China’s great topological and climatic diversity has produced a vast array of natural vegetation types. The country’s total number of seed-plant species is approximately 30,000, representing some 2,700 genera; more than 200 of these genera are endemic to China. There are about 2,500 species of forest trees, including some 95 percent of the known broad-leaved types. Many of these trees are of economic importance, such as tung trees, camphor trees, varnish trees (Rhus verniciflua), star anise (which yields an oil used as a flavouring additive), and glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum).
Contributing to the variety and intermixture of tropical and temperate plants in China are such factors as the lack of insurmountable topographic barriers, such as large stretches of desert, between the tropical, temperate, and subalpine zones; wind systems that alternate in winter and summer; and the frequent occurrence of cyclones. If, for example, the vegetation of Heilongjiang province in the North and of Guangdong province in the South are compared, it is hardly possible to find a single common plant species, with the exception of certain weeds. In the taiga (boreal forest) zone of China’s northern border region or in the high mountains, on the other hand, there are many plant species that are also found in the lands within the Arctic Circle, while in the Chinese tropics there are species that also grow south of the Equator. However, from the ecological point of view, the tropical forests of South China generally do not differ greatly from those of Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries, and the desert and steppe vegetation of northwestern China is closely akin to that found in Mongolia or Kazakhstan.
Furthermore, the Chinese taiga terrain of the frontier area adjoining Russia is essentially the same as that of Siberia. A traveler in China may encounter practically all types of natural vegetation indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere, the exception being species of the polar tundra. There are mangrove swamps along the shores of the South China Sea; rainforests on Hainan Island and in southern Yunnan; and deserts, steppes, meadows, and savannas elsewhere, as well as regions where tropical and temperate coniferous and evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved plants prevail.
China may be divided—roughly along a diagonal from the southwest to the northeast—into two sharply different vegetation zones: the dry northwest and the humid southeast. The tropical area, adjoining the humid southeast, is geographically related more to Southeast Asia. In the northwest, where desertlike conditions prevail, are vast areas of sparse drought-resistant vegetation; within these areas, in the low-lying land and depressions, are patches of salt-tolerant plants, notably in the Junngar, Qaidam, and Gobi regions. Skirting the southern edge of the Gobi is a wide belt of grassland. "China" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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