College Students Visit Ancient Trees at Xi’an

First wrote and published on November 30, 2015.

Xi’an is a popular destination for fans who are interested in Chinese history and culture. It was the capital city of thirteen dynasties in Chinese history. Nowadays most people come to this city visit the Terra-Cotta Warriors, which was created by the First Emperor of Qin in the 3 rd century B.C., roughly the same time as the Great Wall was built. The city also witnesses the prosperity of Han and Tang Dynasty. At that time, Buddhism was very accepted about 1300 years ago, and as a result, there were a lot of temples built in the city area at that time. Amazingly, some of the temples survived thousand years of war, turbulence, and other forms of damages from human activities and natural disasters. The same is true of ancient trees in those temples.

Recently, a group of college students from Zhongnan Cultural Academy of Xidian University visited two ancient trees in two temples at Xi’an. These students are organized to study and research environmental and forest aesthetics. The advisor directs them to read literature in this field and guides their field research.

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This year the city has launched the 3rd general survey of ancient trees. It is reported that 18,000 trees have been identified and labeled a number for preservation. According to the Forestry Bureau of Xi’an, there are 58 Millennium trees in the city area. The two trees the students visit are two ginkgo trees. The ginkgo tree in Guanyin Temple is about 1400 years old, 29 meters tall, trunk perimeter 7.15 meters, crown area 415 square meters. The other ginkgo tree in Baita Temple is about 1700 years old, 22 meters tall, trunk perimeter 10.4 meters, crown area 600 square meters. Both of the ginkgo trees are growing very well.

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(A plate shows the scientific name and the serial number of the old tree. Photographed by Danqiong ZHU)

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(This photo shows the bottom trunk of one of the gingkos. Photographed by Danqiong ZHU)

Also, there is another ancient tree species in Guanyin Temple, Platycladus orientalis, which is native to northwestern China. The two oriental arborvitae trees are about 1000 years old, 13-15 meters tall. One oriental arborvitae tree is dying, and the current maintenance is not going well.

The students are enthusiastic about ancient trees. They want to know how the trees have remained alive all through these thousand years. They also want to know who had been lived in these temples during the thousand years, what kind of stories they had, and what poems they had written for the trees.

A local scientist says that ancient trees record climate change and should be protected as green relics, and he also mentions that their ecological and landscape values are beneficial to the urban environment. However, when I ask the students how they feel when they stand beside the trees, one of the students says, “I wish it can speak. If it speaks, I will sit uprightly under the tree, and I will spend all my lifetime to listen to the stories over 1400 years.” The students would like to treat ancient trees as old Chan masters, and believe trees might bring some inspiration to their lives.

What I am thinking is that, Xi’an is a city with thousand years of history, and the concentration of cultural relics in this area has attracted a great deal of attention. However, the natural heritage of ancient trees should also get the attention of the local government and the public. The students wish to participate in the preservation of ancient trees. They do fell they should make a certain contribution for protecting those old trees.

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