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Chinese botanists identify rare azalea species | Updated: 2016-06-30 15:09

(ECNS) -- Chinese botanists have identified a species of azalea that is unique in the world, giving it a conservation value as high as the giant panda, Chengdu Economic Daily reported.

Five experts, including Geng Yuying from the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, found only 200 individual plants of the azalea native to Huidong County in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, in a valley during a recent field visit.

They are scattered across mountains at 2,800 to 3,200 meters above sea level in Huidong, measure about 2.5 meters tall, and have flowers that last five to six months, according to botanists.

Geng said the species attracted interest from researchers as early as 1959, but disagreement among experts at the time prevented it from being named a unique species. After checks and verifications from Chinese and international experts, it's now officially recognized as the "Huidong Azalea".

Zhang Chao, senior engineer with the institute's West China Subalpine Botanical Garden, said the species has few new seedlings and extremely low reproduction ability so it may become extinct without protection.

The county has decided to establish a protection zone for these azalea.

The world has about 1,000 species of azalea. The flower is one of the most favored in China, today recognized as the "city flower" in several areas. Many poems in the Tang and Song dynasties were dedicated to it.

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