Chinese researchers, Elizabeth Arnold
Researchers field conversations.
Jan Salick, Elizabeth Arnold
Hu Huabin, Jan Salick, Elizabeth Arnold
Zhendong Fang, Jan Salick
Botany discussions with Elizabeth Arnold.
Jan Salick, Elizabeth Arnold
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
8 Oct 2005
- Daxue Mountain Range
- 29.59501 101.87913
- 46:51 - 49:00
- Sennheiser MKH 40
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS stereo. Sonosax pre-amps used.
Reporter: Elizabeth Arnold
Engineer: Leo DelAguila
Interviews With: Jan Salick, Hu Hua Bin [sp?] Professor of Landscape Ecology, Fang Jen Dong [sp?] Director of Shangri-La botanical garden, Chindru [sp?] Tibetan Doctor.
Logged By: ESN
LdA: DAT 2, same recording technique, stereo MS sennheisers 40/30, 40 is the mid, 30 is the side, high up somewhere in the Himalayans and this group of researchers is taking measurements on steep hill.
sounds of researchers taking measurements, speaking to each other in Chinese
JS: Quong, could you tell him that he missed the 10 meter mark over on that far side?
Quong: 10 meter mark? Where?
JS: He's putting string between all the 10 meter marks
Q: Umm Hmm.
JS: and he missed the one on the far side over there. It doesn't reach.
Q: Oh [Chinese]
JS: No, no, not him.
JS: Uh...Alan, Alain, down below.
JS: But that far one didn't hit the 10 meter mark.
7:13-9:20 researchers speaking Chinese
LdA: rearranging, informal talking.
EA, LdA: informal talking. ¿3 languages on top of each other.¿
JS: So, My name is Jan, J-A-N, Salick, S-A-L-I-C-K, and, I, uh, Dr. Jan Salick, I'm a curator of ethnobotany at the Missouri botanical garden. Ok?
EA: recently you were just saying about that something was off. What does it matter? Why does it have to be so exact?
JS: Uh, parts of this are very exact and parts are really not so exact but the, the main thing is that people have to be able to come back 10 years from now and lay out exactly the same plots that we are now. So even though, even though in the larger quadrants that you see here, these big areas, um, it's not so exact because we're just, you know, saying which plants are there and, and relatively how many plants, you know, if they're common, if they're dominant, if they're rare.
JS: But in 10 years time, somebody coming back and trying to set up this whole thing again, trying to find all these little pieces of re-bar that we've stuck into the mountain and so on, if we aren't fairly exactly they're never going to find them again. It's hard, hard enough for us to find the same peak over again, much less set up these plots again. So, it's, we have to be as careful as we can so that people 10 years from now can find it.
EA: And what's going on now, like, in one of these micro plots here?
JS: They do two things in those micro-plots. One is they estimate percent cover of any given species so if you look at some of these plots with rhododendrons, most of the plot will be covered with rhododendron, um, but some of the rarer species, there may be just a small percentage, so they estimate percent, but that's - an estimate of percent is very subjective, you know. One person may say one thing and another another thing. So in order to get it a little more quantitative they also do frequency counts so in each of those little 10 by 10 centimeter squares they're saying whether or not a species is found in that 10 centimeter square.
EA: Oh, and not only what's there, what's not there.
JS: Right, exactly. So, umm, that's that's probably the most reliable count. You know, whether something is present in that little, little square or not is, you know, is pretty reliable that they can, if it's there, they, they'll see it. So, umm, it's just a different ¿ we have all different degrees of accuracy in this study. From ¿ok, so what are the plants on this mountain¿ kind of thing down to this, you know, ¿in that small square what's there and what isn't.¿ So.
EA: Is there a language barrier issue here?
JS: Yes. Well you've seen some of it. We definitely have some challenges. You know I went out and I saw that somebody had laid a string in the wrong place and I had to come back and find somebody who could translate for me, and, so there are definitely some language problems here. I, I speak some - I, I went into science 'cause I'm bad at languages and I already speak 5 languages, but that's not enough. You know, I'm always going somewhere where they speak something else and to be really effective here I'd have to speak both Tibetan and Chinese and that's, that's tough.
EA: What are they recording it in right now, I mean, what are they taking these names down in?
JS: In, in Latin. So that's our common language in botany, in science our common language is Latin so we have our Latin scientific names for all that plants and that's what we write down and then they just mark X's on whether it's present or not. So, on the sheets of paper, language is not an issue. You know, it's just in communicating.
EA: Because we're hearing Chinese and Tibetan and Latin.
JS: And Latin, right, exactly. So, and English of course.
EA: So what typically are they finding here?
JS: So, uh, well, um, it depends on the elevation very much. What, what the plants are that they're finding. In this particular site that we're looking at now, the rhododendrons are, umm, are very common. If you go over onto the other side, you'll see many fewer rhododendrons. Uh, so, umm, I guess those are the dominant species that are here right now. Yesterday when we were at a higher elevation near 5000 meters, we didn't have, we had, I think, 3 rhododendrons in the whole summit area.
JS: Umm, and there we found completely different species and nothing was dominant. You know, they're very scattered individual plants that are growing, umm, the cushion plants might have been the ones that took up the most space there and I think on the other side here as well the cushion plants are, may be dominant. So, it depends on what, what direction you're facing, what elevation you're at, umm, and so on. So it, it, there is a certain amount of variety in this work. It's kind of nitpicking small stuff, but you do get to see a lot of different kinds of plants.
EA: It's labor-intensive.
JS: Oh, It's, oh yeah, well, you see a team of 10 out here, you know, and everyone is doing something at all moments and, uh, there just aren't enough Fun Jen Dongs [?] around, you know, he's the one that has to do everything because he's the expert on what the plants are.
EA: He knows what all of this is.
JS: Yeah. Right, right. Well, some of them he has to check, you know. Some of them - we're vouchering all the species -
EA: Which means?
JS: We take samples outside of the plots, we take samples of the plants and we make herbarium specimens. We dry them and, and press them. Take herbarium specimens, we talk to the doctor about what they're used for and then we take them back to the herbaria and verify the, uh, identification of the plants. So, uh, whether he knows exactly what every plant is is almost irrelevant because we do voucher them and, and determine, determine what species are later on as well.
EA: Are there a number of medicinal plants just around here where we are or are they pretty rare?
JS: No, I would say overall just over 50% of the plants are medicinal to some extent.
JS: Now they're not all used, you know, there are some that are more important than others and we'll talk to the doctor later about the uses of the different plants. But, overall, in almost any environment you get over 50% of the plants are used for something. So, not only medicinals ¿ medicnals are the most common category, but for foods, for pastures, for all different dyes, uh, umm, fibers, so on, so plants, there's no doubt about it, plants are the basis of human existence and there's no place you can see it more than in traditional societies where they still depend on it everyday.
EA: And yet probably back in the States, a lot of the drugs that we take come from a lot of these plants and we just don't know, we just take it for granted.
JS: Right, right, well, I can't remember the figures off the top of my head, but if you go into the average drugstore, you find that almost, umm, the great majority of the medicines are based on natural compounds. Now we may be synthesizing that compound now, but we found out about that compound originally from plants. You know the most obvious one is aspirin, you know, that came from willows originally. And so, we, now we synthesize aspirin but we never would have discovered it on our own ¿ it's a very complicated molecule.
JS: And, uh, you know, the most ¿ to this day we can't synthesize hormones, because they're such complicated molecules, and so we have to grow the plants and then change all of the little bells and whistles on the end of the molecule to make the hormone that we want, but a lot of these chemicals we can't even synthesize. We can change them slightly but there's a limit to what chemistry can do.
EA: So where will all this data go?
JS: [laughs] Aside from our notebooks here and our sheets of papers. We'll use the data to analyze, to find out what the difference in plants, uh, we'll analyze the data and publish those results and so on, so that data will be there. But there's also a permanent database that's associated with Gloria and that's available online ¿ anyone can go on and see that database but all the information about the plants that are found on all these mountaintops around the world are in a database online.
EA: And that's the whole point, is to create a baseline.
JS: Right, exactly, so that people around the world can compare different parts of the world so that over time we can make comparisons, and so that this data is available. So more and more frequently, especially with the National Science Foundation or something, they'll often make the requirement that if they give you funds to do research, that you have to publish your raw data online so that it's all available. It's becoming a more common practice which I think is great, you know, we all have rights of first publication within each project, so we will publish these data ourselves first, but then after that the whole world ¿ it's available for everyone.
EA: Now here's a really stupid question, but one that I had, in that, why is it that in an alpine environment, you can see change so much better than a lower elevation environment.
JS: Well, only because you're at the extremes, you know, and often you can see change at the extremes it's kind of the tail at the end of the dog, you know, it's wagging a little more violently than the rest of the animals. Now there is change everywhere, you know, we can all recognize the change in global warming wherever we are, but in the alpine environments, you're just at that extreme and some of these plants are growing just at the extreme of ¿ so if it warms up at all, those plants will react to that global warming.
EA: It's just magnified at a higher elevation.
JS: Exactly, exactly. And there's nothing above ¿ you know, there's, you go from where there are plants to where there are no longer plants. There's an elevation at which plants cannot grow today, but maybe in ten years from now plants can grow at that elevation. We're just working at the extremes.
[Sound of hail? Snow? Hitting jackets throughout interview]
EA: Is there an equal enthusiasm on the part of the Chinese and the Tibetans on learning all this?
JS: Well, you can look at it here and, umm, they're out here under terrible conditions and in much worse clothing than we have, and they are just absolutely committed and, and, uh, doing this very much in their own ¿ I would not be able to convince them to do this. On the other hand, whether or not they would have done this without a larger Gloria project, without the funding from National Geographic Society, probably not, but, umm, they're just the hardest working most dedicated people I've seen, they, umm, I've never worked in a place where I find that my collaborators work harder than I do, because I'm usually the one that's out there pushing and so on. But here, these guys are amazing, they really work very very hard, lots of enthusiasm.
EA: Are the governments as interested?
JS: Uh¿the Chinese government is one of these governments that responds very quickly to problems that they see, um, a few years ago there were floods in China that were devastating, many people were killed, and the next year they outlawed, they banned logging. In the entire country. It was just from one day to the next.
JS: Now there are very few places in the world where you can make drastic changes like that, you know, it has to go through congress and the senate, and, you know, all the political ramifications of change in other parts of the world, here it can be done very quickly, so, I think the Chinese government, if they think that global warming is an issue, I think that they can make change probably quicker than we ever can.
EA: Is it too early for you to tell as an ethnobotanist whether you should be worried about what's going on up here?
JS: Well, umm, I think we know that there are some things that we need to be concerned about, over-harvesting of certain plants, we know that we're getting more and more data on small factors. Whether or not we need to be worried about global climate change as affecting the human population, at this point it's probably a little early to know the answer, I mean, that's why we're asking the question, but we know enough to be concerned, so that's why we're out here in the snow doing this [laughs].
EA: Crawling around on the mountain.
JS: Right. We do have evidence, we have, from pictures that were taken almost a hundred years ago of glaciers in this area, we know that the glaciers have been retreating dramatically.
[35:38-36:17] Informal talking with LdA
36:17 EA: We know from pictures¿
JS: Yeah, we know from pictures of the early botanical explorers in this region that the glaciers are much smaller than they used to be, so, umm, shorter, they're, kind of got bigger holes in them, they're different shape than they used to be, so that's pretty strong evidence that there is climate change of some sort going on here. There's little doubt in my mind that things are changing pretty drastically. What effect that has on the plants and what effect that change in the plants has on the people, that's all part of this research, so, I won't anticipate the results until we get them, but we're pretty certain that something's going on.
EA: Even in the five years that you've been doing this, have you noticed change?
JS: Well, not so ¿ you can see the change in the glaciers. The glaciers have bigger holes in them and they're shorter than they were five years ago even. So you can see that change. As far as the plants, I can't really see change that quickly. The biggest change I see is in the culture, the cultural change and the revival of Tibetan medicine, Tibetan culture, and this kind of international interest in Tibetan medicine that's driving a lot of plants to extinction, that's a problem.
EA: Because for a period of time, they couldn't really use that traditional knowledge, is that a..
JS: Well, they could, but it wasn't as much a part of the culture. The medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Tibetan medicine were still practiced, but in a very separate from the culture and completely ¿ so there was no Buddhist religion involved in it and so on, and it wasn't internationally as well recognized twenty years ago as it is now.
EA: Yeah, there's a big boom.
JS: Oh, it's huge, it's huge, yeah. And any time I tell people that I'm studying Tibetan medicine it's: ¿Oh! Do you know where I can get a hold of this or that?¿ You know, a lot of people come to me as a supplier and I'm, you know, I'm not willing to do that. That's not my job and I'm worried about the effects of that, so.
EA: So there's people out there harvesting this stuff?
JS: Yeah, we'll go to some of the pharmacies in Jung-dian and Dequin just so you can see them selling the same medicinal plants that you're looking at today, and you can see them selling it, and there are people that are harvesting it in different ways. The Tibetan doctor that we're working with here harvests a little bit for his patients and for local use and that doesn't seem to have tremendous effect on the plant populations, but then you get these commercial harvesters that are out there for a much larger market and that is whats really causing problems.
EA: And that's really exploded in the last¿
39:41 JS: Right, in the last, probably 10-15 years, yeah.
39:44-44:10 rearranging¿faint voices in background, speaking English, Chinese.
44:11 Hu-hua Bin: I'm Hu-hua Bin, professor of landscape ecology? In [Shishumbanna?] Tropical Perennial Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
EA: Well, thank for you talking with us, we really appreciate it.
HB: My pleasure.
EA: Tell me what, what, what you're doing out here.
HB: Out here? Well, overall, doing a project called global observation research in alpine environment. Which means to monitor the flora change in the summit areas of the high mountains, to monitor the change of ground composition in all directions, the four directions, for each summit, the whole area, we call it 'tagged region'. We select four summits, yes, but here in this region we have only three because we couldn't find another one [laughs].
EA: It's hard work.
45:25 HB: Yes, Really hard work, yeah.
EA: Why is it important to you?
HB: Uh, for my participation in this program, in this project, Jan Salick invited me to be here, my purpose, why, because I'm working in the tropical area, not so much familiar with alpine plants, I know a little bit about [?] here. The other components is the ethnobotanical work or ethnoecological work, how pronounce or used by the indigenous people, here is Tibetan people, used for medicine and other uses, make for worship, for animals, like that, yeah.
EA: So you're usually based in this Szechwan area?
46:21 HB: Yeah, no. I'm based in tropical, in [?], in Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, that's the tropical area. In the southwest Yunnan province.
EA: Very different from here.
HB: Very different, yeah. I'm here helping them [?] the plant survey and, we also intend to study the land-use change longterm, landuse change, for this project.
EA: But this is why you're cold right now, this is not typical for you. Are the plants very different here than where you usually work.
47:06 HB: Of course. Very different. And no..no similar plants to tropical area.
EA: Is it important to your government, do you think, what you're doing?
HB: Because the uh¿not only our government, it's a global program. I think the main purpose is to monitor the changes in climate change, whether the climates gets warmer, the plant composition would be different or the elevation of the plant distribution would be getting higher in 10, 20, or 50 years later. It's just a symbol of or indicator of climate change in the long run.
EA: So it's good to have an understanding of it as it's happening.
48:06 HB: Yes, uh, that's right.
48:18 EA: Jan, why is it important for you to be working here with him and have him part of your team.
JS: Uh, Hu Hua-bin brings several skills that add a lot to the project. For one thing he's trained as an ethnobotanist, as he mentioned. He's also trained in ecological analysis. Fun Jen Dong is our taxonomist, so he knows the plants, but Hu Hua-bin knows how to analyze the distribution of plants and so on, so he plays an important role as an ecologist as well as an ethnobotanist. And he's just a very good scientist and I've known him for several years now and I've wanted to work with him on a project so this is a particularly good opportunity and he's, and he's, and he's game enough to come all the way up here in such miserable weather when he's used to working in wonderful tropical places.
EA: And he refuses to wear hiking boots.
49:22 JS: To wear reasonable shoes, yes, he's very proud of being tough.
HB: I'm not usually wearing hiking boots. I have another pair that's not suit for this topography.
EA: Is this work important to you too, I mean, as a scientist?
HB: I think so.
EA: Why? Why is that?
HB: I can also gain more knowledge about plants in different landscape, and also I can also learn something from Dr. Jan Salick, ethnobotany, how she does ethnobotanical research in this area with the Tibetan people.
EA: Do you think this project will continue for a long time?
HB: We hope so. Because this is the first time we laid out all the plots here, but if this is a long-term project we may have to seek for additional support, international or national support.
EA: So that what you've done here will continue and other people can use this information.
HB: Yes, because our data will be published and also uploaded onto webserver. Everybody can use it.
EA: Is there anything that's been a surprise to you up here?
50:46 HB: Yeah, surprise, of course. Firstly, I think the landscape is really surprise to us.
50:55 HB: Very different, yeah. It's also my first time to climb such a high place.
EA: I'm surprised there're even plants up here.
51:05 HB: [?]. I thought at this high mountain, at this high altitude, there should be no plants, only scree, or sand, snow covers.
EA: Feng, can you tell me why you're involved with this whole project.
FJ: Why¿ok. Yeah, umm¿I have been take part in the alpine project of TNC. This is alpine [modak?] because [?] project. This project is to lend alpine, to lay an understand alpine, and to alsoYunann. And this year, uh, one of leader, Renee? Leave TNC office in China and they ask me to be responsible for this alpine project of TNC. And also we have been doing this project for many years, for three years in northwest Yunnan, so this Gloria project is another new project which can be really, that can feed to each other very well, Gloria, because this project have been carried on in Europe but they have not set up any new Gloria sites in Asia, also in tropical and subtropical area. So, it's very lucky that Jan Salick¿actually, we have cooperated for many years in this region. He do some ethnobotany project towards the northwestern Yunnan and Shangrila botanic garden, do something for them, so species identification, something else. So this year we found out¿cooperation opportunity because of the Gloria project and alpine ecosystem project. These two different project, but they came through together pretty well.
EA: It's hard work. Hard, difficult work.
FJD: It's hard work, yeah. Because like Jan, when we do some work in western Yunnan, he cannot come to this high altitude¿he's not a¿but this time he visit every [centimeter?], which prove he can¿it's possible for him to do. But today is a really harder day in every day we do the further work.
EA: That's cause we're here, that's why it's hard today.
FJD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because we have told the weather helicopter there is a storm coming from north.
EA: Why do you want to do it? Why do you want to be involved in this and do this work.
FJD: For me? Yes, umm, when we're built the ShangriLa Botanic Garden, this garden is relatively new garden, we built this garden for 7 years, also we need to do some research work with some contribution from [?]. For me it's my career study botany, and study flora in this region also study the vegetation types in this region. It's also helpful for understand this, to do other project in this region.
EA: Are you worried at all that it's changing, that the plants are changing, that the things are changing?
FJD: Yeah, we're worried about that. Yeah.
EA: Why is it important for you to have Feng with you on this?
57:44 JS: Feng's just the greatest collaborator that we have. I've been working with him since I first came to China and he has dedicated himself to the alpine flora of China so he knows this flora better than anyone else in the area and he has been out to all regions of Yunnan and Szechwan and parts of Tibet, he knows the flora better than anyone else, he's the perfect collaborator and we're trying to support this new botanical garden that he is the director of, he's the founder of, and he's put his life's work on the line with this botanical garden, so we're very pleased if we can support his efforts with the botanical garden in any way we can.
EA: You were saying to me that he's sort of the last person to look at some of these plots too because he's the man.
JS: Right, he does more work on this project than anyone else because he has to check all the plants and make sure that we all know what the species are and in different regions the species change and he, we're, we collect the vouchers and he's the person that goes through all the vouchers and identifies them, so, umm, this project would not be possible without Feng.
EA: Can you guys do one thing for me and we can go over to a plot and you can tell me what's there?
59:31-1:02:11 [Finding plot and setting up]
FJD: We record the color of every species and also calculate their frequency in this plant community and there are some species where¿for example, this plot, the dominant [shrub?] is this kind of rhododendron [argany-foom?], on this one, another type of rhododendron is [microphallusa?] [?]. Another really tiny thing is this [cotto-opa pectinata?]. This plant community is a little less disturbed so it's poor in species.
FJD: Some of the dominant is [nabaska?] plant, like a moss and lichen, and there's usually this kind of plant community has no great contribution to relgious people. But some big [shrubs?]¿people, they're grazing in alpine area, they came collecting some food, collecting some shrub as food. It's kind of..uh¿some medicinal plants in this plant community like [boscania?]
1:04:06 JS: Which is a parasite on the roots of the rhododendron.
FJD: This can be found¿[?] on the roots of rhododendron shrub.
EA: So there's medicinal value in the parasite that lives on the underside of the leaves of a rhododendron.
JS: No, off the roots.
EA: Oh, off the roots of the rhododendron.
JS: Right, so you can find all different kinds of plants that are used for medicinal purposes or other purposes. The rhododendrons, the traditional Tibetan bowls that they use for either yak butter tea or [bi-joe?] or whatever, they're made from rhododendron wood. So it's not just medicinal plants, but whole lots of other uses as well.
FJD: Most of the plants in this type of plant community have beautiful flower, like this one rhodendron [garny-foom?], have very full flower, very beautiful when blooming at end of June or early July. Pansia purpuria is also really beautiful¿is really good for alpine¿
JS: So Feng is also interested in the horticultural uses of the plants in the alpine area and his botanical garden has a big emphasis on growing these plants for horticultural purposes. And the horticultural business in alpine plants is huge worldwide, so it's very important.
FJD: Yeah, also this region is famous for its horticultural plants and species.
EA: Oh, yeah, yeah.
FJD: Also, one more use is this one. This one¿Tibetan people will collect branch for burning¿or they will praying¿and they will burning some branch.
JS: For religious purposes they burn them.
EA: Right, so they'll collect them, I see. Jan, can you give me an example of a plant that you¿when you were talking about how plants from down below, if climate change gets warmer, plants from below would come up and compete with¿
JS: Well, especially with the rhododendrons, there's an elevational gradient, and so at the top of the mountains you get these small, little dwarf rhododendrons and then as you go further down the mountain you get taller and taller and taller larger rhododendrons so that's a case just within that genus where if the larger rhododendrons start moving up a hill, then these small dwarf ones that are on the very summit here, they may lose their habitat completely.
EA: You haven't seen that happen yet, but that's what you're doing now, is that, to provide the baseline so that if it does happen, you'll know.
JS: Right, you can tell from the old photos that the treeline has been extending upwards, so that we know that trees and larger plants are moving up the mountain, but the subtleties of how it's happening and what's going on are what we're looking for at this point.
EA: This is labor-intensive work.
1:07:43 JS: Yeah, extremely so. You really have to like a lot of detail to do this kind of work. It takes a lot of time, a lot of patience to count all these plants.
EA: Why do you give a damn about all this?
JS: [laughs] This is the best work in the world. I couldn't ask for a better job. I get to travel all over the world, I get to look at fantastic plants that you don't find anywhere else, and I get to ask questions about importance to the world as a whole, like global climate change. I feel very privileged.
EA: Great, thank you. Thank you very much. And you know, I didn't get your full name and position. Can you say that for us?
FJD: F-A-N-G ?? D-O-N-G. Director of Shangri-La botanical garden.
1:09:01-1:11:30 [End of interview¿Chinese]
Ambi from interview? Voices speaking Chinese in BG¿
1:11:30 EA: I don't want to put words in your mouth at all here, but what does it feel for you to have all these folks over here doing this work and seeing them¿I mean, is there any sort of fulfillment or¿
JS: Oh, I love being abroad and working with people in different countries and sort of helping ¿ we call it facilitating ¿ this kind of research. They probably wouldn't be out here doing it if I hadn't come¿It's not that they can't do it ¿ they are doing it. They're incredibly capable. But they don't have the international connections and so on to get work like this going. And I just think it's the greatest thing in the world to go and learn about other people, other cultures. To work with them as, on a one-to-one basis, to have these wonderful people as my colleagues, it's great fun.
EA: And there's a pretty great exchange of information going on.
JS: Oh, I learn so incredibly much more than I can possibly teach, so yes I help get things going, but I learn so much from these people¿they're very knowledgeable and that they feel that I can help them is just added benefit, it's wonderful.
EA: So today is the last day of field work.
JS: Yeah, of this season. As you can see, it's snowing and pretty miserable, so we've stretched the season about as far as it can go. So we'll start up again next spring.
EA: And this season, what were you able to do?
JS: Well, in the springtime, we went out with the Austrian group who founded Gloria to find different sites that were appropriate for the work and to learn the procedures and make sure that we were in line¿that what we were doing was in line with what their intentions were, so we spent a couple of weeks out in the field with them, and choosing sites and choosing summits, and then this fall then we came and actually started the work, doing all the measurements and the quadrat sampling and so on. So then this fall was really the beginning of the work. So it'll go on, for at least another year.
EA: Have you been surprised by anything?
JS: Umm¿well, I haven't had that much experience in alpine, so just being in the alpine environment was a real revelation to me, to see what it was like and how variable an environment it is. One minute the sun comes out and you're just taking off every layer of clothes that you can find and unzipping your pants so that it's, you know, you've got shorts on instead of long trousers.
EA: Come on, that does not happen up here.
JS: It does! It does! There are times when you're just burning with heat up here. You can't believe it now because we're freezing. And to think that plant life can exist in these extremes with¿it'll be hot and dry for part of the year and it'll be cold and wet and miserable for part of the year. It's an amazing environment for me to see. And I've never seen a culture that depends so heavily on an alpine environment. I guess it's true that the Altiplano in South America and so on, they're very much adapted to this high elevation too, but how people adapt to this high elevation is just really amazing to see how they can use such extreme environments.
JS: And it's sort of a well-known fact that, how people use a vertical environment too, so that they¿you use the alpine environment, but that's not the only environment that they use, they use every different elevation for something else and they pull together a lifestyle that integrates all these different elevational components into¿and it's very complex to try to learn how people are managing this very vertical landscape. It's very different that, here I am in the Missouri botanical garden where it's flat. We don't think in terms of verticality, so I've been learning a lot.
EA: and is that why climate change is so dramatic? Because it is so vertical?
JS: Exactly, exactly. So you can trace, you can trace the movement of plants, and the change is much more dramatic in a vertical environment.
EA: I just keep looking at these little blue¿what are they called?
JS: Genchins, of course. Genchins are worldwide. Every alpine environment in the world has genchins. And they are just the most beautiful flowers imaginable. And they're so many species, little tiny ones, and great big ones and purples and blues, and they're just really extraordinary. When I was in graduate school at one time I did a pollination study on genchins in New York and I sat in front of this population of genchins for days and days and weeks, waiting for them to get pollinated one bee came along one day, and just went woop woop woop woop, and pollinated everything and that was the end of it. And I was like, woah that happened fast. [laughter]
JS: But the same sort of things happen up here that these plants flower for the season and the bees come in when the sun comes out whenever that is this place will be just humming with bees. And everything will get pollinated and the cycle starts over again. But on a day like today you can hardly believe it.
EA: well you were talking about that with respect to the sou- sou¿
JS: oh the sousouria, right, that a threatened plant one of my graduate students who you'll meet later, Wayne Law, is working on sousouria laniceps and it's a fairly threatened species in the high alpine environment and he was telling about how he days and days of rain and cold up in that alpine environment. And was waiting to do his pollination biology study. Finally the sun came out and just as the sunbeam hit his plant the bee came up and went dvrooop!
JS: And they have it's a big fluffy ball of cotton. This plant and it's got holes in it where the bees can get into it and pollinate it. And the bee came just as the sun came out the bee went in and started pollinating all these holes in this plant and that was the end of his pollination study. It was like OK, they did it just like they were supposed to. But it's amazing that in a short window of time that they have when the sun is out in this environment that the pollination happens and life goes on.
EA: Is there any medicinal value to that plant?
JS: oh yeah, very important, that's one of the reasons that it's so highly threatened and that's the one that is for women's diseases. Quote unquote. That they use it they harvest it so heavily that it's threatened now.
EA: it's threatened by people picking it too much.
JS: that's right and we've looked at the plant, the plants in herbaria around the world. We've gone throughout Europe and and china and and asia and the united states and looked at herbarium specimens of this plant, and found out that over time specimens from 100 years ago were huge. Big balls of cotton and over time its gotten smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. Until now, when we go into the medicinal shops you'll see them they're sort of softball sized or even hardball size. They've gotten sort of much much smaller than they were in the past. And that's because people get more money for the larger ones. And so they keep selecting keep picking the larger ones and selecting against size.
JS: and so this plant over 100 years which is quite quick for evolution to work that fast
so it's very rapid evolution, over the last 100 years this plant has gotten very much smaller so not only is it the populations are threatened in general but the whole biology of the plant is changing because it's becoming so much smaller than it was.
EA: can you use the data that you're gaining here not only in terms of climate change but also in terms of tracking what's going on here in terms of overharvesting?
JS: Oh, definitely, yeah, we're doing um climate change is not the only thing that we're doing that's the Gloria project and our work with National Geographic happens to be on that, but we're doing many other ethnobotanical studies. Conservation studies, conservation biology studies, so we'll take some time and tell you about other things that are going on too
EA: but all this data can be used for a number of different purposes.
JS: Absolutely, and we use it for. This data will be used for ethnobotanical services
As well as climate change and so we don't do one thing at a time we try to be as efficient as we can and use that data for as many things as we can.
EA: so there's a reason we're all out here freezing.
JS: aside from the fact that we are all adventurers.
EA: one more thing¿tell me what they are doing with that chalk?
JS: This imported Austrian chalkboard which we have to use, well it turns out that the chalk board is particularly good in photographs because the white on black comes out very starkly in the photographs. Not only are we doing all these measurements but we're doing photo images of all the plots, and all the quadrats, all the different corners where we put steaks in, and everything so that in ten years from now people can come back and they'll have a photographic image as well as data. So the photographic images
have told us so much about this part of the world that the early explorers took 100 years ago, we can compare those photographic images with what's going on today so we're we've realized that and have made that kind of photography a little more systematic where we know exactly what we're taking a picture of, exactly where it is, so that they can come back in ten years and take that same picture and make that comparison.
EA: it's been really invaluable.
JS: Fun Jen Dong is not only a taxonimist but he's a professional photographer and so his skills in photography are particularly useful as well.
EA, JS informal talking: FunJenDong, smoking, tobacco, how many more left today?, always working up until dark on the plant census, amazing group works hard, everybody concentrates on what they're doing.
Fun's amazing team. People not highly educated, but Fun has taught them about plants. People who work for him are a wonderful team.
Ambi: from JS interview ¿ though JS talking audible in the BG!!!!
Paper crackling sounds, EA, JS faint in BG.
JS telling LdA: we're going to be walking around looking at plants saying how common they are.
LdA, EA informal talking.
JS: we have these forms here that we have to fill out for each summit section. So you can see these orange um lines that are going out and they divide the summit into four sections
And they form sort of pie, pieces of pie around this whole area that we're censusing. And the first piece of pie goes down to five meters then the crest on the pie goes down to ten meters and what we do in each of these sections is we census all the plants that are in these pieces of pie and say more or less how common they are. So whereas in those small quadrats only a very small sample of the speices that are around in these large quadrats we get less precise data, but a much better over view of the flora.
JS looking for gloves.
JS talking to FJD about where they are.
FJD yells to someone in Chinese
JS: this summit section is SER?
FJD: yes. SER
FJD and JS taking a census of plants. Reads out plant names, scientific names, variety, how common they are¿
EA, LdA, informal talking.
EA: I know he's a very famous doctor, can you ask him to tell us who he is?
Translator: His name is Chindru.
EA where does he live?
Translator: Very close to a town ship called kietza?? which is like 8 km from that township
EA: ask him why these plants are so important?
Translator: so he was trained as a tibetan doctor, like, when he was young that was in like
Translator: Life is very important, all the medicinal herbs, ?? you know plant means medicinal herbs and the
Means medicinal herbs can cure people can relieve people's sickness and pain.
EA: what kind of things can they be used for, can you give some examples?
Translator: so it's very difficult to explain which particular plant is good for what because that's you know there's a procedure to make medicine to cure certain sickness like rhumatism, like stroke, and like how do you say that ¿ reduce the hypertension? Yeah so, he can't say which plant is good for rhumatism or which plant is good because he has to make medicine first with many other plants.
EA: oh so he uses a whole group of sometimes a whole group of plants for one certain sickness.
EA: has he been collecting plants all his life?
Translator: 30 years, he spent 30 years on the mountain
Translator: he thinks he's the most experienced Tibetan doctor because he spent over 30 years in the mountain and he knows the plants well.
Translator: So this is the 30th year.
EA: can you tell him I'm very impressed¿
Translator: He says I'm quite confident that no body¿he's the most experienced and most knowledgeable about the plants, so nobody can compare with him¿in this prefecture.
EA: in 30 years, has he noticed a change?
Translator: big change, some plants getting more and more dense and some getting less. Some plants. So it depends which plants.
EA: does he know why?
Translator: So he's a Tibetan doctor, he doesn't know why, but he strongly feel there is a big change in the mountain.
EA: does he feel that more and more people are seeking out these plants?
Translator: so he thinks the changing is strongly linked with the weather. So that's his guess
EA: what's his favorite plant?
Translator: there are seven plants called the seven sisters [EA: aaah¿] so these seven plants are widely used in Tibetan medicine in the whole Tibetan reagion
EA: any idea what they are?
Translator: he can't remember all the names but he can show us in a book.
EA: what does he think is the most beautiful?
EA: do you know which plant that is?
EA: can he describe it for us?
Translator: it's difficult to describe what it looks like.
EA: are there plants that he's found more difficult to find?
Translator: Some species are very difficult to find. Before they could find some in the range, in the mountain, but now it's very difficult to find that plant.
EA: are there poisonous plants?
Translator: so actually, all those medicinal herbs have certain poison, but you have to know how to use it, and you know if you know how to use it then that can cure people's sickness. Otherwise, most of the medicinal herbs have poison.
EA: how does he feel about Jan's work?
Translator: very good job and he thinks that she's doing really great work, not only for herself but also for people here to know the plants.
EA: can you ask him again why he thinks it's important?
Translator: because you know, good for protection of the medicinal herbs. So she's collecting data you know so they can share¿
EA: are there young people learning the same things he learned when he was younger? Passing it on between generations?
Translator: he has like 27 or 28 students so he is trying to pass on his knowledge to that generation.
EA: are they as interested in it?
Translator: looks like, but he doesn't know.
Translator: And he never collect tuition from the students¿all this is free?
EA: how did he start learning about plants?
Translator: he was sent to a county called dhrom[?] as an apprentice, he was learning from the living Buddha¿His master died many many years ago, and his reincarnation¿
Waiting for car to go by¿.
Translator: He knows about 140 medicinal herbs.
EA: Can you tell us again, I didn't catch the part about his teacher's reincarnation.
Translator: His teacher you know he was apprentice of that living Buddha when he was 17 years old. Then later his mother died. Then the monestary found his reincarnation now the living Buddha is 37 years old. He still has very good relationship with his master but he is older than his master now.
Translator: his whole life committed to being a Tibetan doctor, so you know he devoted to this mission or to this job, really enjoy it
EA: Never wanted to do anything else?
Translator: or become like a monk, that's also good he thinks. Because medicinal as doctor you can always cure people, as a monk from the spiritual point of view, you can help people like a doctor. You can also help people.
Translator: he really want to you know become a monk. He is stll practicing a lot of religious rituals.
Translator: in the future he will continuously do this as a doctor and practice religious rituals.
EA: Does he think that people outside Tibet appreciate and understand plants like the Tibetans?
Translator: so not really. They are always like slight difference.
EA: was there ever a time when he couldn't do what he's doing?
Translator: now he's getting old, he really feels that he must pass on all his knowledge to the young generation so he's trying to find more people to be involved in this, so he is still trying.
EA: ask if there's anything else he wants to tell us¿
Ambi: from Tibetan doctor interview site. Some faint footsteps and voices in BG.
loud voices in BG.
Ambi: Tibetan Doctor interview site. Footsteps, some voices in BG¿
Ambi: Tibetan doctor interview ¿ clean ambi. Nothing in BG.
revving, driving, honk
drives toward LdA.
End of tape