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Typhoon Mangkhut

‘Time running out’ to save historic Hong Kong banyan tree felled by Typhoon Mangkhut

Tree had been at Tsim Sha Tsui site – once the marine police headquarters, now a hotel – for more than 100 years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 1:04pm

The clock was ticking on Tuesday night to save a century-old tree that lay stricken after Typhoon Mangkhut swept through Hong Kong, a local arborist said.

The giant banyan tree, near the Heritage 1881 hotel site in Tsim Sha Tsui, had stood at the former marine police headquarters for more than 100 years. But it was uprooted and on its side by Tuesday.

Mangkhut battered the city on Sunday, causing damage and disruption. It felled about 1,500 trees, government statistics showed. It was unclear exactly when the banyan fell.

Its health had long been a concern for environmentalists, who said it never recovered from being moved during the site’s redevelopment, plans for which were unveiled in 2004 and which opened in 2009.

The developer, CK Asset Holdings, was criticised by the Conservancy Association for putting the big banyan inside a cylindrical preservation structure, which the green group said was bad for its health.

Jim Chi-yung, an expert once involved in conserving the trees on the site, made a plea to the developer not to remove the tree, but to save immediately.

“The root plate of the tree still looks intact,” he said. “It is likely that the tree can be saved ... but the developer needs to take immediate action.”

Jim said the tree could be put upright with supporting structures, and would need high-quality soil to help it to grow more roots. He said keeping the soil and the tree’s base moist would be essential, and that he was worried since the roots had already been exposed to the sun for a day.

The Conservancy Association said the tree had been less healthy, and more likely to fall down, since its move. The group visited the site – which CK Asset spent more than HK$1 billion (US$127.5 million) on – in 2010, finding the tree had more dead branches than before.

Ken So Kwok-yin, the association’s chief executive, said he checked on the tree about three months ago and found it had only 20 to 30 per cent of the leaves it had before it was replanted.

So said the tree’s health had been deteriorating since the redevelopment, which also involved the removal of part of a hill and lots of the trees on it. He said that was because the tree had lost a lot of roots in the move and had less access to nutrients in the pot. Insufficient irrigation compounded the problems, he said.

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“The developer improved the tending [after meeting the association] and the tree stopped getting worse. But it never got better,” he said.

So could not tell the exact reason for its collapse, or whether the tree could be saved, from the photo. Yet he observed that it had many small roots.

“It's likely that these small roots grew after the big roots were cut while replanting,” he said.

“These are not anchorage roots, and are relatively shallow. The tree, which was still situated at the hill level, was likely to be blown down by the strong wind coming from the sea.”

According to the site’s tendering conditions, any removal of preserved trees requires permission from the Lands Department.

The Post was seeking confirmation from the department on whether that rule applied in this case. It also contacted CK Asset for comment on its plan to deal with the tree.