Anyan trees are a com­mon sight in south­ern China — from the small­est vil­lage to the largest city, these lux­u­ri­ous fig trees are om­nipresent, cov­er­ing walls, tem­ples, river banks, and lin­ing street sides. For gen­er­a­tions these trees, with their mag­nif­i­cent

China Scenic - - Nature - Photo/

On a sunny and warm af­ter­noon, I ar­rive in Fuzhou City, the bustling cap­i­tal of Fu­jian Prov­ince. Through Fuzhou runs the Min River, a vi­tal eco­nomic route that cuts through the flat land be­fore it un­leashes its wa­ter into the Pa­cific Ocean. Though Fuzhou is above of the tropic of cancer, north of the lush trop­i­cal forests that south­ern China is known for, it re­mains warm year round. Add to the heat the sur­plus of wa­ter de­liv­ered each year by the sub­trop­i­cal monsoon, Fuzhou has been taken over by some of the most won­der­ful for­est ecosys­tems in the coun­try. It is here, on the warm and wet eastern coast of China, that banyans have found a place to live, and thrive.

These banyans are not sim­ply grow­ing in Fuzhou; they are a part of what makes Fuzhou tick. Renowned for its role in Chi­nese his­tory, the city is also known by the more po­etic name “Rong Cheng”, or fig city. It has earned this name be­cause its more than one thou­sand years of fig plant­ing. The am­i­ca­ble cli­mate of Fuzhou partly ex­plains this. Sim­i­lar to that of the banyan tree’s orig­i­nal home much fur­ther south, the cli­mate of Fuzhou made for a suit­able home for banyans to take root. Once planted, they took over the city and have since be­come an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of Fuzhou. Their rich and plump crowns grow like bul­bous green clouds, and seen from a dis­tance these green clouds cover the city — they have taken over, cov­er­ing small al­leys, old houses, hill­sides, tem­ples, and road­sides alike; more im­por­tantly, just as they have grown to cover the city, they have also grown their way into the minds, and hearts of the peo­ple of Fuzhou.

Fuzhou’s Green Totem

When A-QI, a friend and ver­i­ta­ble en­cy­clo­pe­dia of Fuzhou’s his­tory, heard that I was in the city to ex­plore the con­nec­tion be­tween banyans and the cul­ture of Fuzhou, he quickly ar­ranges to meet with me.

Not wast­ing time on a greet­ing, when he ar­rives he sim­ply says “let’s go to Fuzhou For­est Park!”. His ex­cite­ment con­ta­gious, I fol­low him, now al­ready steps ahead of me down the road.

As we weave through the city, tak­ing short cuts through al­leys and pass­ing build­ings both old and new, he weaves a tale of banyans. His sto­ries are all about banyans, var­i­ous species of figs ( Fi­cus ), but they are more than just sto­ries; they are tales of Fuzhou it­self. And, to add punc­tu­a­tion to his tales, the trees are them­selves draped over al­most ev­ery­thing we pass.

Dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (960–1127), Fuzhou had two mag­is­trates that each played in­te­gral roles in bring­ing banyans to Fuzhou, and help­ing to make it the banyan cap­i­tal of China. The first was Cai Xiang (1012–1067). Dur­ing his ten­ure he de­cided to plant some seven hun­dred banyans along the an­cient road­way that con­nected Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. At the time the road was open and bustling with pedes­tri­ans and mer­chants and, im­por­tantly, blasted daily by the un­for­giv­ing heat of the sun. By plant­ing these banyans, he gave the peo­ple who spent their days on the open streets some­thing they dearly needed — shade. It was a sim­ple act but it im­me­di­ately im­proved the qual­ity of life in the early city. The sec­ond fig-friendly mag­is­trate was Zhang Boyu (1003–1070). He called on ev­ery fam­ily to plant a banyan around their home, hop­ing to in­crease shade but also make the city more beau­ti­ful. The streets had been taken care of by Cai Xiang, and now it was time to push banyans fur­ther into homes and yards and public spa­ces. Zhang’s plan worked, and to­gether the two mag­is­trates turned the city into a place crawl­ing — al­most lit­er­ally — with beau­ti­ful banyans. It be-

The“banyan King”in the photo stands twenty me­ters high and the di­am­e­ter of its trunk reaches ten me­ters. No one knows for cer­tain how many years, or cen­turies, has it wit­nessed; some lo­cals say it was planted 1,000 years ago dur­ing the North­ern Song Dy­nasty. Some peo­ple say their an­ces­tors planted two banyans and the two trees even­tu­ally grew into one. This could per­haps ex­plain its gi­ant canopy that cov­ers over 1,330 square me­ters. Peo­ple built large stone pil­lars to sup­port the heavy, stretch­ing branches of the“king.”in their eyes, it is more than merely a plant — it is a sym­bol and the em­bod­i­ment of the land they live on.

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