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World's Largest Botanic Garden to Protect Rare Plants

13 October 2006
The world's largest botanical gardens: construction is already underway
 Qinling Mountain is the location for the 458 sqkm botanical garden

A botanical garden, intended to be the world's largest, is under construction in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, as the country doubles its efforts in rescuing endangered rare plants.

Shaanxi Provincial Government will cooperate with SFAC, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Xi'an Municipal Government to build the Qinling Mountain National Botanical Garden. With a 530 million yuan (US$66 million) investment from the central government, the gardens, covering 458 square kilometers, will protect a total of 6,100 rare plant species.

The Qinling Mountains serve as the natural demarcation line between southern and northern climates in China's mainland. It also provides a natural soil for various types of biological resources. Many national nature reserves have been established in Qinling, the country's largest group of nature reserves.

Traversing an altitude ranging from 460 meters to 3000 meters above sea level on the Qinling Mountain, the park will be used for ecological tourism, teaching purposes, scientific research and biodiversity protection.

Qinling, which is the watershed of the drainage areas of the Yangtze and the Yellow River, China's two longest rivers, divides northern temperate zones from subtropical zones.

When completed, it will be four times the size of Australia's Queensland Botanical Gardens, currently the world's largest, said Guo Daozhong, director of the Shaanxi Provincial Forestry Resources Administration Bureau.

"We plan to complete the project in 2008, and make the gardens a multi-functional botanical park for scientific research, botanical education, biodiversity conservation and eco-tourism," Guo said.

"With a north-south span of over 40 kilometers, the gardens will contain various eco-climates and contain 3,446 kinds of plants, 5,000 species of insects and more than 600 species of vertebrates including rare wild animals like pandas and golden monkeys,' said Shen Maocai, director of the gardens. This range includes plains, hills and high mountains.

The Qinling National Botanical Gardens are an enlargement of the existing Qinling Botanical Gardens, located in central Shaanxi's Zhouzhi County.

Apart from the 3,200 types of indigenous plants already under protection, some 900 temperate plant species and 2,000 tropical and subtropical plant species will be introduced.

Huang Hongwen, director of the Wuhan Botany Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that within the next 15 years, the number of rare plant species protected by the academy's 12 affiliated botanical gardens will be raised from the present 13,000 to 21,000.

Moreover, the academy plans to invest 300 million yuan (about 36.14 million US dollars) on the collection of endangered rare plants and the establishment of gene pools in different climatic zones.

Currently, around 10 percent of the world's most advanced plants, or 31,000 kinds, can be found in China. Of them, a range of 4,000 to 5,000 are endangered.

"The extinction of plants will not only damage the ecology but also affect people's normal production and life," Huang said.

According to Huang, around one-fourth of the world's pharmaceuticals are extracted directly from plants or made with plants as the raw materials.

However, owing to the deteriorating natural environment and human interference, many plant species have become extinct over the past decades.

To rescue those endangered plants and secure biodiversity, Huang said, the academy hoped to team up with the country's 140 botanical gardens to provide better protection to the total of 30,000 advanced plant species in China.

"We plan to complete the project in 2008, and make the gardens a multi-functional botanical park for scientific research, botanical education, biodiversity conservation and eco-tourism," Guo said.

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