You might assume that most plateau plants are like this, this, or this. Being short is often a strategy to combat cold, but this is not entirely the case on the magical Qinghai-Xizang Plateau. This plant, for instance, stands out with its unique shape. Not only does it reach the height of a small tower, but also has the courage to anchor its roots deep beneath the snow in the gravel crevices and rise two meters high atop mountain peaks, offering a panoramic view of the world below. How does it withstand the harsh cold and snow, and how does it manage to thrive in such a challenging environment?
Rheum nobile, not surprisingly, resembles a pagoda. In order to adapt to the local environment, its petals are tightly wrapped, preventing the escape of internal heat and the intrusion of external cold. This creates a greenhouse effect that offers excellent protection to the stamens within. As it is warm inside, various small mosquitoes and insects often crawl into the plant and nestle in it at night. Rheum nobile typically grows to be quite tall, and has irregular and unpredictable flowering seasons. On average, they blossom every 15 to 45 years, and blossom only once in their entire lifetime. The Qinghai-Xizang Plateau is characterized by its high elevation, low oxygen levels, and cold climate. Temperature variations between day and night are substantial, leading to a long growth cycle for medicinal herbs. These plants demonstrate remarkable resilience and possess notably potent medicinal effects. It’s no surprise that vegetation on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau is likened to “compressed biscuits” packed with high energy by locals.
In fact, what’s compressed within is not just high medicinal value but also the wisdom of survival under severe conditions. In the harsh geological environment of fault landforms between grassland and plateau, meconopsis always “keep their heads low” as if deep in contemplation. Growing on high, steep mountains where human presence is rare, these plants seem to understand the wisdom of “keeping a low profile”.
Meconopsis is a rare plant that is very difficult to raise. It cannot be exposed to the sunlight directly, so it “lowers the head” to shield its stem with petals. They generally grow on the shady slopes of mountains at altitudes ranging from 3,700 to 5,000 meters.
Despite keeping a low profile, it has gained fame all over the world. In Western Europe in particular, it enjoys exceptional popularity.
Meconopsis is remarkably beautiful, the Europeans regard it as the world’s most renowned flower. Wilson, a British botanist, once found it in western China and took its seed back to Britain, sparking a craze among Western scientists to search for and research meconopsis. Since then, it has become the “plateau beauty” among Westerners. According to records, there are 49 species of meconopsis worldwide, of which 38 species can be found in China, and the white-flowered meconopsis is unique to China. The blue-flowered meconopsis is particularly suitable for medicinal purpose, primarily used for treating liver diseases and throat obstructions.
There are numerous medical herbs on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau that are used to prepare Tibetan medicine, with a total of 2,294 species recorded in the Shel Gong Shel Phreng, out of which 1,006 species are plants.
The Qinghai-Xizang Plateau, once deemed a “forbidden zone for life”, has given rise to a vibrant world inhabited by countless, resilient life forms. With an astonishing vertical range of 8,000 meters, the Plateau has created the most complete vertical vegetation belt in the whole world. Therefore, it has not only become the mystical herb repository for Tibetan doctors, but also narrates the tale of human-nature symbiosis in the Orient throughout the millennia of medical practice.