Giants of nature

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am

1. Trees are of enormous importance. They supply us with a huge range of products from wood to delicious varieties of fruit, medicine and even rubber. They affect the climate. They protect the soil, help regulate the flow of water, and are essential in watersheds. Above all else, they are beautiful. Where would Chinese poetry be without plum trees and their delicate white petals? What would our city - mostly a concrete jungle - be without trees?

2. Do you have any favourite trees? Trees that give you pleasure when you see them and sometimes surprise you with their beautiful blossoms - and occasionally, perhaps, look different as they suddenly shed their leaves.

3. What are the trees you know? You should be familiar with the bauhinia as it is Hong Kong's symbol, and more of them are being planted as a result. And that's certainly a good thing as this tree, first discovered near Pokfulam around 1880, is a delight to the eye during the dry season with its lovely purple flowers. Another familiar and colourful sight in Hong Kong is the flame of the forest with its gorgeous scarlet flowers and long seed pods. The tree comes from Africa, but now grows throughout the tropics. It seems to love the south side of Hong Kong island and, in the right season, makes the walk between Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay particularly attractive.

4. Hong Kong is also lucky to have quite a few banyans - trees with a huge girth that can be seen around temples in India and Southeast Asia. They grow in an unusual way. The seed, usually carried by a bird, falls onto a tree (often a palm tree) and sends roots down from the top into the earth. New roots continue to grow around the host, eventually crushing the life out of it. There's an ancient banyan tree in Sri Lanka with its hundreds of trunks providing an attractive home for many small animals and birds. The trees also supply plenty of shade - and that's very desirable in hot places with no air-conditioning.

5. There are more than 1,000 different species of palm trees with their long, narrow leaves. Think of any tropical beach or island and you'll think of tall coconut palms swaying gently in the sea breeze. The young coconut supplies a delicious drink, while dried coconut and coconut milk add flavour to countless dishes. Don't rest under a coconut palm, however, as you could be hit by a falling coconut. In some places, monkeys are trained to pick them. In the Middle East, the date palm supplies a tasty and nutritious fruit. The tree even has a Christian festival named after it: Palm Sunday.

6. The fir tree (spruces, firs and pines) prefers cool, mountain locations. These species grow fast and give off a clean aroma which is often used in bathroom cleansers and disinfectants. They contain a number of chemicals that prevent other plants growing too close to them and deter insects from feeding off them. As a result, a fir forest is rather bare at ground level. In Hong Kong, the fir tree is mostly associated with Christmas, when glittering, artificial ones 'grow' all over the shopping malls.

7. The Japanese love the cherry tree, a relative of the plum tree. The tree has a fragile beauty and flowers early, so that sometimes its white blossoms fall with the snow. When an orchard of cherry trees is in blossom (as can be seen in many Japanese movies), pinkish white petals fill the air and bring joy to people. And, of course, the deep red fruit is as juicy and luscious as you could hope for. How nice that the French for 'darling' is 'cherie'. English poets refer to girls with sweet, cherry lips.

8. Where shall we end? With the maple tree, so famous on the west coast of North America, with its fabulous autumn displays of red, russet, orange and yellow, and its mouth-watering syrup? The apple tree, with its boughs bending down to the ground under the weight of the fruits? The mango tree, with its golden fruit dangling down like decorations among the dark green leaves? The chestnut, with its tasty, firm-shelled fruit which can be bought roasted in winter? Or some other tree you especially love?

A. Which trees are said to

a. have large diameters?

b. prefer cold places?

c. be useful for cookery?

d. have leaves of many colours?

e. be part of Chinese culture?

f. smell fresh?

g. have been first found in Hong Kong?

h. kill other trees?

B. Name a few more trees.

C. Find words with similar meanings:

Paragraph one

1. keep safe/preserve

2. necessary

Paragraph two

3. happiness

4. drop

Paragraph three

5. joy

6. bright red

Paragraph four

7. main bodies of trees

8. old

Paragraph five

9. swinging slowly

10. a lot

Paragraph six

11. places

12. not natural

Paragraph seven

13. delicate/easily broken

14. field of fruit trees

Paragraph eight

15. wonderful

16. branches


A. a. banyans; b. firs; c. coconut palms; d. maples; e. plums; f. firs; g. bauhinias; h. banyans/firs

B. Various fruit trees (pears etc), oak, beech, eucalyptus, sequoia, teak etc

C. 1. protect; 2. essential; 3. pleasure; 4. shed; 5. delight; 6. scarlet; 7. trunks; 8. ancient; 9. swaying; 10. countless; 11. locations; 12. artificial; 13. fragile; 14. orchard; 15. fabulous; 16. boughs



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Giants of nature

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