Cotton tree drive bears fruit, for now

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


Plans to remove the fruit of cotton trees on a public estate in Fanling have been delayed after a public outcry.

The management of the Cheung Wah Estate had planned to remove the fruit today but called off the plan as 'the time is not right'. Citing health concerns over cotton fibres released by the trees, which are said to affect people with respiratory problems, managers said the removal would go ahead when 'the fruit is ready'.

The handling of cotton trees at nearby Sheung Shui attracted controversy last year when government contractors accidentally removed the flowers as well as the fruit.

Tree experts and environmental groups criticised the estate for over-reacting to the problem of cotton fibres, which can make a mess of clothes hanging outside flats, and said the fruit should be treated as a natural part of the change of seasons.

But North District councillor Chris Yip Yiu-shing supported the removal programme after complaints from residents. Only the fruit would be cut and the flowers would not be damaged, Yip and the estate's management said.

'Some cotton fibres blew into the flats and fell into their food while cooking. Some said they had an allergy after breathing in the cotton fibres. Residents complain to us every time they see us,' estate manager Edward Kong Man-keung said.

'We're monitoring the flowers through our gardening company. They say it's not the right time yet.'

Yip said the practice of removing the fruit started two years ago, while the tress had been there for more than two decades. 'Perhaps the residents are getting older. They spend a lot of time at the park and some become allergic,' he said.

Tree experts and environmental organisations said the residents should learn to cope with the flying cotton fibres as the problem would last for only two weeks. But Yip said it would be too much to expect residents with respiratory tract diseases to endure them for so long.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, president of the environmental group Green Sense, criticised the estate management and Yip for 'not handling the issue properly'. 'Cotton trees have existed in Hong Kong for many years, and it's nonsense to cite health reasons for destroying them,' he said. 'A good district councillor should educate the public instead.'