Century-old banyan relocated from Jockey Club in 1990s cut down due to root rot

A century-old banyan relocated at great expense 20 years ago has been cut down due to brown root rot

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2012, 5:17am

A stately banyan outside the Hong Kong Jockey Club that was saved in a costly transplant operation two decades ago is one of two heritage trees that were recently removed after it was infected with a plant disease that appears to be spreading across the city.

The banyan, along with a heritage weeping fig in Chater Garden, are the latest to be found with brown root rot disease - also called tree cancer - and were cut down late last month after being damaged during Severe Typhoon Vicente, the strongest to hit Hong Kong in 13 years.

But the method of disposal has been criticised by an expert in urban trees, and may not have followed the government's removal guidelines.

During the removals, debris and parts of the trees were left behind at the sites, prompting fears this could help spread the disease.

The Chinese banyan on Wong Nai Chung Road was reportedly at least a century old. It and another were transplanted from their original sites on Sports Road in the early 1990s to make way for the expansion of the Happy Valley racecourse.

According to press reports at the time, the trees were between 80 and 150 years old. The transplant was estimated to cost at least HK$1 million.

The Jockey Club tree, which stood 15 metres tall and almost 2 metres in diameter, was found to be infected with brown root rot disease when the Leisure and Cultural Services Department inspected it in May.

Following Vicente, which damaged an estimated 1,400 trees across the city, another department inspection showed the tree was at high risk of collapsing and it was removed. However, debris from the tree has remained at the site, covered by a nylon tarpaulin.

There is no information about the age of the weeping fig in Chater Garden. The 15-metre-tall tree was blown over during the typhoon last month.

Tree specialist Professor Jim Chi-yung of the University of Hong Kong criticised the government for "covering up" the spread of brown root rot despite a spate of recent cases.

"It is not a state secret," he said. "The government should let the public know the extent of the disease, so they can take proper action to care for their plants and trees."

Jim said he was "shocked" at the government's handling of the infected trees. "They just cut the tree and left the roots behind," he said of the weeping fig in Chater Garden. "Brown root rot is a disease of tree roots. If you cut the tree, but leave the roots behind, the disease can't be contained, and will spread."