ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “banyan

ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS (兵頭花園), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.

Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.

Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden and the slope of Victoria Peak in the 19th century. [Album of Hongkong Canton Macao Amoy Foochow, photograph by George Ernest Morrison, 1870’s, Public Domain]
Today, behind Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Victoria Peak is almost completely concealed by highrise residential towers. [Junction of Garden Road and Upper Albert Road, 2021]
The subtropical climate of Hong Kong is suitable for a wide range of trees and plants to flourish. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy, 2020]
At the Glenealy entrance, the roughly 100 year old White Jade Orchid Tree (Michelia x alba 白蘭樹) is about 34m tall. It is one of the tallest trees in Hong Kong. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy Entrance, 2021]
Beyond the Gardens and Upper Albert Road, the business district of Central is just a stone throw away. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens at Upper Albert Road, 2021]
Renamed as Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the park is also well known for its animals, including monkeys, apes, birds, and reptiles. The renowned Siu Fa, a jaguar who lived in the Gardens for 20 years until her death in 2008, was the last big cat kept at the park. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
With the spatial limitation of the Gardens, keeping large mammals such as the Bornean Orangutans is controversial. As awareness of animal welfare has risen in recent years, let’s hope the authority and zookeepers would soon shift their efforts from confining exotic animals to conserving local wildlife and natural ecosystem. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
There are also a number of cages of birds on display, including a small group of American Flamingo. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Apart from animals and birds, the Gardens is much more popular for its seasonal flower blossoms. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different types of Azalea (杜鵑) blossoms transform the Gardens into a colourful paradise in March. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different species of Hibiscus (大红花) can be found all over the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Commonly known as pinkball, Scarlet Dombeya (吊芙蓉) is a highlight at the Gardens in early April. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
It’s just flowers everywhere in spring at the botanical garden. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Native to South America, the Red-veined Abutilon or Red-vein Chinese-lantern is commonly used in horticulture. The flowers are also edible, raw or cooked. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Every visitors love the Scarlet Flame Bean or Brownea coccinea. Native to Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Scarlet Flame Beans are now cultivated in many tropical countries. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Late March and early April is the best time to check out the Scarlet Flame Bean. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Away from the flower beds and bird cages, an old stone wall tree stands quietly near Robinson Road. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1866, the Pavilion between the Fountain and the bird cages is the oldest structure in the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Even if one is not after the flowers or animals, Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) is a great place to just sit down, relax, and do nothing. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The centerpiece of the Gardens is undoubtedly the Fountain. The fountain that we see today is the 5th generation that was erected in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1868, the first generation fountain was a landmark and a well known tourist attraction of Colonial Hong Kong. The Victoria Harbour and Governor House once dominated the view behind the fountain of the Botanical Garden. [Photo by Lai Afong, 1860-1880, public domain]
The Fountain was once a well known landmark of Hong Kong frequented by tourists. [Old postcard of the Fountain, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Sometimes, art installations would be set up at the Fountain Terrace, such as this bamboo structure designed by architects Impromptu Projects from Macau [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The Fountain has become a peaceful landmark in the Mid Levels. Original fountain was built in 1864, and has been altered subsequently with the last renovation in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Spring is the best season to visit the Gardens due to the annual blossoms of Azalea (杜鵑花). [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
At the heart of the Gardens, a grand stair lead visitors from the fountain to the statue of King George VI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, the bronze statue of King George VI, father of the Queen Elizabeth II, was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the British Colonial Hong Kong. The statue was commissioned in 1939 and erected at the Gardens in 1958 after disruption from WWII. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
A greenhouse near Garden Road is home to a number of dedicated plants. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Erected in 1928, the Memorial Arch was dedicated to the Chinese who lost their lives during WWI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The 100-year-old Stone pillars mark the entrance of the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The same old stone pillars marked the park entrance 120 years ago in this photo. [Old postcard, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Across from the entrance stone pillars stands the former Governor’s House and the skyline of Central. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The former Govrenor House now stands silently across the street from the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]

STONE WALL TREES (石牆樹), Central-Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Entangling roots stretch across the surface of granite walls might remind people of the Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat instead of the city of Hong Kong. Commonly known as “Stone Wall Trees” (石牆樹), the urban scenery of Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 細葉榕) enrooted on historical granite walls is a unique scene in Hong Kong, especially in Central-Western District where the heart of the old Victoria City was located. In 1841 when the British first landed in Hong Kong, the bare, rocky and hilly terrain of the island posed a huge challenge for establishing a settlement. Apart from land reclamation along the coast, the British also create habitable land by constructing flat terraces on the slope of Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan 太平山). From the mid 19th century onwards, local granite was used to construct retaining walls for the terrace constructions. To make the relatively bare island more habitable, trees were planted across the city to provide shade and visual interest. Many foreign tree species from other British colonies such as India and Australia were brought to Hong Kong. Due to its suitability to the local climate and ability to grow rapidly, Chinese Banyan (細葉榕) were widely planted. From these banyan trees, birds and bats ate the figs and spread the seeds all over the city, and into stone joints of the retaining walls. This led to the birth of the stone wall trees.

In 1996, scholar C.Y. Jim found 1275 trees with 30 or so species on about 505 stone walls. Ficus Microcarpa or Chinese Banyan is the most common type of stone wall trees. With hardly any soil to clinch into, these banyans take the wall as their host and spread their intertwining roots on the stone surfaces. After 50 to 100 years, these banyans gradually mature into shading crowns that we see today. Many of these old stone wall trees have survived to the present day, especially in Central – Western District which contains the city’s largest concentration of stone wall trees. The emergence of stone wall trees in Hong Kong, however, was no coincidence. Perfect climate conditions, suitable stone wall surface, and some good fortune of surviving the WWII when many old trees were cut down by the Japanese for timber, all played a part in the story of stone wall trees. After WWII, stone was soon replaced by concrete for retaining wall construction. Concrete walls left little room for new trees to enroot themselves by chance. After a few generations, the resilient stone wall trees have become iconic features for various old neighbourhoods.

Despite over a century serving to improve the micro-climate of the city, cultural and ecological significance of the stone wall trees have gone unnoticed until the recent two decades. In light of the government’s intention to demolish the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and its iconic stone wall trees in 2005, the local resident group “Central and Western Concern Group” was formed to fight for preserving the stone wall trees as well as the heritage building. Not only has their effort succeeded in convincing the government to preserve the PMQ, they have also increased the public awareness of the stone wall trees. In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed exit for the new Kennedy Town Station in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. The admirable effort decisively preserved the largest concentration of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. Though not all cases were success stories. In 2015, five 150-year old stone wall banyans at Bonham Road were fell sneakily overnight, just because one of their neighbouring trees toppled some time ago due to heavy rain. In name of public safety, the five healthy trees were cut down before the arrival of a potential typhoon. No detailed study was made before the decision, and that particular typhoon didn’t even come close enough to pose any thread. The hasty action of the government led to a huge loss for the community and sparked public outcry. More and more people become aware that there is an urgent need to develop a strategic plan for protecting these unique urban stone wall trees before it is too late.

With a crown stretching over 28m, the Rubber Fig at Lugard Road on the peak of Tai Ping Shan is a popular attraction for selfies. Origin from India and Malaysia, Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica, 印度榕) were planted in Hong Kong to provide shade during the colonial era. [Lugard Road (盧吉道), The Peak (太平山), 2021]
The aerial roots of Chinese Banyan may look out of place in the city. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
An old Chinese Banyan is a great shade provider. [Hollywood Road Park, (荷李活道公園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The old Chinese Banyans in Blake Garden define the tranquil character of Po Hing Fong in PoHo, Sheung Wan. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The odd gesture of the Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden is said to be resulted from a typhoon. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
With a crown spread of 28m, the enormous Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden stands like a giant. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is native in China, tropical Asia and Australia. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is very versatile and can enroot in a wide range of urban setting, including manmade slopes in the city. [Victoria Road, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
Quite a number of Chinese Banyans have become stone wall trees. [Tank Lane (水池巷), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Stone wall trees form a unique urban scenery in the Central Western District in Hong Kong. [Between Bonham (般咸道) and Hospital Road (醫院道), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
All residents in the Central Western District are used to having the stone wall trees around. [High Street (高街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Stone wall trees are great to provide shade along narrow sidewalk where there is absolutely no room for tree planting. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
The entangling roots is part of the urban scenery. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
Wherever there is retaining wall and terraced alleyway, there would be stone wall trees. [Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
In many occasions, the stone wall tree is inseparable with the history and heritage of the stone wall itself. Built in 1850, this stone wall has supported the terrace for the Anglican Bishop’s House and the old St. Paul’s College for 170 years. [Ficus virens (大葉榕) at the Bishop House and St. Paul College, Lower Albert Road (下亞厘畢道), Central, 2021]
Local efforts to save the stone wall trees at the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in 2005 have raised public awareness on preservation of heritage buildings and old trees. [Stone wall trees and retaining wall of the PMQ along Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Central, 2020]
In 2015, five 155-year old stone wall trees at Bonham Road (般咸道) were sneakily cut down by the government in midnight. The move has sparked public outcry, especially from the immediately neighborhood. Since then, new branches have emerged from the tree stumps, once again providing shade for the bus stop below. [Junction of Centre Street and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Inflected by fungus Phellinus noxius, a prominent stone wall tree over Hospital Road (醫院道) has been diagnosed with Brown Root Rot Disease. The tree is now at risk of structural deterioration and failure. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Manmade structural supports have been installed recently to secure the inflected stone wall tree. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
The 27 banyan trees at Forbes Street (科士街) is one the largest groups of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed station exit in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
The penetrating ability of their roots make Chinese Banyans the perfect species to thrive on stone walls. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Built in the 1890’s, some say the Chinese Banyans at Forbes Street were planted intentionally to strengthen the stone retaining wall. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Another well known cluster of stone wall trees is found at King George V Memorial Park (佐治五世紀念公園) in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
King George V Memorial Park is located across the street from Tsan Yuk Hospital The park’s retaining walls is famous for the stone wall trees. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1936, King George V Memorial Park was built following the death of King George V of Britain. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
35 stone wall trees lined along the retaining walls of King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
With a football pitch, childcare centre and seating areas, the park is a popular destination in Sai Ying Pun. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The atmospheric park entrance is a popular spot for film shooting. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The Chinese Banyans provide pleasant shade for the exercise terraces along Hospital Road. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
After 85 years, the metal plaque is almost covered by the banyan roots at King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]