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Banyan Trees

baryontree.jpgBesides fresh air and serenity as the first strong impressions of Peng Chau, visitors are amazed to find groups of people sitting under thick shades of immense trees chatting or taking naps. This natural fresh umbrella keeping the heat at bay is put in place by banyan trees.

Banyan trees or small-leaved banyan, botanically known as Ficus microcarpa, belong to the family of arbores. Uniquely known for the growth of multiple downward air roots from normal branches, these roots can reach the ground and just like normal roots, grow into the soil to absorb nutrients in the water to gradually become young branches (pillar roots) supporting big tree crowns. Some air roots even climb and live on neighboring trees - turning into integral trees, what we sometimes call "interwining trees". One such wonderful scene can be found at the end of Wing Hing Street.

baryontree1.jpgVigorous branches of banyan trees are capable of supporting big tree crowns which in turn provide ideal habitats for birds. Bearing fruits without blossoming birds feed on ripe fruits of banyan trees every early summer and help to scatter the seeds in their droppings here and there. Some may fall on the wall of buildings to grow into young banyan trees (hanging banyans), but they must be removed on time before causing damage to the entire building. Under the condition when there are insufficient nutrients in the environment, their root systems will naturally grow in the search of supply sources, to such an extent that they sometimes grow around a big rock by secreting acetic acid to corrode it bit by bit; just like constantly dripping on the rock and eventually cutting through, showing that gradually growing roots have the ability to penetrate walls.

Sometimes a hanging banyan tree, having rooted on the mother banyan and over time, grows big enough to surround and deprive it of sunshine from above, causing it to gradually wither to death and taking over its place. That is why it is sometimes called "tree of the overlord". The banyan tree standing beside Kam Fa Temple is such a representative example. Owing to their irregular branches and inferior wood quality banyan trees are seldom chopped down for burning and thus allowed to survive. Banyan "yong" in Chinese, literally means "survivor from the axe". Moreover, Cantonese believe that planting trees promote fengshui; a place prospers where there is an abundance of banyan trees.

Since the mid 1980s the Hong Kong government has become more environmentally conscious and many gigantic banyan trees evaded extinction from urbanization and are thus preserved.

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