Wall trees in Hong Kong

Posted on April 20, 2016 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

bonham road banyan trees

The remains of the banyan wall trees on Bonham Road

 

Unsurprisingly, the image that is often associated with Hong Kong is its famous skyline and high-rise. Yet personally, I consider the city's banyan wall tress to be its most unique sight and heritage. In recent years, trees have become a hot topic in Hong Kong, especially after four banyan wall trees in the mid-levels were cut down by the Government last year due to an earlier accident where a tall tree on the same road had collapsed during heavy rain. The Highways Department claimed that there were cracks on the stone fence above them, thus they decided to take 'swift' action without proper assessments nor public consultation. This action caused public outrage, tree experts and university professors described the action as “collateral murder” and they criticised the government for its inadequate tree maintenance over the years. The government has had a poor track record of tree management in the past, but this incident was the last straw for tree lovers in Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree  Hong Kong wall tree  Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree

 

The history of these trees can be traced back to the early colonial period when the tenacious Chinese banyan trees were chosen by the government in the hope that their strong roots could strengthen retaining walls on slopes to prevent landslides during the rainy typhoon seasons. In 1996, Hong Kong was estimated to have 1,275 trees growing out of 505 retaining masonry walls. Yet only 40 of these trees are registered and considered as significant to the government. Most of these trees can be seen on slopes in Central, Mid-Levels and Western District, and they form a truly unique landscape in Hong Kong. I cannot imagine what the city would look like without these beautiful wall trees; in my opinion, they should be listed as the city's heritage and be protected and maintained properly.

 

Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree  Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree

 

It is almost magical to see how these trees managed to grow and merge with the masonry walls over the decades. These tree reveal their resilience and adaptability, and yet humans continue to destroy them in the name of 'development'. In many cultures (including the Chinese), trees are considered as sacred and have been worshiped since the ancient times. The Japanese and Scandinavians respect trees and forests immensely, hence wood is often used as the main building material and in furniture-making. The Japanese also believe in Kodamaspirits in Japanese folklore that inhabit trees that are similar to the dryads of Greek mythology. In Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki's environmentally-conscious film Princess Mononoke, Kodama play a crucial role and they appear as small and mask-like creatures. And in one of the studio's earlier film My Neighbor Totoro, the adorable Totoro acts as the forest keeper to protects the forest. So perhaps what Hong Kong needs is a group of Totoros to protect the endangered banyan wall trees!

The factors that are threatening these banyan trees include the stability of the walls, and the lack of tree doctors in Hong Kong. Insufficient tree knowledge and expertise means that trees are not properly maintained – and like human beings – they would suffer from ill health as a result. I think it is time for the government to take this issue seriously and regard these trees as an important heritage of Hong Kong.

Over the years, I have taken many photographs of the amazing wall trees in Hong Kong, and here are just some are were taken around mid-levels and the western district. If all of us can pay more attention to our surroundings and environment, then we would inevitably notice that beauty is around us all the time. Trees are urban treasures, and we must save them before it is too late.

 

Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree

Hong Kong wall tree  Hong Kong wall tree  Hong Kong wall

Hong Kong wall   Hong Kong wall


This post was posted in Hong Kong, Nature, Social issues and was tagged with Hong Kong, nature, heritage, trees

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