Hong Kong, though small in size, is diverse in its flora. About 2,000 species of vascular plants native to Hong Kong has been recorded. More significantly, a large number of species new to science have first been discovered in Hong Kong. This is attributed to the continued efforts of plant enthusiasts in botanical exploration and their perseverance in conserving the local flora.
The Hong Kong Herbarium, since its foundation in 1878, is responsible for the collection, identification and systematic maintenance of plant specimens of Hong Kong flora. Here, we have chosen 12 notable plant species, all of which were first discovered in Hong Kong, to illustrate the elegance and beauty of our flora.
Rhododendron hongkongense Hutch. (Hong Kong Azalea)
The species was discovered in Hong Kong in 1851 but was misidentified as another species. It was described as a new species and named after Hong Kong in 1930. White to light red flowers appear in April, much more elegant than the lovely or Purple Azalea commonly cultivated in parks. However, it can only be found in Ma On Shan and a few other locations.
Impatiens hongkongensis Gery-Wilson (Hong Kong Balsam)
Discovered at Tai Po in 1925, described as a new species in 1978 and is endemic to Hong Kong so far as it is known. A perennial herb with attractive yellow flowers. Growing in damp spots in semi-shaded positions, along stream beds and in ravines.
Camellia hongkongensis Seem. (Hong Kong Camellia)
First discovered in 1849 when three individuals were found in a ravine in Victoria Peak. A slow growing evergreen tree native to Hong Kong. It blossoms from the late Autumn through to Spring and is the only native camellia with red flowers.
Dendrobenthamia hongkongensis (Hemsl.) Hutch.
Specimen found in 1850s and named after Hong Kong in 1888. A small evergreen tree which is very rare in Hong Kong. Only recorded in a few locations within ravine forest with high humidity. Interesting flowers composed of four pieces of elliptic bracts, white in colour, appear in May and June.
Lysimachia alpestris Champ. (Hong Kong Primrose)
Discovered in Hong Kong in 1850s on the top of Victoria Peak. Perennial herb, leaves tufted, stiffly hairy on both sides. Yellow flowers appear in April. Only found in Hong Kong and Guangdong.
Rhodoleia championii Hook
Discovered in a woodland behind the little Hong Kong (now Aberdeen) in 1849. A medium sized evergreen tree, attractive rose or claret-coloured flowers appear in late winter to early spring. Natural population only found in Aberdeen, but propagated in various country parks. A handsome tree with potential for ornamental planting.
Iris speculatrix Hance (Hong Kong Iris)
Discovered on Hong Kong Island by Hance in 1875. A perennial herb of Iridaceae, violet flowers appear in April and May. The cultivated hybrid of Iris has commonly been used as cut flowers.
Barthea barthei (Hance ex Benth.) Krasser
A species described in the “Flora Hongkongensis” in 1861 based on specimens collected in ravines on the top of Victoria Peak. A small shrub, pinkish white flowers appears in April. The genus is endemic to china, only one species and one variety have been described.
Acer tutcheri Duthie (Tutcher’s Maple)
Discovered in Lantau in 1904 by Mr. Tutcher, the then Superintendent of the Botanical and Afforestation Department. At such time, the discovery of this maple was of great interest in adding one more species to the limited number representing the genus in the tropical regions. It is of the same genus as the famous Canadian maple. Likewise, the leaves also turn red in Autumn. Only seen in a few localities at high altitude in Hong Kong.
Bauhinia × blakeana Dunn (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)
First discovered around 1880 on the hillside at pokfulam close to the remains of an old house and described as a new species by Dunn in 1908. A medium-sized evergreen tree which has been widely cultivated in parks and along road sides for its beautiful flowers and long flowering period from November to March.
Arundinaria shiuyingiana Chia et But (Shiuying Bamboo)
Named after Dr. Shiu-ying Hu for her contribution to the understanding of Hong Kong flora in 1983. A small bamboo species with 4-6 m in high and 1-2 cm in diameter. This species has not been recorded in anywhere else of the world so far.
Illicium dunnianum Tutcher (Dunn’s Star Anise)
First discovered in 1903 and named after Mr. Dunn, the then Superintendent of the Botanical and Afforestation Department. The distribution of this species is restricted to the stream courses at northeastern New Territories. It is of the same genus with the spice Star Anise, the fruit can be used as spice.