​700-yr-old tree withers in northern Vietnam

The tree stood as testimony to the monkhood of a 13th-century Vietnamese emperor

A rotten coniferous tree. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A 700-year-old tree in Yen Tu National Forest in northern Vietnam’s Quang Ninh Province has withered and died due to “old age”, the forest’s management authority said on Tuesday.

The ancient tree is a species of conifer known as Dacrydium elatum, which has been assessed as vulnerable because of overexploitation for its timber.

According to Pham Van Duoc, deputy director of the Management Authority of Yen Tu Relic and National Forest, the tree measured around 30 centimeters in diameter, and had been planted near the Hoa Yen Pagoda in Quang Ninh’s Uong Bi City.

Human interference was ruled out as a possible cause of death, Duoc said, as the tree sat on a steep mountain slope that was difficult to access.

Over the past ten years, around 20 centuries-old coniferous trees have died in Yen Tu National Forest, mostly due to old age, pests and natural disasters.

“The proper thing to do would have been to just leave [the dead tree] there, but for safety and aesthetic reasons we have decided to have it removed,” Duoc explained.

A withered coniferous tree near Hoa Yen Pagoda in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Yen Tu management authority
A withered coniferous tree near Hoa Yen Pagoda in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Yen Tu management authority
A withered coniferous tree near Hoa Yen Pagoda in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Yen Tu management authority
A withered coniferous tree near Hoa Yen Pagoda in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Yen Tu management authority

According to a recent report by Yen Tu’s management authority, there are over 230 ancient Dacrydium elatum trees left in the national forest.

Apart from the 20 trees that have died over the past two decades, a further 130 are suffering from the effects of rotting, leaning, pests and surface roots.

Scientific research has established a link between these ancient trees and a period in Vietnamese history when 13th-century Emperor Tran Nhan Tong retired from the throne and entered monkhood.

Historical accounts claim the trees were planted when the Buddhist emperor arrived in Yen Tu and established the Truc Lam Zen Monastery.

Between 2009 and 2011, the administration of Quang Ninh put aside VND100 million (US$4,400) each year for the care of these trees.

Since 2016, a conservation plan for the precious coniferous forest has been implemented by the administrations of Quang Ninh and Uong Bi in cooperation with Yen Tu’s management authority.

The plan looked to spend over VND27 billion ($1.19 million) yearly over five years to conserve the historical forest.

A row of centuries-old coniferous trees in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A row of centuries-old coniferous trees in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A rotten coniferous tree. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A rotten coniferous tree. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A 700-year-old coniferous tree in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A 700-year-old coniferous tree in the Yen Tu National Forest in Quang Ninh Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A coniferous tree is uprooted after a heavy storm. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A coniferous tree is uprooted after a heavy storm. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A coniferous tree is uprooted after a heavy storm. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A coniferous tree is uprooted after a heavy storm. Photo: Tuoi Tre

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