Three Gorges Probe

Communities race to save ‘the king of trees’

Kelly Haggart

June 5, 2002

Local governments are scrambling to raise money to relocate hundreds of rare and ancient trees from the area due to be flooded next year by the Three Gorges reservoir. So far, four of the trees have been moved to higher ground, but officials say they lack funds to continue the work.

yellowhorn photo by Frank EchlerIn one county alone, the forestry bureau has identified 384 yellowhorn trees (huangjiao shu) that should be moved, the Chongqing Morning Post (Chongqing chenbao) reported on May 26. Officials in the county – Zhongxian, about 400 kilometres upstream of the world’s biggest dam, being built on the Yangtze River – say the cost of transplanting each tree ranges from US$500 to $625, including labour, materials and vehicle rental. In some cases, a special path has to be cleared to move a tree to its new site.

County officials estimate they need US$190,000 to $240,000 to remove all 384 trees, some of which are 300 years old and deeply revered by local people. But local governments lack the cash for the task, because it was not included in the original budget of the Three Gorges project.

In an earlier article (April 22), the Chongqing Morning Post described the yellowhorn as “the king of trees.” Recounting local people’s spiritual attachment to the trees and determination to save them, the newspaper quoted residents of Zhongxian who likened the yellowhorn to “an old man with a vast wealth of experience,” “a spirit that lives on from generation to generation” and “a giant umbrella that provides us with protection and shade.”

The Web site of the U.S. government’s National Genetic Resources Program says the yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium) is a “striking deciduous shrub or tree up to 24 feet [seven metres] tall [that] is native to northern China. … Lustrous green leaves hang on late into fall. … Beautiful stalked flowers occur in May. … The five petals of each flower are white with a blotch at the base that changes from yellow to red. To a degree, the flowers resemble popped popcorn, and another common name for this plant is the popcorn shrub. … Yellowhorn can be difficult to transplant, and the plants do need good drainage.”

Indeed, forestry workers in Zhongxian are finding that some of the ancient trees already transplanted are having difficulty adapting to their new environment, the Chongqing Morning Post reported. The newspaper also said local officials have vowed to save the trees and have approached Three Gorges resettlement authorities for funds, and forestry research institutes for technical assistance.

Photograph copyright Frank Echler. Visit Dave’s Garden to see a close-up shot of yellowhorn flowers.

Categories: Three Gorges Probe

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