According to Yang, citing Flora Xinjiangensis (Flora of Xinjiang), the region has more than 3,500 vascular plant species. The numbers may not be impressive when compared to China's 30,000-plus species, but these plants are distinctive in character and half of them are found only in Xinjiang.
In 2018, Yang met Wang Wencai, a leading botanist and academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Wang encouraged Yang and his team to keep documenting and collecting Xinjiang's plants and compile the findings into a book. He quit his job and took up research full time.
Last year, the Atlas of Wild Vascular Plants in Northern Xinjiang was published, written and compiled by Yang and two members of the Natural Botanical Society, Chi Jiancai and Ma Ming.
"This work has high academic value, accurate identification of plant species and precious pictures. It can play an important role in school and university education in Xinjiang, as well as in the popularization of botany," Wang writes in his recommendation of the book.
Yang had a personal herbarium of more than 10,000 dried plants. After the book was published, he donated most of his collection to national herbariums, where these can be better preserved.
"I have often been asked why I have such great passion for plants. I believe passion is to love something no matter what, and strive to do our best for the cause. Perhaps this is the embodiment of my personal value," Yang says.