Exploring virgin forest, Taiwanese expert uncovers massive trees

TAIPEI (CNA) – A Taiwanese forestry expert has documented for the first time an old-growth forest in Yushan National Park featuring three giant trees taller than 60 meters after a seven-day trek to the area.

The one-hectare forest was first discovered in 2007, but its location was not recorded, and Rebecca Hsu (徐嘉君), an assistant researcher at the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, wanted to find where it was and explore it further.

After a seven-day, 80-kilometer hike into the mountains with her mountaineering team, Hsu found the untouched forest with giant trees.

Three trees in the forest stood out – one Taiwan spruce and two

Taiwanias – that had diameters of 2.3-3.5 meters and heights of 63-64 meters, close to that of a 20-story building, Hsu said.

Footage taken by a drone that can be seen on Hsu’s YouTube channel “Rebecca Hsu” shows the two giant Taiwanias and the Mabolasih Mountain and Xiuguluan Mountain in the background.

The Taiwania is one of the tallest tree species in Asia and is described by Taiwan’s indigenous Rukai people as the “tree that hits the moon,” according to the researcher. It is the only plant species with a generic name named after Taiwan.

Hsu said she decided to organize the trek after watching a report about the exploration of the Batongguan Historic Trail in Yushan National Park in 2007, when the park administration found a colossal Taiwania that took more than 12 people to wrap their arms around.

The 2007 expedition, however, focused mainly on determining whether it would be possible to restore the historic trail, which was established during the Qing dynasty, and did not document what it found in the forest, Hsu said.

As a result, the forest’s location was not recorded, and the tree’s height was measured based only on visual observation, leaving behind enough unknowns to pique Hsu’s curiosity.

Knowledge of the forest’s location was particularly critical for her team because veering off the trail by a kilometer could have led them into a deadly trap due to Taiwan’s steep mountainous landscape, according to the researcher.

With that in mind, she asked the Department of Geomatics at National Cheng Kung University for help in pinpointing the forest’s location before setting off.

Using lidar, a surveying method that measures distance using a pulsing laser light, the department was able to locate the forest and the three giant trees in Yushan National Park’s Qaqatu area.

Based on the GPS coordinates obtained, Hsu and her four fellow mountaineers eventually found the spot, with the delicate fragrance of wood and moss mingling with beams of sunshine coming through the trees, the researcher said.

“We experienced total relaxation and happiness when we arrived,” Hsu said.

Hsu said her team eventually found the Taiwania mentioned in the 2007 expedition, but the tree was cut off at the top, possibly due to a lightning strike, and was only 47 meters tall.

The researcher is no stranger to massive Taiwania trees.

In 2017, she was the coordinator of the Taiwan Tree Project carried out by The Tree Projects, an Australia-based group that photographed at close range three Taiwanias on Cilan Mountain nicknamed the “Three Sisters” without distorting the trees’ shape.

By Lee Shien-feng and Chi Jo-yao