A Hong Kong tree expert has blamed poor growing conditions in the city after super typhoon Mangkhut knocked down more than 10,000 trees.

Jim Chi-yung, research chair professor of geography & environmental science at the Education University of Hong Kong, said the number was “shocking.”

“After typhoon Hato’s hit last year, many weak trees should have fallen already,” he said on a RTHK radio programme on Thursday. “But more than 10,000 still fell – I believe there is a fundamental issue. My observation is that the growing environment is usually very poor and inadequate.”

super typhoon mangkhut aftermath
Photo: Joy Zhu.

“Particularly, with small amount of soil [in pavements], some trees have grown very big. In such cases, the roots have nowhere to go – it’s like growing a tree on a flower pot,” he added. “When the wind is not strong, they can manage to stand; But if the wind is strong, they just collapse.”

“I would describe them as trees without roots. It would be a huge issue if trees of a certain size lack roots.”

A historic banyan tree at the 1881 Heritage mall in Tsim Sha Tsui fell during the typhoon. The tree stood at the former marine police headquarters for more than 100 years.

Jim said part of the tree’s root structure was still intact and the tree could be saved by putting it upright and using a metal frame to support it.

“Hong Kong has many important and valuable trees. We could try to save them with this method – we shouldn’t throw them away like garbage right after they collapse,” he said.

Jim Chi-yung
Jim Chi-yung. File Photo: Citizen News.

Conservancy Association Chief Executive Ken So Kwok-yin said on the programme that many Hong Kong orchid trees and camel’s foot trees fell in the typhoon.

He said it was not suitable for the varieties to grow in windy locations.

“When the government chooses which types of trees to plant, it should provide a good growing environment,” So said.

super typhoon mangkhut
Sham Shui Po. Photo: Alexander Lau/Facebook.

According to Lau Wai-tak, secretary of the Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Supervisory Staffs Union, it will take some time to clear the fallen trees.

The trees will be sent to the landfill afterwards, Lau said on the programme.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.