Eco-architects on Lingang shoreline

The dedication of a botanist, tragically killed in a car accident last year, will go on show at the China International Industry Fair from September 19 to 23.
Mu Liang

Jing Zuoqin, assistant to late botanist Zhong Yang, arranges mangrove specimens in the laboratory.

Young mangrove trees that have adapted to life in the winter chill will go on show at the China International Industry Fair from September 19 to 23.

The mangroves, trees and shrubs that typically live along tropical and subtropical shorelines, can be seen at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Qingpu District.

Local botanists have had unprecedented success in growing them on the city coast in an alien, temperate climate featuring four seasons.

The success is the result of a lifetime of dedication by botanist Zhong Yang, who was tragically killed in a car accident last year.

Zhong, a former professor of life sciences at Fudan, created the city’s first and only mangrove forest.

In 2007, he brought 12,000 seedlings from south China and planted them in Lingang District on the coast of the Pudong New Area.

Eleven years on, the seedlings have grown and Pudong is now home to a mangrove plantation covering more than a hectare. Zhong may no longer be with us, but his work lives on.

This summer, Lingang began to take an interest in the project and offered financial support.

At the current stage of acclimatization, the trees still require the protection of a greenhouse in winter. However, Zhong’s assistant Jing Zuoqin and deputy professor Nan Peng are confident that in 20 or 30 years they will be hardy enough to withstand the winter and will form a natural forest to enrich the city coast.

Mangroves are sometimes called beach guards because they are crucial to the tropical and subtropical littoral environment. They are vital to protecting the shore from erosion by wind and waves. Their roots play an important role in purifying water. They can be thought of as the architects of their own ecosystems, providing habitat for several other species.

Ti Gong

Mangrove saplings planted by Zhong in Lingang grow in saltwater ponds as part of their acclimatization process.

Gift to the future

Preoccupied by why Shanghai’s shoreline was so bleak, without beautiful beaches, bushes or trees. Zhong resolved to make his adopted home into a “real coastal city” with beautiful beaches.

“It will be a gift to people in 200 years’ time,” he said.

But raising and taming the mangrove proved much more challenging than Zhong anticipated.

Shortly after the seedlings arrived Shanghai, the city was hit by a rare heavy snow, which dealt a huge blow to the vulnerable baby trees.

Also, the seedlings turned out to be an exotic treat for the many rabbits which lived nearby. The voracious lagomorphs grew fat on the tasty trees, which only added to Zhong’s woes.

Researchers constantly tinkered with the temperature in the greenhouse in an endeavor to raise the mangrove’s ability to withstand the winter cold. Mortality was high.

They also had to build an expensive fence to keep out the rabbits out.

To their astonishment, trees which appeared to have perished in the cold, miraculously revived themselves the next spring.

“Their leaves fell off but their roots survived and continued to grow,” Nan said.

This summer, several typhoons battered the coastline, bringing with them a panoply of new calamities.

“We had planted the trees in ponds filled with sea water, but heavy rain brought by typhoons flooded the ponds,” Nan said. It took every effort to pump out the fresh water and adjust the salinity.

“Zhong was devoted to the project for nearly a decade. Persistence was his defining characteristic,” she said.

”Every life has its end. But I am not afraid because I know my students will continue my work” Zhong said.

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