Trees once be­lieved to be ex­tinct mak­ing come­back

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

CHONGQING — In south­west China’s Chongqing mu­nic­i­pal­ity, an ev­er­green conif­er­ous tree that was thought to be ex­tinct in the wild is mak­ing a come­back.

Sichuan thuja tree seedlings the size of a hand re­ceived a spray of wa­ter un­der a dozen shower noz­zles at a plant nurs­ery in Chengkou county. Work­ers said 40,000 of the seedlings had been raised at the breed­ing base and will be trans­planted to the wild when they get big­ger.

The Sichuan thuja, a mem­ber of the cy­press fam­ily, is na­tive to Chengkou. Spec­i­mens were first col­lected by French mis­sion­ary Paul Guil­laume Farges in 1891. A hun­dred years later, the trees ap­peared to have died off, as none were spot­ted in the wild.

In 1998, the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture an­nounced that the thuja tree was ex­tinct. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment removed it from its list of pro­tected wild plants.

The next year, how­ever, after a six-month search, a team look­ing for wild plants re­dis­cov­ered the thuja in Chengkou. After ver­i­fi­ca­tion, the con­ser­va­tion union ad­justed the tree’s sta­tus from ex­tinct to en­dan­gered.

On the steep ridges of the Daba Moun­tains, about 3,000 of the plants strug­gled to sur­vive the harsh nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

Be­cause of its scarcity and unique ap­ple-like fra­grance, items made from the thuja at one time could be sold for twice the price of gold, by weight, which led to il­le­gal log­ging.

A na­tional na­ture re­serve and breed­ing base were es­tab­lished in the Daba Moun­tains to pro­tect the species.

Ac­cord­ing to Zhang Shiqiang, di­rec­tor of the na­ture re­serve, hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties have since been re­duced in pro­tected ar­eas to cre­ate a good en­vi­ron­ment for the tree. Sci­en­tific re­search on ar­ti­fi­cial breed­ing has also been stepped up to ex­pand the trees’ pop­u­la­tion.

Mean­while, 25 mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions have been built with in­frared cam­eras and global po­si­tion­ing sys­tems for reg­u­lar data col­lec­tion, pro­vid­ing re­li­able sci­en­tific data for botanists.

Over the past two years, 200,000 seedlings were trans­planted in the tree’s na­tive habi­tat, which has ex­panded by 43.3 hectares thanks to af­foresta­tion ef­forts.

“The Sichuan thuja is a gift that na­ture gave to the world. We must strengthen our pro­tec­tion of the species and make sure it will not ap­proach ex­tinc­tion again,” Zhang said.


Tree pro­tec­tor Chen Yao­quan tells his son about an an­cient Sichuan thuja tree in a Chongqing na­ture re­serve.

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