Expert fears for future of banyans

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 1994, 12:00am

THE ancient banyan trees in Sports Road, which have been shorn in preparation for a transplant, are unlikely to recover their former majesty, a tree expert warned.

The wide, bushy branches and long aerial roots of the 140-year-old trees have been cut back to such an extent that their systems may be too shocked to ever recover fully, Dr Jim Chi-yung of Hong Kong University said.

The trees will be moved in January to make way for the Jockey Club's expansion of the Happy Valley racecourse, after environmentalists objected to chopping them down.

Branch and root trimming and other preparatory work began in the spring of last year and the whole operation is expected to cost at least $1 million.

But Dr Jim, a recognised tree expert and consultant who has published several books on Hong Kong trees, is pessimistic the experiment will work.

Banyans have been moved before but never with trees this old, and the speedy timetable further reduced the chances of success, he said.

The roots had been trimmed back severely to make them as small as possible for the move and the branches had to be similarly pruned to balance the trees.

''It makes the trees look rather grotesque. They don't look like banyans any more, they look like sticks,'' he said.

''The people doing the move think that if they don't die, it will be successful. But in my opinion, they have to have the proper shape and good health. They may be living trees but they will be very weak and feeble and they will never be able to regain their original form.'' The contractor, Dragages et Travaux, is in charge of the tree removal but there was no answer yesterday at their main office or Happy Valley site office.

Dr Jim said they should have allowed at least 24 months for the transplant, rather than the 18 to 20 months that have been allotted, but best of all would have been to leave the trees in place.

''They should not be transplanting them. Trees of such age and quality would be protected by law in most cities. I don't know what's happening in Hong Kong, we are not treating trees properly,'' he said.