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April 29, 2015

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Where the wild flowers are

HAVE flower snapshots taken over your social media feeds? Gentle cherry and peach blossoms abound this time of year, ready to be appreciated by Shanghai residents as spring takes hold once again.

While the city certainly doesn’t lack manicured gardens and grand flower arrangements designed by human hands, for those with keen eyes Shanghai’s wild flowers offer a beauty all their own.

Some species of local wild flowers can bloom as early as February, while others may not appear until May.

Zheng Wenqin is a biology teacher at Shibei Middle School and has a deep understanding of wild flowers in Shanghai. As Zheng explained, heat caused by human habitation in Shanghai, combined with the area’s own natural climate, has a profound influence on its vegetation.

“Wild grass doesn’t perish and die away in the winter, and many flowers bloom early,” she said.

Shanghai is also located in an area of east China with abundant rainfall and mild winters. This has a strong effect not only of local plants, but also on the pest, fungi and bacteria that feed on them.

Meanwhile, an expanding human footprint means that many wild flowers grow in haphazard patterns that differ greatly from those seen in more sparsely populated areas.

“The land in Shanghai has been pretty heavily intervened by people ... so the ecosystem is rather complicated and large meadows filled with a single plant species are rare,” said Zheng, who was inclined to look at the bright side of such phenomena.

“Wildflower sighting in Shanghai is about discovery,” she pointed out.

Parks are the most popular wildflower sighting destinations in the city. As Zheng mentioned, with no clear guides to steer flower viewers in the direction of their favorite plants, much of the fun comes from unexpected findings.

“It was really interesting this early spring, when I went to a tulip exhibition in Daning Lingshi Park near my home, I found a bunch of Amana edulis (family Liliaceae) blooming under a tree. They look like tulips and are one of the closest plants resembling tulips in the east,” Zheng said.

Tips for wildflower sighting

• Don’t eat the flowers or the fruits.

• Be cautious of thorns to avoid being pricked.

• Flowers are reproductive structures, so avoid picking them.

• You can grow your own garden using seeds instead of pulling up plants and taking them home.

Floral residents

Chinese violet cress 二月兰

Scientific name: Orychophragmus violaceus

Commonly seen in local parks, this purple flower is native only to China and is popularly called zhuge cai (诸葛菜).

Chinese violet cress belongs to the Brassicaceae family and is an annual or biennial. The leaves and stem are edible and are often harvested in the spring. During the flowering period, from March to May, meadows across China are awash in a sea of purple.

Don’t let its colorful appearance fool you though. This is a tough plant that can grow up to 50 centimeters in height and survive very cold conditions.

Chinese violet cress is also planted across the city, as it is attractive, inexpensive and easy to grow.

Shepherd's purse 荠菜花

Scientific name: Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd’s purse is one of the most common wild herbs in Shanghai. In early spring it is used in dishes like stir-fried rice cakes with shepherd’s-purse or mixed with minced meat as wonton fillings. The flowers are small and white, and the seed pods heart-shaped.

Native raspberry, or small-leaf bramble 茅梅

Scientific name: Rubus parvifolius

On Tianma Hill, near Chenshan Botanical Garden, one can find the native raspberry growing on shrub-like plants. Its flowers are purplish red, and bloom from May to June.

Purpleflower violet 紫花地丁

Scientific name: Viola philippica

Purpleflower violet shares the same blossom color as the Chinese violet cress, but not the same structure. This perennial member of the Violaceae family is acaulescent — meaning that it lacks an apparent stem.

The flower usually grows to a height of four to 14 centimeters, but can reach 20 centimeters during full bloom. Blossoming usually starts in February.

Meadows of purpleflower violet can be found on Tianma Hill in Songjiang District.

Japanese hawkweed 黄鹌菜

Scientific name: Youngia Japonica

A biennial member of the Youngia genus, Japanese hawkweed is an edible plant and often used as a medical herb. It belongs to the Compositae family.

Japanese hawkweed has small yellow flowers and can be found on hillsides, slopes, roadsides and forests.

Peng lei, or tuo'er pan 蓬 蘽 蘽 蘲

Scientific name: Rubus crataegifolius

A raspberry species native to East Asia. The shrub is generally one to two meters tall. Its fruit is edible and sweeter than the small-leaf bramble. Its flowers look similar to strawberry flowers and bloom in summer.


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