a botanical garden born from the sand of Tourfan

The Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China is the only botanical garden below sea level in the world. It was once a land of grassless quicksand, but through the continuous efforts of scientists for more than 40 years, this desolate place has turned green, and more than 500 types of salt- and drought-tolerant desert plants are growing.

a botanical garden born from the sand of Tourfan

Desert plants bloom in the botanical garden of the Tourfan Desert in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (Jiang Xiaoming / Pic.people.com.cn)

In the last century, the desert’s botanical garden lay in a desert, and 90,000 mu of wind erosion and quicksand were a source of wind and sand that threatened the production and living areas on its lower edge. Pan Birong, a researcher at the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that Tourfan is plagued by wind and sand every spring, causing severe damage to agriculture. “In the beginning, we did not go to Tourfan to build a botanical garden. At that time, we had to combat desertification at the invitation of the local government, “he said, adding that” it was only after the effects of controlling desertification were achieved that it was possible to gradually plan a botanical garden “.

Through field studies and nationwide research, depending on the local climate, soil properties and wind-blown sand, researchers began to introduce sand-fixing plants from different sandy areas in northeastern western China, and more than 10 kinds of plants that are particularly effective for wind resistance, sand fixation and drought resistance. , such as Calligonum mongolicum, Haloxylon ammodendron, Salix mandshurica or Populus euphratica have been successfully selected. In 1975, after careful planning and design, researchers planned the construction of the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden, the first botanical garden in Xinjiang, in a large area of ​​artificial forest of sand-fixing shrubs, to better introduce and collect all kinds of plants in dry and desert areas and breeds and cultivates them.

A red Gobi arrow in the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (Jiang Xiaoming / Pic.people.com.cn)

After conducting experiments again and again in a hostile environment, the species in the botanical garden have been gradually enriched. After the stabilization of the sand-fixation, the desert gradually became a place of life. Standing on the viewing platform of the Botanical Garden, you can see that grapes have been planted around it and that local residents have come to live there. “These are the results of decades of continuous sand-fixing,” said Dr. Wang Xiyong, Assistant Researcher at Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

According to Wang Xiyong, the Botanical Garden has currently introduced more than 500 species of cultivated plants, including nearly 60 species of rare and endangered endemic plants in the desert; the normal and low temperature germplasm resource bank has been established and more than 600 species and 3,500 copies of desert plant resources have been effectively preserved for a long time. In addition, the Botanical Garden has built 12 distinctive botanical gardens or areas such as the Special Garden of Desert Economic Fruits and Trees, the Special Garden of Desert Wild Ornamental Plants and the Special Garden of Tamarix Plants. The Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden can be said to be the botanical garden with the largest number of ex situ protected desert plant resources in China. In addition to sand-binding plants, there are also medicinal plants. If artificial cultivation technology is developed, there is no need to dig in wild areas. which can also reduce desertification caused by plant excavation, ”said Wang Xiyong.

Tourists visit the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (Jiang Xiaoming / Pic.people.com.cn)

Since its inception, the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden has embarked on a development approach to “promote the creation of the garden through scientific research”. After hundreds of desert-growing plants arrive at the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, after being selected by scientific researchers, they are moved from here to the forefront of the struggle to control and prevent desertification in northern China.

In the Taklamakan Desert, the largest desert in China, sand-fixing plants such as red willow, Haloxylon ammodendron and Calligonum mongolicum are scattered along a highway that crosses the desert, effectively preventing damage caused by wind and sand on the highway. The world’s longest desert highway completed 436 kilometers of greener in 2005, and the Sand Prevention Forest Belt added a breath of life to the desert. The plants used for this purpose were selected from the Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden.

Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden has developed desert plant resources that have been successfully introduced and cultivated. It has supplied millions of desert seedlings and more than 50 tonnes of seeds for the “Three Norths” windbreak project, namely desertification prevention and control project, Farmland Conversion Project in forests and grasslands, the desert road catchment project and the project to build urban protection green areas in arid areas positive contributions to the promotion of the fight against desertification and the development of the sand industry.

Currently, researchers are concentrating on genetic research. “Drought-resistant and salt-tolerant genes from desert plants are extracted and used to plant crops through gene editing. At present, we have been successful in cotton planting research and there are already mature applications in the experimental field,” explained Zhang Daoyuan, director of Tourfan Desert Botanical Garden.

(By Li Yanan, People’s Daily Reporter)

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