George Bentham.

Flora hongkongensis: a description of the flowering plants and ferns of the island of Hongkong online

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The little island of Hongkong is situated off the southern coast of
China, at the mouth of the Canton river, between lat. 22° 9' and 22° 21'
N. It consists of a rugged mountain ridge, running from east to west,
broken into three or four peaks attaining an elevation of betAveen 1700
and 1800 feet above the level of the sea, and intersected by deep narrow
ravines. It is of very irregular outline, cut into deep inlets, especially
on the south coast, where the hills occasionally slope down to a broad
sandy beach, whilst several of the headlands terminate in perpendicular
cliffs. Its greatest length is about eight miles, by a breadth of little
more than four, and has an area of rather more than twenty-nine square
miles. It is separated from the opposite hilly, and in some places more
elevated, mainland by a strait, variously called Cap-Syng-Moon, or
Cum-Sing-Moon,* which in its narrowest part (the Lye- Moon pass) is
only half a mile in breadth, and, opposite to our newly acquired district
of Kowloon, expands into a capacious harbour.

What we know of its physical condition and climate as aifecting its
Flora, is chiefly derived from the " Eemarks on the physical aspect and
vegetation of Hongkong," published by the late Mr. E. B. Hinds, in
Hooker's ' London Journal of Botany,' vol. i. p. 47G (1842), and from Dr.
B. Seemann's ' Introduction to the Mora of Hongkong,' in his Botany
of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald (1857). Both these writers repre-
sent its general aspect, especially when viewed from the south-east
during the dry or winter season, as barren and bleak in the extreme,
and apparently denuded of anything like arborescent vegetation. The
more sheltered valleys and ravines, on the contrary, on the northern and

* So it is explained by Seemann. Other authorities restrict the name of Cap-Syng-Moon
to the pass lying between the Isle of Lautao and the mainland.


western sides, saturated with moisture during the long-continued heavy-
rains of spring and early summer, and never exposed to real drought,
afford to the botanist who examines them in detail an extraordinarily
varied Plora. And a large proportion of this Flora is characterized by
the collectors as arborescent or shrubby, although on the other hand
the woods are stated to be of very limited extent, generally of stunted
growth, and to consist mainly of very few species, Piiius sinensis on the
more exposed parts, Ternstrcemia japonic a and a few others in the more
sheltered valleys ; the numerous species of Oak, Tig, and other trees be-
ing usually limited to few individuals.

The rock of the island is chiefly granite (syenite), with occasional
masses of basaltic trap. Limestone is entirely v.antiug. The tempera-
ture is as variable as the degree of humidity, the burning heats of a tro-
pical sun alternating with the cold devastating fury of a Chinese typhoon.
The annual range of the thermometer is from about 47° to 93° Fahr.,
according to a table of six years' observation given by Dr. Seemann
from a Hongkong Almanack, but it is probably still wider, as Mr. Hinds
states that at Canton it is from 29° to 94°, and the daily range is also

Previous to the year 1841, the collections of South Chinese plants
received in Europe were chiefly from the neighbourhood of Macao or
Canton, or from the islands of the Canton river lying between those two
towns. Some collectors or botanical amateurs had indeed, from Macao,
made excursions to the opposite coast, and may probably have landed in
Hongkong, and the plants recorded in the ' Plantse Meyenianse,' as from
the Cap-Syng-Moon, although mostly from the island of Lantao, a few
miles higher up the river, may also in some instances be of Hongkong
origin, but we have no authentic record of any plants gathered in that
island until the survey made by the of&cers of H.M.S. Sulphur, under
Captain Sir Edward Belcher, in the year 1841. It was on the occasion
of this survey that the late Mr. Kichaed Beinsley Hinds, surgeon
of the vessel, made the first collection of Hongkong plants which has
reached us. Notwithstanding the unfavourable period of the year, —
his stay round the island was only for a few weeks during the winter or
dry season, — he was enabled on his return home to place in my hands
specimens of nearly 140 species, the Enumeration of which I published
in Hooker's ' Loudon Journal of Botany,' vol. i. p. 482.

Early in 1847, the late Colonel (then Captain) J. Gr. Champion, of
the 95th Kegiment, who had already, during his residence in Ceylon,


made several interesting additions to the known plants of that colony,
removed with his regiment to Hongkong. He remained there three
years, and during his leisure moments devoted himself with ardour to
the investigation of the Mora of the island. He very early transmitted
to his friend the late Dr. Gardner, then Superintendent of the Botanic
Gardens at Peradenia, in Ceylon, several entirely new species, descrip-
tions of which that botanist remitted for publication to Sir "W. Hooker,
who inserted them in the first volume of his ' Kew Journal of Botany.'
On his return to England in 1850, Col. Champion brought with him a
fine collection of between five and six hundred species of phsBnogamous
plants and ferns, the result of his labours. These included the great
majority of the dicotyledonous plants, orchids and ferns, which have
hitherto been found in the vicinity of Victoria, in the rich watery or
wooded valleys of the north-west from AYeat Point to the Happy Valley,
and thence up to the principal central peaks. Mounts Victoria, Gough,
and Parker. He had also extended his herborizations to Chuck- Chew
(Stanley) on the south coast, and to Saywan on the east, and perhaps
to a few other distant points, but he had seldom been able to visit the
back of the island, and we miss in his collection a few interesting species
previously gathered by Mr. Hinds about Tytam-took, as well as the
riora of the maritime sands generally. He paid also but little attention
to glumaceous plants, or indeed to almost any monocotyledons except
orchids. Early in 1851 he placed in my hands a complete set of his
specimens, accompanied frequently by analytical sketches and descrip-
tions made on the spot, and almost always by most valuable memoranda
relating to precise station, to stature, colour, etc., which it were to be
wished were less neglected by the majority of collectors ; and on leaving
England for the fatal Crimean campaign, he deposited the remaining
specimens which he had reserved for himself, in the herbarium of Sir
W. J. Hooker. In the meantime, with Col. Champion's assistance, I
had proceeded to the enumeration of the species gathered by him, in-
cluding descriptions of numerous entirely new ones, which appeared
successively in detached portions in Hooker's ' Kew Journal of Botany,'
vols. iii. to vii. and ix.

Dr. H. E. Hakce, now at Canton, has been almost continuously re-
sident in Southern China since 1844, and the greater portion of the time
in Hongkong, where he zealously applied himself to the study of the
Elora of the island. He remitted a few descriptions of species which
he believed to be new, to Sir W. J. Hooker, who published them in the
first volume of his ' Kew Journal of Botany,' and placed the diagnoses


of many others in the hands of the late Dr. Walpers, who inserted them
in the second and third volumes of his * Annales Botauices Systematicse.'
Shortly afterwards (in 1851), being on a visit to this country, Dr. Hance
entrusted the whole of his Hongkong herbarium to Dr. Berthold See-
mann, who, as naturalist on board H. M. surveying-ship the Herald,
had visited Hongkong in December, 1850, and himself made some col-
lections there, and was then, on his return to England, about to publish
the botanical results of that Expedition. Accordingly, at the close of
Dr. Seemann's ' Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald,' we find a
" Flora of the Island of Hongkong," published in 1857, and containing
an enumeration of 773 phsenogamous plants and ferns, based chiefly
upon Dr. Hance' s collections, and, in some Orders, confined to those
and to Dr. Seemann's own, but in the generality of cases comprising
also Mr. Hinds's and Col. Champion's plants. Since that period, I have
received several valuable communications from Dr. Hance, either notes
on species already enumerated, or specimens of others since found in
the island, as well as many interesting species from Canton, Amoy, and
other points of the Chinese coast, illustrative of the general botanical
regions of which Hongkong forms a part. On Dr. Seemann's recent
departure for the South Sea, he left Dr. Hance' s and his own original
specimens which he had examined for his Elora (with the exception of
orchids and ferns) at Kew, where he has liberally allowed me access
to them for the purpose of identification and comparison.

The late De. W. A. Haelafd, Government Surgeon at Hongkong,
brought to this country in 1857 a very valuable set of Hongkong
plants, including many that had escaped the notice of previous col-
lectors. He allowed me to select specimens of all that appeared new
or interesting, and I took notes of a few others which I then thought
w ere very familiarly known species, but of which I have subsequently
regretted I had not retained specimens for more exact comparison.

Mr. Chaeles "Weight, of the United States, so well known for the
beauty and excellence of the specimens distributed from his various
botanical expeditions, was naturalist on board the TJ. S. ship the Vin-
cennes, and other vessels forming the United States North Pacific Ex-
ploring Expedition, under the command first of Captain Ringgold and
afterwards of Captain John Eodgers. During this cruise Mr. Wright
staid at Hongkong from March to September, 1854, and from January
to April, 1855, and has proved himself as zealous and active on this as
on other occasions, for he brought away specimens of above 500 species,
several of them of great interest, and not received from any other


source. An almost complete set has beeu remitted to me for publica-
tion by Dr. Asa Gray.

Me. Chaeles Wileoed, collector for the Eoyal Gardens at Kew,
remained in Hongkong from November 1857 to June 1858, and re-
mitted to this country above 400 species now deposited in the Hookerian
herbarium. This collection has been of considerable use to me, the
specimens being good, usually in several duplicates, and often accompa-
nied by memoranda of their stations, with occasionally a few other notes.

Col. Champion's herbarium contained also a few specimens gathered by
Geneeal (then Lieut.-Col.) J. Etee, E.A,, who also in 1854 showed me a
beautiful set of botanical drawings made in the island, from which I took
several notes. And lastly, in Sir W. J. Hooker's herbarium is a very fine
set of Hongkong ferns transmitted to him by Colonel Uequhaet, and
some others from De. Dill, J. C. Bowman, Esq., and T. Alexandee, Esq.

Such are the materials from the examination of which the present
Elora has been compiled. They have been throughout compared with
such allied forms from other countries as are contained in the rich
Hookerian and other herbaria deposited at Kew, with occasional refer-
ence to Linnsean types, where it has been necessary, in clearing up
dubious synonyms. I have also to acknowledge most valuable assist-
ance received from botanical friends in particular Orders, upon which
they liave severally been monographically engaged. I would specially
express my thanks to De. T. Andeeson, for the generic arrangement
and characters, and specific determination of Acantliacew ; to De. Boott
for the determination of the species of Carex ; to Sie "VV. J. Hookee,
for the determination of the Ferns ; to De. Lindlet for the determina-
tion of Col, Champion's and Mr. Hinds's Orchidece, and for assistance
in comparing Hongkong specimens of that and other Orders with his
own herbarium ; to Col. Muneo, for the determination of aU the Gra-
minecB of the island, with numerous important communications on their
generic arrangement and characters ; to Peof. Dan. Olivee, for the
communication of his MS. notes on and characters and arrangement
of Aurantiacece and of Utrieularia ; and, above all, to De. J. D. Hookee,
for his advice and assistance through the whole work, as well as for the
communication of the invaluable notes and observations made by him
on the living Elora of Sikkim and Khasia, so closely connected with
that of Hongkong. I must add, however, that in the case of all the
above-named Orders, as well as in the rest of the Flora, I have myself
verified, on the specimens themselves, the characters which I have given ;
and whilst I fully acknowledge the sources from whence I may have de-


rived any systematic modifications which may be considered as improve-
ments, I alone am responsible for any errors they may contain.

It is hoped, indeed, that these generic characters will in no instance
be found to have been copied from other works without collating them
in the case of each Hongkong species, as far as our specimens would
admit, and modifying them or indicating exceptional points where neces-
sary. In a few instances it will be seen that I have proposed consider-
able innovations, chiefly in the way of consolidating small genera which
appeared to have been established on insufficient grounds. 1 have been
obliged, however, to leave others still in a very unsatisfactory state,
where the fixing their limits and characters would have required a
general revision of whole Orders, which we can only hope to accomplish
for the ' Genera Plantarum ' I am preparing in conjunction with Dr.

In many instances also our specimens are as yet very imperfect, and
much remains to be done before the Flora of this diminutive island can
be said to be well known. And this deficiency is not to be ascribed to
any want of zeal on the part of the collectors. When we read upon
their labels, accompanying specimens of some of the most striking
plants, such memoranda as " Only three trees known in the island,"
" Once seen in a ravine near the top of Mount Victoria," " Picked out
of a faggot which a Chinaman was carrying home," etc., we can scarcely
hope that the history of such species as are yet only known in the state
of bud, or in that of fruit, or in one sex, etc., will be very soon com-
pleted from specimens gathered in the island itself But most probably
they may all be found in greater abundance and perfection in the hilly
ranges bordering the opposite mainland, a portion of which has now
been added to our territory. To these hills, therefore, we would espe-
cially call the attention of botanical explorers, to procure materials for
the further illustration of the Hongkong Flora.

The specific descriptions, like the generic characters, have been always
drawn up from the actual examination of specimens gathered in the
island, where they were sufiicient for the purpose ; or, where these were
imperfect, specimens from the nearest station from whence we have
the same species, whether continental China, the Philippine Islands, or
eastern India, have been made use of to complete the character. In
each such case the origin of the specimens described has been stated ;
and cm all occasions where the limits of the species are known to extend
beyond the island, the Hongkong specimens have been compared with
others taken from difterent parts of its geographical range. This has


enabled me, with the assistance of Dr. Hooker's lists and notes, to give
that range for every species, as far as can be derived from the Kew
herbaria or other reliable sources. This distribution is, however, only
stated in a few general terms specially directed to showing the imme-
diate relation of the Hongkong Flora to that of other countries. The
precise limitation of the area of each species would require far too much
labour and detail to come within the scope of the present work.

For the purpose of obtaining even a general notion of the nature of
this geographical relation of our Flora, it was necessary to tabulate
the species according to the areas they occupy as far as our present
knowledge of them extends, although our information on the subject
is as yet far too scanty to give any very satisfactory results. The
Flora of the hilly ranges of continental South China, of which Hong-
kong is as it were an outlying spur, is almost unknown to us ; that of
the country connecting these hills and the Cochin-Chinese coasts with
Burmah, Silhet, and Assam, is a complete blank. On the other side,
looking to the Philippine Islands, the nearest land connecting Hong-
kong with the eastern islands of the Indian Archipelago, although a
large number of their species have been described, yet this has been
done 'so imperfectly, and piecemeal, as it were, at Manilla, or in different
European capitals, with so little critical ■ comparison between the diffe-
rent collections or with the general tropical Asiatic Flora, that it is very
difficult to obtain any definite notions of their vegetation. We have
no serviceable general Flora of the Philippines (for Blanco's species
require re-identification), and no one of our herbaria contains probably
more than one-half of the plants indigenous to them.

Such lists, however, as I have been able to prepare of the Hongkong
species arranged according to their geographical areas, and of which I
give below some numerical results, offer some interesting features. At a
first glance one is struck with the very large total amount of species
crowded upon so small an island, which all navigators depict as apparently
so bleak and bare ; — with the tropical character of the great majority of
species, when botanists agree in representing the general aspect (derived
from the majority of individuals) to present the features of a much more
northern latitude ; — with the large proportion of arborescent and shrubby
species, on a rocky mass where the woods are limited to a few ravines or
short narrow valleys half-monopolized by cultivation; — and with the
very great diversity in the species themselves, the proportion of orders
and genera to species, the comparative number of monotypic genera,
being far greater in the Hongkong Flora than in that of any other Flora


of similar extent known to me. The very large number of apparently
endemic species, — of species only known to ns from the island, — is pro-
bably occasioned by our ignorance, already alluded to, of the vegetation
of continental S. China.

Another noteworthy fact apparent on the comparison of these lists, is
the great preponderance of woody and long-lived plants among the
species of limited areas, and of herbaceous or comparatively short-lived
ones among those of a more extended range. This is, however, a general
rule applicable to all Floras ; for although trees and shrubs, when once
in possession of the soil, tend to expel a great proportion of the her-
baceous vegetation, yet the slight advantages they have in the greater
power of resisting individual injury or destruction, are more than com-
pensated by the small number of individuals, and by the slow operation
of their limited means of propagation and dispersion, as compared with
the countless myriads of herbs, each producing annually and widely
scattering their seeds by thousands, tens or even hundreds of thousands,
always ready to take possession of any land rendered vacant by the de-
struction of a forest into or near to which one or two individuals might
have previously straggled. And when once in possession of the land,
herbaceous plants, so much more capable of resisting destruction from
climate or from animals than seedling trees, will often effectually pre-
vent the re-invasion of arborescent vegetation.

In its general character, the Hongkong Flora is, as alreadv ob-
served, that of tropical Asia, of which it offers in numerous instances
the northern limit. Taking rather more in detail the more restricted
portions of the Flora, that of the damp wooded ravines of the north
and west will be found to be closely allied to that of north-east India
(Khasia, Assam, and Sikkim), and will probably hereafter prove to be
connected with it by a gradual transition across south China ; the Hong-
kong specimens, when specifically identical, generally showing a less luxu-
riant vegetation, larger flowers, and other peculiarities attributable, no
doubt, to a more open situation. Other species in considerable numbers
have a much more tropical character, extending with little variation over
the Indian Archipelago, the Malayan Peninsula, and even to Ceylon and
tropical Africa, without penetrating into the continent of India. North-
wards of Hongkong the vegetation appears to change much more
rapidly. Very few of the species known to range across from the
Himalaya to Japan are believed to come much further south than Amoy,
where, w' ith a difference of latitude of only two degrees, the tropical fea-
tures of the Hongkong Flora have (as far as we know) almost entirely


disappeared. And notwithstanding the prevailing idea of the close con-
nection of the Floras of Japan and Hongkong, suggested perhaps by
the presence in both of a few striking species or genera {Kadsura, Staun-
tonia, Actinidia, Camellia, Eriohotrya, Bistylium, Liquidainbar, Bentlia-
mia, Earfugium, Houttuynia, etc.), I cannot enumerate 80 species known
to be common to the two countries.

With Australia our Flora exhibits a few curious points of connection,
either as species or types (such as Pycnospora, Lagenophora, Stylidiimi,
Mitrasacme, Thysanotus, Philydrum, lApocarplia microcejphala, ArtJirOr
styles, Zoysia, etc.). They are indeed all herbaceous, and are probably
found in the intermediate Philippine and South Pacific islands ; some
of them also are maritime plants, which have always a wide range in
latitude as well as longitude; yet it must be observed that many of
them belong to genera which have many other herbaceous or maritime
species, not one of which spreads beyond Australia itself. A few of
the above-mentioned maritime species, like Carex pumila, extend from
Australia to Japan. Other maritime plants belongiug to the northern
or Japanese Floras, as Icceris dehilis and repens, appear to have their
southern limits in Hongkong.

With America the Hongkong Flora has no direct connection, the
singular band of vegetation which appears to cross from N. America to
Japan, and die off through Mantchuria in central Asia, some species
extending as far as the Himalaya, passes to the north of Hongkong,
although we may even there be reminded of it by a few such types
as Lespedeza, Solidago, Ewpatorium, Olea marginata^ Qelsemium, etc.
Those species which the island has in common with tropical America
are almost all generally spread over tropical Asia and Africa, and offer
nothing exceptional in their distribution, except perhaps the West In-
dian Teucrium inflatum, which appears to be abundant in several of the
South Pacific islands, but unknown in tropical Asia generally.

The total number of species enumerated in the present work is 1056,

Online LibraryGeorge BenthamFlora hongkongensis: a description of the flowering plants and ferns of the island of Hongkong → online text (page 1 of 75)