made the decision to protect and conserve these plants by starting a nursery with cycad researchers, and when the plants grow, the villagers return some to the wild, hand-pollinate others to produce more seeds, and sell the rest for profit. In the future, the Guangxi Forestry Department hopes to take over the nursery in order to better promote conservation and appreciation of the uncommon plant.

The researchers’ goal was to continue with an international conservation project that was created in 1999 by Liu Nian and William Tang to address both the needs of the Fuping Valley residents and the cycad species. Chemnick, Airame, and the rest of the team surveyed the rare species of cycads, shared knowledge with Chinese researchers, and helped the Cycad School, which is the only structured education in the area, and has 200 elementary-level students who all come from farming families.

Over the years of research in the Fuping Valley, relationships have strengthened between the scientists and the locals, and funds have been given to the school for building and improvement. The research team this year donated two computers to help teachers and students gain access to the internet.

As for their plant studies, the researchers studied the population of Cycas debaoensis, mapping the locations of each plant, identifying the sex of each plant, and measuring the length of each leaf. With this information, villagers and scientists can keep track of how many plants exist, which will also help in knowing whether there is illegal collecting of the plant in the future.

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