Mention Wuhan to those who have travelled throughout China and what are they likely to say? If they've stayed in Wuhan, they might mention several distinctive attractions. The Changjiang River. The Yellow Crane Tower. Wuhan and Huazhong Universities. The Hubei Provincial Museum. East Lake.
Yet in most cases, the more usual response tends to be "Wuhan? There's nothing to really see there. It's just a very large industrial city. That's all." Which is understandable but really too bad, as Wuhan has a little-known treasure which would delight even the most sophisticated traveler.
On Wednesday, 13 July, following a business trip to the Wuhan-based research institutes of the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (GUCAS), I was a guest of the Wuhan Botanical Garden or 武汉植物园. Situated at the tip of a peninsula extending northward into sprawling East Lake, the Wuhan Botanical Garden is a working research unit of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), with modern scientific facilities in an attractive central building.
Together with Prof. ZHU Xiangbin, Assistant President of GUCAS, I was greeted by Prof. WANG Yong, the Research and Education Director of the Wuhan Botanical Garden. He explained the garden's overall plan to us, in order that we might proceed at our own pace throughout the morning, taking photos of the rare botanical specimens.
The garden's biodiversity is unmistakable, ranging from ponds, to wetlands, to small forest groves. Three hours of walking was far too little time to fully appreciate the full extent of the garden's well-maintained plant collection. From our first look at the underwater plant display up until the pine and cypress forests at the end, we were impressed by the superb quality of the plants, the walkways and paths, the immaculate grounds and the user-friendly explanatory signs.We were very fortunate to visit in mid-July, when the immense water lily collection was blooming. The aquatic plants were stunningly beautiful, with graceful petals of intense hues, including ivory white, saffron, magenta, blue and purple. Not only water lilies, but also a wide range of lotus varieties were in bloom. The garden is a test plot for newly developed ornamental aquatic plants, attracting discerning photographers with powerful lenses who appreciate such rare beauty.
Further evidence of the healthy ecology of the garden were the rich variety of birds and insects that we observed. The jewel-like dragonflies and damselflies hovered over the aquatic plants, bringing color and motion to the peaceful landscape. A wide variety of birds call the garden home, finding the various forest groves to be an ideal habitat for nest-building and food foraging.
As we walked to the shore of East Lake, we saw a birdwatching structure, rows of large ceramic pots filled with blooming lotus plants and groves of semi-tropical trees. There are a few small traditional Chinese pavilions which serve as visual accents, adding to the garden's overall charm.
When our morning's photography walk was over, we once again met Prof. WANG. He explained that the garden has different highlights, depending on the season. For blooming trees and bulbs, late March and early April are best.
I told Prof. ZHU that the Wuhan Botanical Garden might be described as Wuhan's "hidden gem". It's intense beauty, advanced ecological and botanical research, and outstanding biodiversity are a treasure of Central China, deserving praise and rewarding visitors. Anyone who savors quiet, peaceful, natural beauty would enjoy the Wuhan Botanical Garden...but be sure to set aside several hours, as it's numerous floral specimens are so lovely that an easygoing stroll is the most pleasing way to enjoy them.