(Xinhua) -- When Professor Wang Qingfeng, a Chinese
botanist, visited Kenya for the first time 17 years ago, he was
amazed to find the secret of some Kenyans’ snow-white teeth:
they use branches of “toothbrush trees” to brush their teeth,
instead of a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Seventeen years later, Wang’s team and
Chinese companies in Kenya have succeeded in making toothpaste
with extracts from the tree native to Kenya. Their products are
sold in Kenya and will debut in China at the first China
International Import Expo held in November.
In addition to the toothpaste, Wang
and his partners have also developed nutrients such as tea and
capsules from local plants like moringa, an edible plant with
“Africa is a treasury of plants and a
magnificent site in the hearts of botanists,” said Wang, 50,
deputy director of Wuhan Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy
In 1997, after completing his Ph.D.,
Wang set foot on the African soil for the first time in order to
help the University of N’Djamena in the Republic of Chad
establish a laboratory. Since then, he became a regular visitor
to Africa and traveled to countries including the Republic of
Madagascar, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Since 2010, Wang has conducted some 50
field surveys in Africa, during which his team discovered seven
new plant species.
In the eyes of Gituru Robert Wahiti, a
Kenyan botanist and Wang’s Ph.D. student, Wang is an inspiring
leader. He was particularly impressed by how Wang uplifted a
frustrated team on their seemingly vain trip to look for a rare
plant species in the dense jungles of Mount Kenya.
On the fourth straight day of the
search, some members of the team, consisting of both Chinese and
Kenyan researchers, started to back down due to the tedious
trek, thin air, low temperatures and mountain sickness.
“He gathered the team in a shallow
depression on the mountain slope and encouraged the members to
carry on with the field exercise, appealing to their sense of
teamwork, friendship, and dedication to their research,” Gituru
Though their voices were hoarse and
off-key, the team lifted their spirits and joined in the chorus
of a renowned Kiswahili song.
Finally, in a depression at the foot
of a slope, the botanists broke out in jubilation at the sight
of a flourishing patch of the rare plant species.
“All the members shook Prof. Wang’s
hand, and some even hugged him,” said Gituru.
Other challenges in field surveys in
Africa included blood-sucking mites and wild animals, as well as
natural disasters such as landslides.
In 2013, he became the director of the
Sino-Africa Joint Research Center of the Chinese Academy of
Sciences, which is staffed with researchers from 18 Chinese
research institutions and their counterparts from eight African
“It took us five years to build the
research platform from scratch. Chinese institutes and
universities now can engage with the African researchers,
promoting research capabilities in Africa as well as
commercializing the research results,” said Wang.
Wang is also compiling the flora of
Kenya with the National Museum of Kenya.
“This is an ongoing process that is
expected to make a great contribution to the conservation and
protection of the plants which constitute an important part of
the natural heritage of Kenya,” Gituru said.
“We plan to spend 10 to 15 years
drafting the flora and the book is expected to cover around
7,000 plant species in Kenya. If we can make it, that will be a
great honor for us all,” said Wang.