Given the diverse habitats, Beijing is home to a wide variety of plants.
Total number of vascular plants: 2,206 species, of which 1,582 are native.
"Plants in Beijing" "Field Guide to the Wild Plants of China (Beijing edition)" 2008, Science Press 2018, The Commercial Press ISBN 978-7-03-021554-3 ISBN 978-7-100-15980-7 461 species 1,221 species
The inventory of the flora in and around Beijing began as early as the 1700s (Bretschneider, 1898); however, the modern Flora of Beijing was not completed until the middle of the last century. The first edition consisted of three volumes (He, 1962, 1964, 1975). The second, revised edition originally consisted of two volumes covering 169 families, 898 genera, and 2,088 species of vascular plants (He, 1984, 1987), including naturalised and escaped species cultivated in gardens and parks, and even some woody plants grown in greenhouses. It included nine families and 437 species more than the first edition. The second edition was expanded and reprinted in 1992, with an additional 118 species, bringing the total number of vascular plants in Beijing to 169 families, about 900 genera, and 2,206 species (He, 1992).
According to the “Field Guide to the Wild Plants of China” (2018, The Commercial Press), there are 139 families, 657 genera and 1,582 native species in Beijing.
The information below is quoted from “Flora of Beijing: An Overview and Suggestions for Future Research” by Jinshuang Ma of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and by Quanru Liu of Beijing Normal University. It was published online November 19, 2002.
Geographically, the native vegetation of north China should be pine-oak mixed broad-leaved deciduous forest, especially in the lower mountains around the Beijing area. However, long-term large-scale human activities—deforestation, farmland clearing, and urbanization—have altered the original vegetation as well as its character. Within the city and in outlying suburban areas, farmland, orchards, and villages have long since replaced the native forest. In surrounding mountainous areas, most of the native vegetation is also gone, and oak (Quercus spp.), aspen (Populus davidiana), and birch (Betula spp.) have become dominant species, with lespedeza (Lespedeza spp.), early deutzia (Deutzia grandiflora), and spiraea (Spiraea spp.) in the shrub layer, and some grasses in the ground layer.
Most of the native plants are found in the suburbs, especially the outer suburbs. A significant number of vascular plants are found only in the remote mountainous areas of the outer suburbs. About one third of the total native flora (455 of 1,582 species) are found in these areas. In contrast, in the central city, as in most highly urbanised areas around the world, there are few native plants. See below for a breakdown of numbers of species and percentages of total native flora by district and county.
About 20 species in Flora of Beijing are endemic to Beijing or semiendemic (shared only with neighboring Hebei Province):
Aconitum leucostomum (Ranunculaceae) in Yanqing, Hairou, and Miyun Counties (also in Hebei Province)
Adenophora wulingshanica (Campanulaceae) in Potou, Miyun County (also in Hebei Province)
Arenaria formosa (Caryophyllaceae) in Miyun County (also in Hebei Province)
Asplenium miyunense (Aspleniaceae) in Potou, Miyun County
Asplenium pseudo-varians (Aspleniaceae) in eastern Beijing (also in Hebei Province)
Astragalus hancockii (Leguminosae) in Donglingshan and Baishuashan, Mengtougou District (also in Hebei Province)
Batrachium pekinense (Ranunculaceae) in valleys and along stream banks from Nankou to Juyongguan in northwestern Changping District
Clematis acerifolia (Ranunculaceae) in Shangfangshan, Fangshan District; and Baihuanshan and Donglingshan, Mentougou District (also in Hebei Province)
Clematis pinnata in Jinshan and Baihuanshan, Mentougou District, and Pinggu County
Gentiana tenuicaulis (Gentianaceae) (rarely found) in Huairou County (also in Hebei Province)
Gypsophila acutifolia (Caryophyllaceae) in Baihuashan, Mengtougou District (also in Hebei Province)
Hypodematium laxum (Aspleniaceae) in Shangfangshan, Fangshan District (also in Hebei Province)
Ligusticum filisectum (Umbelliferae) in Pinggu, Yanqing, Huairou and Miyun Counties (also in Hebei Province)
Pimpinella cnidioides (Umbelliferae) (record only, no specimen)
Peucedanum hirsutiusculum (Umbelliferae) in Shangfangshan, Fangshan District, and Xishan, Haidian District (also in Hebei Province)
Peucedanum trinioides (Umbelliferae) in Baihuashan and Donglingshan, Mengtougou District (also in Hebei Province)
Phlomis jeholensis (Labiatae) in Huairou, Pinggu County (also in Hebei Province)
Poa longiglumis (Gramineae) in Baihuashan, Haidian District (also in Hebei Province)
Poa lepta in Baihuashan, Haidian District (also in Hebei Province)
Poa schoenites in Jinshan and Baihuashan, Haidian District (also in Hebei Province)
Quercus fangshanensis (Fagaceae) in Shangfangshan, Fangshan District (known only from the Type specimen; perhaps a hybrid between Q mongolica and Q aliena var. pekingensis).
Rhamnus bungeana (Rhamnaceae) in Shangfangshan, Fangshan District and Miaofengshan, Mentougou District only
Saussurea scleroplepis (Compositae) in Potou, Miyun County (also in Hebei Province)
Scirpus schansiensis (Cyperaceae) in Changping District, Huairou and Miyun Counties (also in Hebei Province)
Of the 2,206 vascular plants found in Beijing, 704 (about one third) are nonnative species (i.e., introduced, escaped, naturalised, and/or cultivated). Of these, 257 species are widely cultivated, 152 species are occasionally cultivated, and 295 species are found only in gardens and parks, including in greenhouses. Six hundred one species were introduced intentionally; 96 escaped or naturalised without cultivation; seven are hybrids. Two hundred and fifty species originated in other parts of China; 107 species are from Central and South America; 86 species are from North America; 72 species came from Europe; 65 species are from Africa; 63 species originated in other parts of Asia; 16 species are from the Mediterranean; and seven species came from Australia. The origin of the remaining species is unknown.
Although invasion by nonnative species is accepted as a serious threat to natural environments as well as to human health and welfare worldwide (Boufford, 2001), there are little data on invasive species in Flora of Beijing. However, it is possible to extrapolate a few examples of invasive species from Flora of Beijing:
Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia): Widespread from the Yangtze River valley to northern China in the eastern part of the country, this species was very recently found in Beijing. Originally from North America, it has naturalised widely in China since 1970, although it was found as early as the 1930s (Zhu, Sha & Zhou, 1998) and was present in Europe and Russia well before that (Esipenko, 1991; Dimitriev, 1994; Nedoluzhko, 1984). This is a very harmful plant, both to crops and natural vegetation.
Cow soapwort (Vaccaria segetalis): Originally from Europe, the species naturalised in China around the 1950s, especially on farmland. It has been become an increasingly serious invasive since the 1980s. It has also been cultivated and used as a medicinal plant in China.
Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida): Also from North America, this species was not found in Beijing before 1987, although it was present in the neighboring province of Hebei. However, when Flora of Beijing was reprinted in 1992, it was already found in more than five districts and counties in Beijing. This highly invasive plant has the potential to spread widely and quickly.
Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense): This species was first found in Fengtai District in 1988. Now on the National Quarantine List of China, it is believed to have been introduced via seed-exchange stocks.
Spine cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum), smooth cocklebur (X. glabrum), and Italian cocklebur (X. italicum): All three of these species were found very recently (1988 and 1991). The first, from Europe and Asia, was introduced via seed-exchange stocks; the latter two came from North and South America and southern Europe. The fact that both these plants were found on farmland in Changping District at the same time suggests that they were introduced by chance with imported seed in seed-exchange stocks.
Toothed spurge (Euphorbia dentata): The first specimen of this North American native was collected in the Medical Plant Garden, Institute of Medical Plant Development, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in the suburbs of Beijing around the 1960s. By the 1990s it had spread throughout the Botanic Garden, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xiangshan, Haidian District. The status of the plant has not been updated since the first report in China (Ma & Wu, 1993). This species may have been introduced to China along with seed-exchange stocks.
Key Areas of Plant Distribution
A. Donglingshan (highest peak), Mentougou District
B. Miaofengshan, Mentougou District
C. Baihuashan, Mentougou District
D. Labagoumen-Sunsanzhi Forest Conservation Area, Huairou County
E. Potou, Miyun County
F. Shangfangshan, Fangshan District
G. Haitoushan, Yanqing County
H. Badaling, Yanqing County
I. Songshan, Yanqing County
J. Jinshan, Xishan, and Xiangshan, Haidian District
K. Nankou and Xiaotangshan, Changping District
L. Wulingshan, Hebei Province
Number of Plants by District or County
Mentougou District: 292 species, or more than 19.4% of the native flora.
Miyun County: 193 species, or more than 12.8% of native flora.
Huairou County: 117 species, or about 7.8% of native flora
Fangshan District: 68 species, or about 4.5% of native flora.
Yanqing County: 63 species, or about 4.2% of native flora.
Haidian District: 53 species, or about 3.5% of native flora.
Changping District: 19 species, or 1.3% of native flora.
Header image: Clematis alpina ssp. ochotensis, Mentougou District, 26 May 2023 (Terry Townshend)