Another blow for 'king' banyan in Kowloon Park

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2007, 12:00am

Large section of 200-year-old landmark tree collapses

A large section of one of Hong Kong's oldest trees, the landmark 200-year-old Chinese banyan in Kowloon Park, collapsed yesterday, sparking an accusation the Leisure and Cultural Services Department was guilty of 'murder' in failing to halt its decline.

About a third of the 20-metre banyan - once dubbed the 'king of urban trees' because of its magnificent spread - fell onto the seats of a football pitch at about 1pm.

No one was injured but one person had a narrow escape and climbed out through the branches looking shocked and pale, one onlooker said.

Tree expert Jim Chi-yung, who inspected the tree, said last week's tropical storm and rain had triggered the collapse, but the root cause was decay of the trunk from a fungus infection resulting from compression of the soil around the base.

The banyan's decline began in 1989 when Kowloon Park was built by the then Urban Services Department, and the surrounding ground was paved, depriving the roots of oxygen and water.

Professor Jim said it was a crime elsewhere to cause such harm to a tree, but Hong Kong had no tree-protection laws.

'The LCSD has committed something like slow murder on the tree,' he said. 'It is very sad that such an old and beautiful tree cannot survive. Such a tree would be treated as a treasure in other countries.'

Senior leisure manager Choi Lim-cho refused to admit it was the department's fault.

He said the department had done much to save the tree in 2005 when it noticed the problem, such as removing bricks and enriching the soil with nutrients.

Mr Choi said the department was optimistic the tree would survive and was cutting off some branches to reduce its weight, but there was no specific plan to save the tree.

He admitted a contractor renovating a football pitch several years ago had cut some of the roots.

Professor Jim said the remedial work had come too late.

He said the compressed soil stopped oxygen reaching the roots and trapped carbon dioxide released by the soil's micro-organisms, which poisoned the roots. The covered surface also deprived the roots of water.

'With the trunk base infected, how can the rest of the tree roots not be affected?'

He suggested using ultrasound to loosen and remove the compressed soil, and replace it with quality soil. He also called on the department to build a metal support frame for the remainder of the tree.

The banyan is believed to date from the early 1800s on the site that later became the British colonial Whitfield Barracks.

The 20-metre 'king' banyan - officially listed as an old and valuable tree in 2004 - once boasted a crown spread of 27 metres. It now looks half dead, with a few leaves dangling from dried and weakened branches.

A 150-year-old banyan with concrete around its base died in the park in 2001.

Professor Jim urged the department to save more than 100 'champion' trees in urban areas, saying all of them had concrete around their bases and were facing decline.

Fallen giant

Ealry 1800s

BAnyan planted on site which later became Whitfield Barracks


When building Kowloon Park, former Urban Services Department paves area around tree, compressing surface and condemning banyan to slow death


Leisure and Cultural Services Department notices signs of degradation and replaces paving with concrete slabs to improve aerial root development


Banyan listed as an 'old and valuable tree.' Renovation project at nearby soccer pitch further damaged tree's roots, accelerating banyan's demise


LCSD removes slabs around tree and drills holes around tree base to help it breathe, but in process damages some roots which become infected and die


Main trunk collapses, brining banyan closer to death