ONCE a majestic tree with lush foliage, the iconic rain tree at the entrance of the Penang Botanic Gardens has finally been chopped down after being dead for almost two years.
What is left of the 130-year-old tree after workers cut off its remaining bare branches and most of its trunk yesterday is a stump about 1m tall. This will also be uprooted and removed later.
The cutting down of the tree saddens many people, with one Penangite living in Thailand even posting photos on social media of workers getting ready to chop it down before work began at 10am yesterday.
This is because the tree had greeted visitors to the gardens for decades with its huge canopy providing shade for all prior to its dead branches being cut off in stages since early last year.
Once standing at 18.5m tall with a crown 24.4m wide, the tree was a favourite photo subject among shutterbugs.
A physical memory of the tree will however remain.
Gardens curator Dr Saw Seng Guan said a 4.26m-long section of the lower trunk, including its larger branches, would be preserved and kept as a memento at the compound of the gardens’ office.
Dr Saw said the tree had to be cut down as its dead branches might fall and hurt visitors.
He said scans from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia found more than half of the trunk at the bottom to be hollow.
He said it was still uncertain what caused the rain tree’s death as there had been cases where the species lived up to 300 years.
“One possibility could be because of the dusky leaf monkeys or ‘Spectacled Langur’ which have been eating the shoots and leaves of the trees, thus depriving them of growth.
“The theory is merely a hunch as more research needs to be done to determine the cause of its death,” Dr Saw said.
Penang Botanic Gardens Department director Mohd Azwa Shah Ahmad was quoted as saying in May last year that the tree could no longer absorb nutrients.
“We tried giving it soil conditioners twice a day to help it breathe again but to no avail,” he said.
The tree was one of 20 rain trees planted in the gardens in 1887 to commemorate the 50th year reign of Queen Victoria and it was the only one left until its chopping down yesterday.
To retain moisture, this tree species will fold its leaves when it rains or at sunset, leading it to be called a rain tree or, locally, Pokok Pukul Lima (Five O’clock Tree).