Header image courtesy of The Murray
Hong Kong is known for many things, from the rich culture to the night cityscape, and the delicious variety of cuisines you can find here. But amidst all the hustle and bustle, Hong Kong also houses many beautiful plants. Our trees, in particular, hold a special significance in our environment, scenery, and history—to the point where we even have a Register of Old and Valuable Trees (OVTs)! Keep reading to learn more about the oldest and most treasured trees in Hong Kong that soak up carbon dioxide and our city-life stress.
It is impossible to talk about trees in Hong Kong without mentioning the ultimate “tree king.” This four-hundred-year-old banyan tree in Kowloon Park was crowned the ”King of Hong Kong Urban Trees” in 1997, and is the largest Chinese banyan in Hong Kong with the thickest tree trunk on record, measuring four metres in diameter.
Due to a lack of proper care, the banyan king was deteriorating in health, and a third of the tree broke off in 2007. Authorities have since made a concerted effort to save it, and fortunately, the tree was reported to have shown significant improvements in recent years. Although unable to be restored to its glory days, the magnificence of the tree king still remains to this day.
Residing on the rooftop of Pacific Place, the old banyan tree looks over a ring of greenery, like a kindly grandmother watching the children play. Believed to date back to 1870, when the site was still a part of the Victoria Barracks, this banyan is one of the best-known trees in Hong Kong. As demanded by the government, Swire Properties spent over $20 million building the world’s most expensive plant pot to preserve the tree.
The banyan tree is so enormous that it is described as “a tree that becomes a forest” (獨木成林; duk6 muk6 sing4 lam4) by writer Shu Yi (舒乙), and is interchangeably referred to as the “Banyan Garden” (榕圃; jung4 pou2). A green jewel amongst some of the city’s most expensive buildings, the “Banyan Garden” poses as an example and a reminder of balance between nature and development.
A tree is considered old and valuable in Hong Kong when it gets to a hundred years old—now imagine a tree that is three thousand years old and still standing upright and healthy. A pine tree in the Nan Lian Garden is estimated to have lived for over a thousand years, and potentially up to three millennia. A serene sanctuary that values the preservation of nature and peace of mind, there really is no better place than the Nan Lian Garden to hold the invaluable beauty of the pine tree—a symbol of harmony, peace, and balance.
However, since the tree did not originate in Hong Kong but was instead transplanted here, it is not listed in the Register of Old and Valuable Trees. Still, pretty impressive, right?
Stone wall trees are a uniquely Hong Kong sight—all across the city, you can find gnarly roots running down stone masonry walls like veins stretching across a beating heart. First installed as a landslide prevention measure, these trees have become one with the masonry. Being a one-of-a-kind feature and an auspicious feng shui symbol, stone wall trees are treasured by the neighbourhoods in which they stand.
Sadly, some of the oldest and largest stone wall trees, such as those on Bonham Road in Mid-Levels, have been removed due to safety concerns after heavy storms. Currently, the largest stone wall tree is a 140-year-old banyan located in Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, providing homes for wildlife species, shade for pedestrians, and colours for the busy city.
The feng shui woodland and mangroves around the Lai Chi Wo walled village are ripe with biodiversity, including an eccentric-looking climber plant called the common derris (or derris trifoliata, if you’re being fancy). While derris is technically a climber plant, the ones around Lai Chi Wo are 120 years old, and far exceed the typical five- to 10-centimetre width of typical derris vines, having grown to the width of an average adult’s waist!
The thick, woody vines can be found woven around larger trees and curved into all kinds of odd shapes, and its delicate white flowers have long become a landmark feature for hikers and tourists. Unfortunately, many visitors previously disregarded the well-being of the derris vines and would sit or swing on their “branches,” leading to the government to fence them off for protection. Luckily, the whimsical beauty of the white-flowered derris is still evident from afar.
When you think of the term “treehouse,” you may immediately imagine structures manually built on top of trees. But the well-known treehouse in Kam Tin—a literal amalgamation of a tree and a house—is not like any other treehouse you have seen before. It is said that the house, built next to the tree, became vacant after the last owner was evacuated in the Qing dynasty. Over time, as the tree grew, its aerial roots and trunk have engulfed the house entirely.
Taking the shape of the house and with a crown as wide as 42 metres, the treehouse is often said to look like an animal from a distance. Up close, some of the bricks and the granite doorframe are still visible through gaps between branches. With over 340 years of history, the tree is an important symbol of collective memory among Yuen Long residents.
The century-old wishing trees in Lam Tsuen are undoubtedly some of the most noteworthy trees in Hong Kong, and are often named as must-visit sites for tourists and locals. Said to be trees of gods, visiting worshippers would write their wishes on joss paper tied to an orange fruit, then throw them up into the tree, believing that their wishes would come true if the paper hung onto a branch. Under immense weight, one of the branches eventually collapsed, causing several injuries. As an effort to save the trees, the throwing of joss paper onto the actual wishing trees has become prohibited, with wooden racks and plastic replica trees replacing the original trees in the wish-making tradition.
Alluding to the fictional character Guan Yu (關羽), the nickname “man with a beautiful beard” (美髯公; mei5 jim4 gung1) perfectly illustrates the dense, thick strands of aerial roots hanging down from the crown of this famous banyan tree in Wong Tai Sin. An old citizen in the neighbourhood, the tree has been looking over the Wong Tai Sin district for over a century.
Even though the tree was found to have fungal problems some years ago, it has been recovering and looking as healthy and strong as it once was—in fact, it may even be stronger than before, since experts noticed in 2018 that the tree has grown 40 centimetres in diameter!
Despite being one of the oldest trees in the city, the cassia javanica on the grounds of The Murray hotel in Central blossoms around spring or early summer every year without fail. The juxtaposition of green-leaved branches adorned with light pink and white sakura-esque blooms paired with the hotel’s aesthetically pleasing architecture have made the hundred-year-old tree a social media check-in hotspot every summer. Taking pride in the pink emblem, The Murray holds annual events celebrating the tree’s blooming period.