Chinese researchers fighting desertification create botanical garden in desert

In northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, a barren desert area once plagued by quicksand in the Turpan Basin, is now a botanical garden filled with lush plants, thanks to more than four decades of sustained efforts of Chinese researchers from generation to generation.

More than 500 species of salt- and drought-tolerant desert plants flourish in the botanical garden, Turpan Eremophyte Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which is also the world’s only botanical garden located below sea level.

In the last century, the site of the botanical garden was a vast expanse of desert where 90,000 mu (6,000 hectares) of areas affected by wind erosion and quicksand were the sandstorm source threatening life and production in the lower margin of the desert. Sandstorm used to rage in Turpan Basin every spring, causing serious impact on agriculture, according to Pan Borong, a researcher with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, CAS.

“We didn’t go to Turpan to set up a botanical garden in the first place. The local government invited us to help with sand control. After achieving success in the endeavor, we began planning to transform the land into a botanical garden,” Pan told People’s Daily.

After field trips and investigations, researchers started to introduce sand-fixing plants from desert areas in the country’s northwestern regions to the Turpan Basin according to the characteristics of its climate, soil and weather conditions.

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