Safeguarding threatened Rhododendrons in China

Conservation problem

The border region of southeast Xizang and northwest Yunnan, a hotspot of rhododendron diversity with over 300 known species, is being degraded by overexploitation for firewood and conversion to grasslands for livestock grazing.

Project goal

This project established living rhododendron conservation collections which will be an important source material for future recovery initiatives. It also significantly increased knowledge of regional rhododendron distribution.

Why this species

The border region of southeast Xizang and northwest Yunnan – part of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site of UNESCO – is a hotspot of rhododendron diversity with an estimated number of at least 300 known species. Despite its official status as an area of outstanding universal value (since 2003), degradation of natural ecosystems continues in the region, in particular because of overexploitation for firewood and conversion of rhododendron habitats to grassland for livestock grazing.

Sampling a rhododendron community in southeast Xizang

What did we do?

The establishment of a comprehensive inventory was required to document the rhododendron diversity of the region. Working with Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden, GTC developed a detailed field survey programme based on species information included in The Red List of Rhododendrons (2011). Plant material was collected from 30 different rhododendron species across 70 plant communities. Germination trials were conducted at Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden, Yunnan Academy of Biodiversity and a farmer’s nursery in Tengchong. An information leaflet illustrating the conservation values of rhododendrons was developed and was disseminated among local project stakeholders.

The main activities of this project included:

  • Field surveys to increase knowledge of the distribution of target rhododendron species in the project area.
  • Collection of plant material and initiation of propagation trials for target rhododendron species.
  • Establishment of ex situ collections at Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden.
Key achievements

This project has gathered essential information in a previously understudied region of rhododendron diversity. A list of rhododendron and associated species found within the project area has been established, while propagation techniques have been refined for at least ten rhododendron species. In parallel, ex situ conservation collections have been been established at Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Garden. Collections are critical for particularly rare species, as they can act as an important source of plants in future programmes to reinforce wild populations.

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact

DSC_7767_Rh. yunnanense

Rhododendron yunnanense

Did you know?

The Vietnamese golden cypress was discovered as a new species to science in 1999.