The flora of China is extremely diverse. Its 30,000 varieties
of higher plants make up 10 per cent of the world total. The
American naturalist E.W. Wilson, who spent 11 years in China
in the early part of the last century, noted that every important
genus of broad-leaved tree known in temperate regions of northern
hemisphere is represented in China, except the hickory, plane
and false acacia. All conifers are represented, too, he said,
except redwoods, swamp cypress, umbrella pine and true cedars.
North America has 165 genera of broad-leaved trees; China 260.
Wilson felt Chinese flora has more affinity with eastern
USA than Europe or Asia, and cited examples of the tulip tree,
Kentucky coffee tree, sassafras and the lotus family, all
of which have one genus in China and one genus in eastern
U.S.A. The magnolia, absent in Europe and western North America,
is represented by seven species in eastern U.S.A. and by 19
in China and Japan. Wisteria, catalpa and gordonia show similar
connections. Among plants dispersed worldwide, Wilson said
the Chinese species are usually more closely related to those
of North America than Europe. The reason he felt was the pattern
of glaciation, particularly the Third Ice Age, which affected
North America and Europe but left China largely untouched.
China's fauna is also very diverse, with 4,440 species of vertebrates,
including 450 species of mammals, 1,186 birds, 196 amphibians,
320 reptiles and 2,000 aquatic animals. More than 100 species
of animals are peculiar to or found mainly in China. These include
the panda, takin, the red-crowned crane, eared pheasant, golden-haired
monkey, river dolphin, Yangtze alligator and giant salamander.