BEIJING, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Many travel guides describe China's spring as a picturesque and pleasant season when much of the countryside is carpeted in yellow rape flowers.
This natural beauty reaches its peak from late March to April when large areas of rape fields appear from the southernmost Hainan Island to the northeast Heilongjiang Province, from Guangdong in the south to Tibet and Xinjiang in the west. Photos of people donning flower garlands sweep social media.
However, scientists are repainting the scenery by adding more colors. In provinces such as Jiangxi, Jiangsu and Hunan, the yellow blossoms are dark purple, peach red and cherry white.
These multi-colored flowers are the result of years of research by Fu Donghui, a professor at Jiangxi Agricultural University, whose team has cultivated 38 species in 22 colors.
"The multi-colored rape flowers help promote sustainable development of China's rape flower economy," Fu said.
Traditionally oilseed rape has served mostly agricultural needs, providing oil, food and ingredients for products like cosmetics.
China's oilseed rape crop covers more than 7.33 million hectares each year, ranking second in the world, and the total rapeseed output exceeding 13 million tonnes, the world's highest.
With improvements in living standards, people have new demands on the plant. The popularity of yellow rape flowers on social media made Fu realize they could attract visitors and raise the incomes of locals.
The sea of flowers is a signature tourism resource, but it is restricted by the single yellow color, Fu said, "which will cause aesthetic fatigue and gradually affect the sustainable development of the tourism industry".
Since 2017, Fu's team has genetically engineered color genes to create new colors of rape.
Last year, the researchers developed flowers in 27 colors, including blue white, pinky white, blood red, as well as flowers with yellow, white and purple spots. This year saw nine new colors. Altogether 22 have been proved suitable for large-scale cultivation.
Fu said 12 provinces have pioneered planting the multicolored rape flowers. Many newspapers splash photos of colorful fields.
"We will step up efforts to explore the factors that can affect flower colors, and breed more new varieties with better colors and an oil yield at least the same as ordinary rapeseed," Fu said.