The ailing 130-year-old rain tree at the entrance of Penang Botanic Gardens in a photo taken last year. It had its top branches pollarded to prevent them from falling and injuring visitors to the garden.
INSTEAD of creating a fern habitat after uprooting what is left of the 130-year-old rain tree at the entrance of Penang Botanic Gardens, botanists should replace it with a similar tree, according to Penang Heritage Trust (PHT).
While agreeing that the dead heritage tree should be removed for safety reasons, PHT felt that the fern habitat in place of the old tree would take away the historical significance of the site.
PHT was responding to a recent report in The Star that the old tree would be uprooted and replaced with a fern habitat.
Last January, hikers saw the tree falling ill and sent pictures of it to The Star.
A check showed that it had shed down to ‘bare bones’.
By May, the gardens’ botanists confirmed that it could no longer absorb nutrients and many of its branches had to be sawn off to prevent them from snapping off and injuring people walking beneath it.
Gardens director Mohd Azwa Shah Ahmad previously said a replacement tree had been considered but it would be a major effort to remove the well-spread roots deep below to protect the new tree from diseases.
PHT, however, believes that a replacement tree is the best option.
“This was one of 20 rain trees planted on June 20, 1887, to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria’s rule and the only one left within the original grounds of Penang Botanic Gardens,” PHT said in a statement yesterday.
“This rain tree flourished and was a symbol of the Penang Botanic Gardens.
“We strongly recommend that Penang Botanic Gardens transplant another specimen similar to the original tree.
“Replacing the dead rain tree with a new one will show commitment in preserving the heritage and biological sensitivity of the gardens.”
The NGO is also worried that creating a fern habitat at the spot would be futile, reasoning that ferns like shady grounds while the spot was sun-drenched and would thus cause ferns to dehydrate.
Since ferns seldom grow beyond a metre tall, PHT also feels that a fern habitat at the spot would not bring the rebirth of the majestic entrance view.
PHT also said the canopy once provided by the old tree had a cooling effect and it made the spot a rendezvous point for friends to gather for a walk and a replacement tree that could possibly thrive for another century or more would preserve the social importance of the site.
PHT emphasised that the soon-to-be-gazetted Special Area Plan for the gardens specified the use of the open space called Lawn B at the gardens’ entrance.
“While the Special Area Plan did not anticipate the death of the rain tree, the use of Lawn B was well documented and highlighted,” said PHT.
“A fern habitat on Lawn B contravenes the intent of the Special Area Plan.
“A plant house and a rockery of ferns already exist in the gardens, so there is no need for another fern habitat.”