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Recognising fruit trees on a road trip is challenging in many ways. You’ve got your driver’s eye for the next signpost, your eyes for the colour of the trees and your ears to hear the drone of the traffic.
No matter how hard you try you’re bound to overlook one of them all, and as you speed along on your pushbikes you can either die of embarrassment or find yourself with a moment to reflect.
Here’s our Top 5 Ten
This beautiful and impressive wooded tree with its long thin needles reminds me a lot of the Giant Arbutus in the Great Smokies in the US.
It’s an Eastern Red Cedar and grows in a beautiful mature forest setting in remote Nantou County on the China Sea coast.
If you love the magnificence of these cedars in the wild, the subsequent sales to keep them in a protected forest have meant the only way to enjoy them is to go there and to put up with the crowds who clog the forest roads.
On the whole you’ll get a better experience if you find one of the smaller sub-stands and talk to the farmers. For example at the last plant sale in the Nantou county road leading to my family’s home I got talking to a farmer who brought his half-ton truck up to the stand to get a closer look at some of the trees we were selling. We had about three trees there we were selling so it didn’t take long.
9. Schefflera gigantea
With its big, flat, smooth leaves on thin long stems this tree is definitely not a novice for anyone who can recognise a long thin one in the jungle.
It’s also big. We once spotted this tree standing for sale in Hong Kong on the carriageway of the Macau-Hong Kong Highway in the Kowloon-Mongkok District. It was a good 10 metres high.
8. Wuzhong Yan
This is a fine specimen of a very old native Chinese Cypress. The massive trunk is known to have been around before the European invasion. Even now it is still maintained as a relic of its former glory.
It’s often identified by its old growth, completely denuded trunk as one of the truly ancient conifers of our time.
Many of the old, mature trees still on the roadside have been so heavily denuded of their bark that when they die they disintegrate completely into the roadside.
The bark has only just started to be stripped, so the wood underneath is still completely intact.
Sheltered behind other large trees this very large specimen still produces a wonderful canopy of clear green leaves with its brown base.
Pale pink flowers are held in long panicles of a few hundred flowers and this spring it has been flowering heavily. It flowers in late May.
I have seen this tree several times in Hong Kong in the past but not in the wild and it has always struck me as a very impressive specimen.
6. Hubei Huayu
I have to admit this tree has not done too well over the years. It has pretty much kept up with the fading fortunes of my family.
In the early years of our venture in the wholesale trade in Taiwan in 1992 it was the tree I spent the most time talking to, trying to coax it to keep on producing good timber.
Over the years I had found at various times in various places in Taiwan, the bright yellow flowers of this tree in such profusion, that I was convinced it could make up for its weak timber.
But, alas, the hard times of our family trade have not been kind to this magnificent old relic of China’s past.
With a trunk about six metres high and a crown about a metre tall it has produced some very fine timber, but even the smallest of cuttings (about a foot and a half in diameter) produce no good wood at all.
At the moment, this lonely specimen is growing to about five metres high, it has no leaves on it and all the female flowers are just dropping off to death.
So it remains with no chance of better times ahead.
5. Wuhan Omei
It’s a little unusual. We still sell the logs of this old tree and one of the criteria is that they are not too small. In this case we have got a six metre tall old stumpy looking specimen, but still good enough to sell.
This tall broad leaved pine has been in cultivation for a long time. It comes from the mountain forest of Luoning, which has an ancient history of over a thousand years and was recently being worked as part of a national regeneration scheme.
The plan has been to try and preserve as much of the ancient forest as possible. The old growth areas are well guarded against the greed and shortsightedness of the tree farming sector and are being maintained with the help of both the civil service and the environmentalists.
They are being tried and tested for timber with the aim of producing ‘three crores of old growth trees every year’.
4. Orange Bullloon
As you would expect this large, delicious looking tree