How did so many popular garden species of plant come to be introduced to Hong Kong? From the 1860s, water conservation-related plantings on bare, deforested hillsides established around newly built reservoirs generally used hardy Australian species. Acacia and melaleuca predominated; eucalyptus, being a fire risk, was not extensively introduced. Melaleuca, with its distinctive whitish papery bark, was planted across the New Territories, as it gave welcome roadside shade, absorbed water from drainage ditches, and the flowers provided a valuable food source for honeybees. Enormous mature specimens can still be found, especially around Fanling, Sheung Shui and Yuen Long. South China native plants have been widely planted in recent decades; in some locations, these were deliberately reintroduced after becoming locally scarce. Nevertheless, in a telling Hong Kong metaphor, most “local” plants are actually introduced exotics, originally cultivated for ornamental purposes. The 117 Hong Kong plants that could make you seriously ill The 19th century saw botanical movements follow human migration, which in turn transformed the natural environment all over the world. From early times, Hong Kong has had legions of home gardeners. Forgotten today, when most people live in flats, a leisurely look around the host’s garden was an essential aspect of any home visit. Seeds, cuttings or potted specimens would be exchanged. On hillsides close to residential areas, numerous unlikely species – best described as “garden escapees” – can be found. These have mostly naturalised from houseplant seeds spread by wind, animals or birds, or trimmings dumped into undergrowth that survived, thrived and eventually colonised surrounding areas. Among the earliest botanical introductions naturalised in Hong Kong were those from Bengal, via Macau. Calcutta was the major external trading partner for the Canton delta for more than a century. Constant movement of shipping meant there was ample opportunity for plants, seeds and cuttings to be transported. The latitude and climatic conditions were similar, so something that thrived in Calcutta would probably do well here, too. One of the earliest plant migrations to Hong Kong occurred in 1845, when Macau merchant Thomas Beale went spectacularly bankrupt and his house on the Praia Grande was sold to satisfy creditors. Beale had a garden and aviary of tropical birds – including a bird of paradise – that was one of the renowned sights of the city; visitors could enter, and various contemporary travel accounts mentioned it in glowing terms. The Chinese-style garden was mostly in pots; these were also sold. Many were brought to Hong Kong and seeds and cuttings from those originals marked the beginning of numerous local gardens. Cuttings that have grown into mature trees provide a great source of satisfaction to those who mark the passage of their own lives through the growing of plants, and record their own personal history in this way. As I write, the first flowers of the year on an unusual double white frangipani are coming into bloom outside my study windows in Shek Kong. The original cutting came more than 20 years ago from a long-established private garden in the New Territories, on a walk round the grounds after a lunch party. Like all plants, this magnificent tree has a history of its own. Mine was propagated from another mature tree that started life as a cutting taken from another tree, at Kam Tsin Lodge, Hutchison International chairman Sir Douglas Clague’s country home near Sheung Shui; the original plant, according to Lady Clague, had come from Manila in the early 1950s. My cutting has now matured into a large, attractive specimen. Our hostess that day died long ago, and the original tree at Kam Tsin Lodge was lost when that garden was redeveloped. Enduring memories of an earlier Hong Kong, now long gone.