Trees Breathing with the City
Trees can be seen as storytellers narrating Beijing’s history as an ancient capital. This year, the Beijing Gardening and Greening Bureau launched a programme to choose the “Top 10 Tree Kings in Beijing.” Representatives from the oriental arborvitae, Chinese juniper, Chinese pine, white bark pine, Chinese scholar tree, gingko, elm, jujube tree, magnolia and cherry apple tree species are the candidates. Each ancient and famous tree in Beijing stands proudly for the competition.
Two descendents of ancient lilacs that originally grew at the Jietai Temple during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) were planted at Yuanmingyuan, adding original colours and fragrances to the garden and evoking memories of past dynasties.
A growing number of families are willing to adopt trees as “family members.” This is another important form of adoption. People and trees inhabit different spaces but breathe under the same sky and have a relationship regarding their oxygen and carbon dioxide intake and outtake.
Top 10 Tree Kings
Among the 40,000 ancient and famous trees in Beijing from 65 different species, which will stand out as the “Tree Kings”?
From August 17 to September 8, 30 candidate trees will be listed on official websites and Weibo and Wechat (Chinese social media platforms) accounts and can be voted on by the public. Ten trees will stand out as the final winners. The result will be listed on the websites, and the winners will be honoured with certificates from the bureau.
The programme began this spring. It will choose candidates from the ten above-mentioned species. One tree will be chosen from each species.
The 10 species were not necessarily
chosen from existing lists. According to an official from the bureau, many of the 65 species from the species-selection round are very small in number. For example, there is only one Cudrania tricuspidata and only a few Catalpa speciosa trees in Beijing. The 10 candidate species are large in number and well-known, which makes the programme more popular.
A “Tree King” candidate has to meet the following conditions. First, it must have been registered with, filed and marked by municipal and district administrative departments for ancient and famous trees. Its trunk should bear a special red or green plate. Red plates are for Class A trees, indicating an age of more than 300 years. Green plates are for Class B trees, signifying that a tree is 100–300 years old. Second, a candidate should have rich historical and cultural significance, as well as popularity. A “Tree King” has to be a whole tree growing in a natural environment. Other requirements include favourable: girth, height, crown spread and other growth indicators; cultural richness; the degree of rarity; protection value; shape; and age.
Candidates are recommended by gardening and greening departments from each district, with each institution recommending no more than 10 trees. Citizens can also recommend eligible trees to gardening and greening departments in their districts. “Tree King” applications involve listing growth indicators, the growth process, changes, stories, legends and historical records. Pictures of the trees in different seasons and from different angles have to be provided also.
After the application round, a special expert committee appraises the candidates. The appraisal follows both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative appraisal involves height, crown, girth and other tangible indicators. Qualitative appraisal is related to historical and cultural content, protection value, shape and age. The top three candidates of each species with the highest scores become shortlisted for public votes. All previous stages are now complete and voting is currently underway.
The purpose of the programme is to promote the protection of ancient and famous trees, carry forward relevant culture, advance ecological conservation and enhance public awareness.
Ancient Lilacs Returning Home
It is not a journey but a “homecoming.”
This spring, two descendents of ancient lilacs that originally grew at the Jietai Temple during the Qing Dynasty were transplanted to Yuanmingyuan. The blossoming lilacs add interesting and enchanting detail to Yuanmingyuan.
Records show that many lilac trees had been planted at Yuanmingyuan. Emperor Qianlong (reign: 1736–1795) loved lilacs so much that he wrote many poems praising these flowers. Ancient lilacs at the Jietai Temple came from Yuanmingyuan. When Emperor Qianlong visited the Jietai Temple for the first time, he wanted to add some colour to the foliage in the area. He commissioned 20 lilacs from Yuanmingyuan to be transplanted to the temple.
The Jietai Temple now abounds with lilacs, among which more than 20 are more than 200 years old. Only two lilacs are this old at the Palace Museum’s imperial garden.
The two lilacs that were transplanted this year are more than 30 years old. They have a girth of around 10 centimetres and a height of about 2.5 metres (m). They were good candidates to be transplanted. More lilacs will be transplanted to Yuanmingyuan and form special scenery for visitors.
Building a Green City
The Decision on National Volunteer Tree Planting was issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 1981. People have shown strong participation in the effort ever since. Saplings planted many years ago have grown into towering trees, providing cooling shade in Beijing’s suburbs. As of 2017, people have participated 96,888,000 times and planted 203,000,000 trees. This has made for a pleasant atmosphere in Beijing.
In 2018, Beijing plans to plant 1,000,000 trees and nurture 11,000,000 saplings. The city’s districts have established 20 reception areas for volunteer tree planting, with a goal of afforesting more than 107 hectares (ha) of land. The 20 reception areas are located in 12 districts and at two tree farms and each feature a tree plot.
As wasteland suitable for tree planting dwindles, more tree-related programmes are being explored to meet people’s enthusiasm. Since 2010, the Capital Greening Office has offered 18 afforestation programmes, such as adopting forests and greenbelts, conserving greenbelts, purchasing carbon sinks and earmarking money for afforestation. Planting new trees and conserving old ones are both important tasks. Adopting an ancient tree is similar to planting 50 trees, because few will make it that age.
Tree planting has to be done at specific times, but citizens can adopt forests and greenbelts at any time of the year. They can also adopt lawns, arbours, flowering shrubs, fruit trees and even rare, ancient trees. People who have experience with gardening and horticulture can manage trees and greenbelts themselves. Otherwise, they can donate the adoption fees and entrust them to gardening and greening departments. Adoption costs vary based on the content and growth conditions of the areas. Ancient trees have the highest cost.
This year, Beijing has established 32 reception areas for adopting forests, 27 for adopting ancient and rare trees, and 31 for greenbelts. Nearly 700,000 trees, 745 ancient trees and 2,170,000 square metres (sq.m) of greenbelt area are available for adoption. There are also 22 reception areas for group cultivation, offering 1,067 ha of land. Citizens can engage in volunteer watering, whitewashing, weeding and waste removal. Some locations that offer these programmes all year round include: Beijing Gongqing Forest Farm, Liuhezhuang Forest Farm, Jingxi Forest Farm and Badaling Forest Farm.
This year, online booking service is provided for the first time, making the programme more citizen-friendly. The “Beijing Citizen Volunteer Tree Planting Website” is currently being debugged.
Traditional buildings nestled in trees