China believes in horticulture (the study and growing of plants). Half of the flowers planted in the gardens in American and Europe come from China. China also has a great love or veneration of trees. Americans claim that the oldest living thing is a Bristle Cone Pine tree (2000 years old) in Nevada in the US. But the Chinese claim that the oldest living thing is a cedar tree in China.
Lou Guan Tai, about 40 kms west of Xian, is home of Lao Tse who wrote the Dao De Ching which is the world’s oldest recognized philosophy. Close to the time of Lao Tse (500 BC approximately), there was planted a cedar tree that still grows today. At least the sign I read, I believe, said that it was 2500 years old. At the Shaolin Temple, in Hebei Province, are also trees that wrestle for the prize of the world’s oldest living organism. Many temples through out China plant trees, in particular, the cedar tree because of its longevity. The cedar tree is like the redwood and has oils that preserve it. Nothing seems as safe as a cedar tree in China at a temple. 2500 years is a long time to stay out of trouble.
The most beautiful tree in Xian is a large evergreen tree on Shaanxi Normal University campus. Besides being tall and old, it amazes me because it is shaped like an oak tree or leafy tree with long branches reaching out in all directions. The diameter of the tree must be 20 meters. Being from the US, I have never seen an evergreen with such a wide circumference before. Evergreens are generally tall but narrow and their branches are designed to dump snow. Leafy trees must, in part, drop their leaves, because if it snows, the snow catching on the leaves, will tear the tree apart -- as sometimes happens with an early snow. That evergreen tree a Shaanxi Normal is amazing for its size, beauty and uniqueness.
Another way that Chinese venerate trees is that they plant them on graves in their fields. Nothing protects a tree in China more than rest on someone’s ancestor. When I visit villages in China, I often see where ancestors have been buried in a field, sometimes a shrine is made and a large tree is growing. If I had been so lucky to have buried my mother that way, every time the tree blew in the wind I could say my mother was waving to me.
The Bonzai tree (which is the name I know it by) is a Japanese term and when I think of a Bonzai tree I think of Japan. But the process may have been born in China, but further developed by Japanese. The Bonzai tree is a small plant often less than half a meter high, but it can be hundreds of years old. Somehow (and I don’t know how) they grow the tree so that it remains in a dwarf state. The trees are in gardens in China and can be worth thousands of dollars. Apparently, wild Bonzai tree grow on cliffs in cracks and are hundreds of years old.
What I would like to know is how do the Chinese plant their trees so that they will not buckle the sidewalk? For years in America, I have seen where people or a city will plant a tree next to a sidewalk and 10 or 20 years later, a part of the sidewalk has been raised 30 centimeters by the growth of the tree’s root. The roots of the tree find a crack in the sidewalk and then grow cells in the crack and they somehow expand and the root eventually pops the sidewalk up and/or cracks it. In some cases, in America, they put down steel enclosures that seem to work, but I have never seen a buckled sidewalk in China because of a tree root. How do they do it?
Another great Chinese idea is to transplant large trees to a new building site. In America, to the build a house or a building, they go to a site, knock down the 30 year old trees and build a house. Then they plant saplings and 30 years later you have your trees back. In China, at a new university I was teaching at, one week there was nothing and the next week there was a forest. The Chinese had moved in trees 10 years old and 25 cms in diameter. It was amazing. It’s a well practiced art in China to transplant more mature trees, but I have seldom seen it in the US.
I have many questions about Chinese trees, but one I would like to know in particular involves the trees they plant in Xian along the roads. The trees gracefully part their branches three meters off the ground to let electrical and telephone wires through. Are they trained to do this or do they do it on purpose?