Friday, February 17, 2012

List: Houseplants Native to China

Most of the caveats from this post also apply here: don't use this list for situations in which getting a plant's native range wrong might result in someone's death, I'm mostly relying on GRIN for my information, native ranges aren't always known with any kind of certainty so even the best available information may not be correct, and so forth.

For this one, we're talking about China. There will be a lot of overlap between this list and the ones for Eastern Asia (including Japan), India, Indo-China, Malesia, and Australia, just because China's sort of right in the middle of all those and plants respect political boundaries even less than people do. I apologize for being unable to find a clear public-domain map of the area; I looked for a long time, and found all kinds of stuff, none of it quite what I wanted. Instead, I have to do two different maps, one for the actual political divisions of China itself:

And the other to show where China is relative to the other countries I'll be mentioning (particularly note the locations of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Burma, as there will be a test later1):

I've circled the Ryukyu Islands because 1) they're going to come up a lot and 2) the original map didn't have them labeled.

Obviously not everybody's going to care about specifically where in the country the different plants come from, but I'm trying to provide the best information I've got for those people who do, 'cause that's the kind of guy I am.

Aglaonema cvv. (shown: cv. 'Emerald Bay') (Chinese evergreen) are usually man-made hybrids, or sports, or sports of hybrids, and consequently don't "really" come from anywhere, but a lot of the species which provided the raw material for the hybrids are from Indo-China (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam) and Malesia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines), with a few as far north as China and as far west as India.

On-line sources disagree about the origin of Aspidistra elatior (cast-iron plant), with some saying it's from Japan and naturalized in China and others saying it's from China and naturalized in Japan. Either way, it's in the right neighborhood for what we're talking about, and GRIN says China but not Japan, so we're going to go with that until I have good reason to change it.

Chirita cvv.2 are from within the general India-China-Indonesia triangle; a lot of the plants out there are man-made hybrids (like 'Deco,' shown), but a substantial chunk of the species are from southern China.

Cycas revoluta (sago palm) is from the Fujian province,3 along the southeast coast of China, as well as the Kyushu and Ryukyu Islands in southwestern Japan.

Eriobotrya japonica (loquat) is from the Hubei and Sichuan provinces of China, as well as Taiwan and the Japanese islands of Honshu (the main island of Japan), Kyushu (SW of Honshu), and Shikoku (east of Kyushu and south of Honshu).

Ficus pumila (creeping fig) is found in southeast China.

Pilea peperomioides (Chinese money plant, Chinese missionary plant) is from the Yunnan province of China, which is in the southwest corner of southern China (it borders Burma4).

Rhapis excelsa (lady palm) is from southern China and Japan.

The range of Saxifraga stolonifera (strawberry begonia) largely overlaps with that of Ficus pumila, but also extends to Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.

Selaginella uncinata (peacock spikemoss, blue spikemoss) is from southern China.

For the recommends:

I love Aglaonemas; I don't do well with the rhizomatous types like A. brevispatha, but all the upright cane-type ags and I get along famously.

Rhapis excelsa tolerates me. I'm not sure if we actually like one another, but it's put up with a lot of crap from me and is still alive and growing.

Saxifraga stolonifera and I are going through an extended rough patch at the moment, but mostly we've gotten along; I suspect that our problems were mostly my fault, not the plant's. We'll see if I can turn that around. Either way, the plant was good enough, for long enough, that I don't have a problem recommending it, even if mine aren't so great at the moment.

The anti-recommend is tough, because I've had bad experiences with the Cycas, Pilea, and Selaginella. Cycas revoluta seems to do well for most people, though (I think my problem was possibly fertilizer-related), so I won't choose it. The Pilea was never happy with me, and even though it lived here for fourteen months, it was declining slowly the entire time. I don't know what happened. I wouldn't recommend it to other people, but it's probably still not as bad as Selaginella, which I don't recommend to anyone who doesn't have an enclosed container of some kind to keep it in, because they're very serious about their moisture levels. Also, I believe I've managed to kill this particular Selaginella despite having an enclosed container for it, which just goes to show you how awesome I am at killing things.

Not pictured:

  • Aeschynanthus longicaulis is native to the Yunnan province of China, as well as Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
  • Alocasia spp. (elephant ears) in general are from Indo-China (Laos, Thailand, Vietnam) and Malesia (Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Philippines), but some ranges extend as far north as southern China (Yunnan and Guangdong provinces).
  • Alpinia zerumbet (torch ginger) has a fairly wide range, from Japan westward into northeast India and south through Indo-China and Malaysia, which includes the southern provinces of China.
  • Ardisia crenata (coral berry) has a pretty substantial range in southeast China, but it's all over the place (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India, Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia).
  • The GRIN-official range of Asplenium antiquum (bird's-nest fern) is odd and patchy, and sort of runs along the boundary between the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea. Beginning at Hong Kong, the range goes northeast through Taiwan and Japan into South Korea. I have no idea why A. antiquum has never been able to make a go of things on the mainland, but this may explain why they always turn on me when I try to grow them here in landlocked Iowa.
  • Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel, Japanese laurel, gold-dust plant) is, as the botanical name suggests, primarily from Japan, though there are also some in the Zhejiang province on China's east coast.
  • Weirdly, Carmona sp. ("fukien tea") is not from China's Fujian province, at least not according to GRIN, but it is found in the southern part of Guangdong (about as far southeast as one can go in China) and Hainan (as far south as you can go in China). I wonder who fucked that one up. It's also found in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, Taiwan, west to India and Sri Lanka, south as far as Queensland (Australia), and through Indonesia and Malaysia into the Philippines.
  • Cissus discolor (begonia vine) is naturally found in south central China, in the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, as well as from India eastward to the Philippines.
  • Colocasia spp. (elephant ears) are from south and southeast China, south through Laos and Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. C. esculentum specifically has been so widely cultivated that we don't know where it came from, though it's a pretty safe bet that it originated somewhere in that general area too.
  • Cymbidium cvv. are largely hybrids, made by aliens from the seventh moon of the planet Zecuponia III and introduced to earth via an underground network of florists and hobbyists who are actually disguised aliens, secretly observing humanity in anticipation of the day when they can destroy all humans. Why they need to observe first, I have no idea -- apparently they think there's something about us that isn't obvious on the surface.5
  • GRIN was unusually non-specific about the distribution of Cyrtomium falcatum (holly fern); it looks like it's basically the southeast coast of China, north to Japan and south to Vietnam, plus a population all by itself off in India somewhere.
  • Various species of Davallia (rabbit's-foot fern) occur in different spots all over the world; at least one makes its home in southeast China, though I don't know which species.
  • Dendrobiums are mostly man-made hybrids at this point, though some species specimens are out there to be had if that's what gets you excited. If you're looking in China, check the south and southeast provinces (Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou, and all that); otherwise you can find hot Dendrobium action from south China all the way to northern Australia, from India to the Philippines.
  • Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato) is another one with a native range that's just a mess: you start in west Africa with Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia, and all those along that edge there, including landlocked Burkina Faso, to where the coastline begins to curve to the south at Cameroon and Nigeria, then stop. Go to the east side of Africa and pick up Tanzania, Uganda, and Madagascar, as well as Mauritius and Reunion Island, to the east of Madagascar. Then pick up again at Sri Lanka, just off the southern tip of India, north and east through India, Bhutan, and Nepal, and from there it's all the usual places: south and east China, all of Indo-China, Malesia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines), south into north and west Australia. I don't know if it's safe to assume that there might be other spots that GRIN doesn't mention, that fill in the gaps in the range (like maybe central Africa, if nothing else), or if it really has a bunch of isolated populations like this.
  • Of course some Drosera spp. (sundews) are from China; Droseras are basically everywhere. Seriously. I'm not even going to try.
  • I'm not going to try to describe the natural range of Ensete and Musa spp. (banana) either. There are both Ensete and Musa species native to China, some as far north as Tibet (Xizang) but mostly in the same southern and eastern part of China that everything else is from.
  • Ficus benjamina (weeping fig, ficus tree) has a large range stretching from northeast Australia all the way north to south and east China, west to India, east to the Solomon Islands, and covering everything in between (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Indo-China, etc.).
  • Ficus microcarpa (Cuban laurel) has basically the same range as F. benjamina, though it extends a bit further north (to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan) and a bit further to the southeast (Palau, New Caledonia, etc.)
  • Gardenia jasminoides (gardenia) is native to the eastern edge of Southeast Asia. From north to south: Japan, Taiwan, China, Vietnam.
  • Gloriosa superba (glory lily, gloriosa lily) is another species that splits its time between Africa and Southeast Asia. It only just barely qualifies for this list; GRIN says it's native to a bit of southern Yunnan province (which is in southwest China). Most of its Asian range is south and west of that, though: south through Indo-China and Indonesia, west until you hit India. The African part of the range covers most everything down the east side of Africa (Ethiopia / Somalia / Sudan, Uganda / Kenya / Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, and a little ways up the east side, as far as Namibia). There's also supposed to be a little population all by itself in Senegal, which is as far to the west as you can go and still be on the African continent; I sort of wonder if the Senegalese bit is an error on someone's part.
  • Hoya carnosa is native to southern China, as well as Taiwan, the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, and Kyushu (Japan), India, Vietnam and Malaysia. I don't know if the Indian population is actually separate or if part of the range was left out.
  • A few other Hoya species claimed to be native to China: Hoya chinghungensis, Hoya dasyantha, Hoya fungii, Hoya globulosa, Hoya griffithii, Hoya juangoiana, Hoya lii, Hoya lyi, Hoya manipurensis, Hoya mengtzeensis, Hoya motoskei, Hoya multiflora,6
  • Hoya ovalifolia, Hoya pandurata, Hoya picta, Hoya pottsii, Hoya salweenica. I didn't dig into the details on most of these, but they were on the list; check 'em out yourself if you're interested.7
  • Jasminum officinale is a welcome change of pace -- it's actually from western China (Guizhou, Sichuan, Xizang/Tibet, Yunnan) and its range extends to the west from there (east to west, in order: Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Georgia, Turkey).
  • Jasminum polyanthum is strictly Chinese, from the south/central provinces of Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan. I'm appreciating that one, too, 'cause it's easier to type out. You're totally bored with this by now, right?8
  • Lemmaphyllum microphyllum is an oddball epiphytic fern; GRIN didn't have a listing for it, but other sources suggest a range from Korea south through Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines, either stretching west into India or with a separate population in India: I never know if my sources are just being lazy with this sort of thing or if there are actually isolated populations of plants all over the place.
  • Liriope spicata (lilyturf, monkeygrass) is another down-the-coaster: Japan, Taiwan, most of China, south into Vietnam.
  • Livistona chinensis (Chinese fan palm) is also a down-the-coaster: Japan, Taiwan, south China.
  • Ludisia discolor (jewel orchid) comes from the southern coast of China, south through Indo-China (Burma, Thailand, Vietnam), Indonesia, and Malaysia.
  • Murraya paniculata (orange jasmine, orange jessamine) can be found naturally in the southern couple rows of provinces of China, east to Taiwan and the Philippines, west to India and Sri Lanka, south as far as the north coast of Australia, and some of the western and southwestern Pacific islands. Plus, obviously, all points in between (Indo-China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and so forth).
  • Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) is from China and Japan; I don't know what parts of China specifically, but with Japan, it's the three southern large islands (Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku).
  • Neofinetia spp. weren't in GRIN, but another source puts them in east Asia, specifically Korea, Japan, and China.
  • I don't know if anybody tries to grow Nephrolepis hirsutula (scaly sword fern) indoors or not, but GRIN says Guangdong, China is part of the natural range, along with Thailand, Malaysia, and the north coast of Australia.
  • I've gotten the general impression that Nerium oleander (oleander) is primarily a Mediterranean and west Asian species, but GRIN puts its native range along an east-west line that stretches from Morocco, in northwest Africa, through north Africa, the Middle East, and India, with a bit in Yunnan province of southwest China.
  • GRIN claims Origanum spp. (oregano) are native throughout Europe, south and east into Turkey, Iran, and Georgia, and then small areas of India and China (specifically the provinces of Sichuan, Xizang/Tibet, and Yunnan, all in southwest China). Whether this refers to a fragmented range, multiple species, or inadequate data is unclear.
  • Osmanthus fragrans (fragrant olive, sweet olive) is at home from northeast India, Nepal, and Bhutan east into northern parts of Burma/Myanmar and north Thailand, and southwest China. GRIN also lists the southern part of the island of Kyushu, in Japan, but that's a long way from the rest of the plant's range, so I'm not sure what to do with that.
  • Paphiopedilum cvv. (slipper orchids) are mainly found in Indo-China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but some species are found as far north as southern China.
  • Pellionia repens (watermelon begonia) is native to Indo-China, west to India, east to the Philippines, south to Indonesia, and north to Yunnan and Hainan provinces in south/southwest China.
  • Perilla frutescens (beefsteak plant, shiso) may or may not qualify as a houseplant; it sort of seems like it ought to be possible, but I haven't heard of anyone ever actually growing it indoors. It's found in much of southern and coastal China, though, as well as throughout Indo-China, Taiwan, much of Japan and Korea, northern India, Bhutan, Nepal, as far west as Pakistan.
  • The range of Phaius tankervillae (nun orchid) is bounded by southern China and Taiwan on the north, northeast India on the northwest, Sri Lanka on the west, northern Australia on the south, and the southwestern Pacific islands on the southeast, as well as most of Malesia and Indo-China.
  • Phoenix roebelenii (pigmy date palm) has a fairly small native habitat, limited to north Laos, northwest Vietnam, and the Chinese province of Yunnan, in southwest China.
  • Phyllostachys spp. (bamboo) are all found in China; their suitability as houseplants is questionable, but people do attempt it.
  • As I understand things, the natural range of Pilea cadierei (aluminum plant) is even more in question than that of most domesticated plants, because nobody's seen it in the wild for quite a while, but it's believed to have originated in Vietnam, and GRIN says there are some in southwest China (Yunnan and Guizhou) as well.
  • I'd warn you not to try Pogonatherum paniceum (house bamboo) indoors, whatever common name marketers are trying to put on it, but Tropicos appears to be claiming9 that the natural range extends from Pakistan in the west all the way through India, Indo-China and China, south into Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • Polypodium formosana (=Polypodium formosanum) (caterpillar fern, naked rabbit's foot fern) is from China, Japan, and Taiwan, according to Tropicos. ("Formosa" is the Portuguese word for Taiwan.)
  • Polyscias fruticosa cvv. (ming aralia) has the whole India / China / Indo-China / Malesia thing going on, plus Fiji in the southeast.
  • Pteris cretica (cretan brake fern) is from everywhere, according to GRIN: most of equatorial Africa, south Africa, and Madagascar (plus Algeria, for some reason), western and southern Europe, Turkey, Yemen, northern India, Indo-China, China and Japan. Plus an incongruous bit in Guatemala and southern Mexico, which I'm thinking is maybe a mistake.
  • Pteris vittata (chinese brake fern, ladder brake fern) is similar to P. cretica, though without Europe or the Mexico/Guatemala bit. P. vittata is also supposed to be present in the wild in three different Australian states, none of which share borders: Queensland (NE Australia), Western Australia (west), and Victoria (SE Australia). I don't know what's going on there.
  • Radermachera sinica (China doll) is native to southern China, Taiwan, and the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, which most sources agree on, plus GRIN adds Vietnam, Burma/Myanmar, and a teeny bit of northeast India.
  • Schefflera arboricola (umbrella tree) is from two islands in the South China Sea: Taiwan and Hainan. I expected more, but that's all GRIN said.
  • Solenostemon scutellarioides (=Plectranthus scutellarioides, Coleus blumei, coleus): India, China (the SE corner -- Fujian, Guangdong, and Guangxi), Indo-China, the Philippines, and then all points south of that line until you hit the north coast of Australia, more or less.
  • The natural range of Tacca chantrieri (bat plant) runs from India and Sri Lanka in the west, to pretty much all of Indo-China, plus Malaysia just to the south of Indo-China and most of southern China.
  • (We're almost done!)
  • The natural range of Trachelospermum jasminoides (confederate jasmine, star jasmine) pretty much includes everything that touches either the South China Sea or the East China Sea, with two exceptions: Korea, Japan, China, and Vietnam, but not the Philippines or Taiwan. At least, not according to GRIN.
  • GRIN says Trachycarpus fortunei (windmill palm, Chinese windmill palm) is found throughout central and eastern China, as well as some of northern Burma/Myanmar.
  • Southwest China (Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan) is at the northeast tip of the range for Trevesia palmata (snowflake aralia, snowflake plant), which is primarily an Indo-Chinese (Cambodia, Laos, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam) species. A little bit of northeast India and neighboring countries (Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh) are included in the range too.
  • Vandas are mostly man-made hybrids these days, but some species occur in Yunnan province, in southwest China. The rest of them are spread throughout a India / Philippines / Indonesia triangle.

Borderline cases:
  • Citrus, Citrofortunella, and Fortunella spp. (citrus, orange, kumquat, lime, lemon) are thought to have originated somewhere in the general China / Indo-China / India area, but nobody's really sure, because they've been so widely cultivated.
  • Farfugium japonicum 'Crested Leopard' may or may not count as a houseplant. (I've heard of it being done, but never actually seen it or attempted it, so I don't know how well that works out for anybody.) It is, nevertheless, native to Japan, north to Korea, south to Taiwan, and in southeast and central China.
  • Hemionitis arifolia (heart fern) isn't included in GRIN, but Exotic Rainforest says "primarily from Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and possibly China, Taiwan and other nations in tropical Southeast Asia." So maybe it belongs on the list, and maybe it don't.
  • Hoya kerrii is possibly native to China: one source said China, Japan, and Thailand; another said Thailand and the Philippines.
  • Hoya lacunosa cvv. is possibly from south China, according to Google; it's more definitely present in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
  • Microsorum steerii (oil fern) and M. thaliandicum aren't in GRIN, but both are claimed to be present in southern China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. M. thailandicum is also, as one might expect, found in Thailand.
  • Nepenthes spp. (pitcher plants) are mainly from warmer climates to the south of China, but at least one, N. mirabilis, can be found in Guangdong and Hainan, in south China, as well as south through Indo-China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Queensland in northeast Australia, and a few Pacific islands (Micronesia, Palau). I don't know if N. mirabilis is one of the species people try to grow indoors or not.
  • Phalaenopsis cvv. (moth orchid) are mostly hybrids, as far as what's available to grow as a houseplant. A few species are supposed to live in parts of China (particularly the large southern island of Hainan), like P. hainanensis (Hainan and Yunnan), P. braceana (Yunnan), P. deliciosa ssp. hookeriana and P. mannii (eastern Himalayas to SW China), and a handful of others, but it's not clear how widespread any of these are in cultivation, and my main source for this is Wikipedia, making it even more doubtful.

Image credits:
SE Asia map: Cropped version of a map from the UT-Austin Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, with the addition of a label for the Ryukyu Islands
China map: Wikimedia Commons

1 Being a product of the U.S. educational system, I was embarrassingly ignorant of a lot of this region before I started working on this post. I'm a little clearer on southeast Asia now, plus I can name, spell, and indicate the approximate location of three and a half Chinese provinces (Fujian, Hainan, Yunnan and sometimes Guangdong), which I couldn't do before.
2 The genus is in the process of being taxonomically reorganized, so I'm not sure whether this will be true in the future, or for how long. Try as I might, I can't actually keep up with all of the taxonomic stuff that's going on lately.
3 Fujian is also sometimes rendered "Fukien" when spoken by English-speakers, hence "fukien tea" (Carmona sp.)
4 Which is also called Myanmar; whichever name you use for the country will inevitably offend someone, and I, not having any idea about the issue(s) involved and very little motivation to put in the research at the moment, have no idea whose side I'm on. Wikiposedly the U.S. government prefers "Burma," so I'm going with Burma.
5 Just checking to see if you're reading this, and incidentally amusing myself a bit -- this gets kind of tedious to type out. Plus I keep having to look at maps. Cymbidiums in fact are mostly man-made hybrids, but the original species are found inside of an India-Korea-New-Guinea triangle, including parts of China but apparently excluding the Philippines.
6 Questionable -- the source for this had it as part of a list of Chinese natives but didn't include China on the more specific page for the plant, so I don't know.
7 There's also a good chance that some of those names are synonyms for other names on the list.
8 Well, suck it up, 'cause we're only up to the letter J.
9 (Tropicos and I have some problems with one another.)


orchideya said...

Very interesting post.
Funny notes on cymbidiums, but there is actually a whole strain of chinise cyms including sinense, ensifolium, goeringii etc. They are more compact and usually very nicely fragrant.

Pat said...

I have a friend who spent a lot of time in Japan and now has a few Perillas as houseplants. He loved perilla juice so much he wanted to have it to hand. Thrips love Perilla indoors and will destroy it if allowed.

Andrew Ablėnas said...

I can't help but have a deep respect for the amount of time and research you put into every post. The amount of detail in this one is astounding!

Pat said...

I knew formosa was ringing a bell somewhere: Pleione formosana.

Kaleponi boy said...

Loquats are actually quite tasty little fruits, if you live in an area where outdoor culture is possible. Oddly enough, in Mexico a decoction of the leaves is a favored "sober-up" solution after a "one too many" experience.