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Plant Focus

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U.S. Oaks in China Twenty Years after Their Introduction

I was invited to participate in a meeting organized by the Oak Union in China in Tancheng, Shandong Province from 5th Nov to 7th November, 2018. From the invitation letter I learnt that the Oak Union in China is a non-profit organization established three years ago in Jizhou, Hebei Province (near Beijing) by a group of oak growers. They organize a formal meeting each year, this being the third. In the high speed train station in Beijing I met a retired professor, Prof. Huoran Wang from the Chinese Academy of Forestry, and his wife, who were also invited to give a talk at the conference. During that trip I learnt that in the late 1990s Prof. Wang visited the United States several times and introduced about 15 species of U.S. oaks to China, with government support. However, after the introduction grants finished, there has been no continued support from the government for studying the performance of the species. Since then private companies took advantage of the introduction by Prof. Wang and tried to grow them, mainly in the south (e.g., Jiangsu, Anhui, Hubei, and Hunan Provinces), gradually expanding to the North (Shandong and Hebei Provinces).

Group photo in a private nursery: Back row, left to right: Mr. Tan, Mr. Wen the secretary of the Oak Union in China; Dr. Chen, Chinese Academy of Forestry (CAF). Front row: the author, Prof. Wang, Dr. Li (CAF); Mr. Zhang, president of the Union; Mr. Dang, local officer.

In this meeting there were about 150 participants, mainly the growers of U.S. oaks and some professors working on the evolution and ecological restoration of oak ecosystems. Of the 15 species introduced by Prof. Wang, 11 species performed well and have been widely planted in China: Quercus texana (syn. Q. nuttallii), Q. phellos, Q. rubra, Q. coccinea, Q. virginiana, Q. michauxii, Q. falcata, Q. palustris, Q. macrocarpa, Q. nigra, and Q. shumardii. In addition to the academic talks given by professors, there was a lively discussion about U.S. oaks in China, and “Best oak Plant companies” and “Best union members” awards were presented.

Group photo at the meeting

During my talk, following an introduction about my research, I also shared my experiences at the IOS Conference in UC Davis. I encouraged the local planters to also pay attention to the local species in China because China is a diversity center for oak species. Conservation and utilization of our local species are urgently needed. In addition, I tried to encourage them to collect acorns themselves: by collecting acorns they can discover more about oaks than by simply buying acorns from a seed company.

Taking advantage of the conference I also talked extensively with local growers. Compared to Europe and the United States, in China nurseries do not have private land and most of the growers rent land from farmers, in most cases for about 20-30 years. It may be possible to extend the land leases, but the uncertainty of the future also worried them. Because of the huge demand for trees for city development, the growers are very ambitious: many of them have planted thousands of oaks in less than 10 years. One of the local organizers for the meeting, Mr Jianmin Zhang (photo below), used to be one of the biggest gingko planters in China, but after the market for gingko shrank, he changed to growing oaks about five years ago. Now he owns about 2000 mu (about 133 ha) of U.S. oaks. He is passionate about trees, generous, and hospitable and I greatly enjoyed talking with him, although I sometimes struggled with his strong Shandong dialect! I encouraged him to contact a professional oak manager to try to discover the story of the trees. I wish all the growers of U.S. oaks in China success for their business!

The author with Mr. Jianmin Zhang, local grower with his four-year-old oak nursery in the background

Photos © Fang Du