Cultivating interest

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-07-06 07:04:37

 Cultivating interest

A statue in the Nanjing Botanical Garden honors the famous herbalist Li Shizhen (1518-1593). The great doctor wrote a famous textbook, A Compendium of Material Medica. Mike Peters / China Daily

Cultivating interest

Mother of all gardens

Cultivating interest

Tourists view Chinese roses in Beijing Botanical Garden 
The life of He Shan'an shows sometimes being a botanist means shooting trees with a gun. Mike Peters speaks with the 'godfather of China's botanical gardens'.

In 1980, five US plant scientists came to China for both herbarium study and "botanizing" fieldwork. Two years later, five Chinese experts went to the United States in a reciprocal visit. It was the first such exchange since World War II. "It was most thrilling for the Chinese scientists, who had previously had no opportunity to go to a Western country for such research," says professor He Shan'an, who helped to host the Americans and was later part of the traveling Chinese research team.

"But it was also very important for the US scientists, whose China collections were old - and based on a selection of plants that was very small."

He, now retired as the director of the Nanjing Botanical Garden, has lived his life among passionate botanists but likes to joke that he's no such thing.

"As a boy I was fascinated by foods from Western countries. The Sunkist orange! Amazing!" he says, chuckling.

His father would cut a grapefruit in half and put sugar on two sections, but not before young He had a good look.

"Morning meant milk and Quaker Oats," He says.

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