WHILE there is no single factor that can be attributed to the increasing number of uprooted trees and breaking tree limbs in Kuala Lumpur of late, the risks posed to lives and property can be minimised, according to the city’s landscapers.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) Landscape and Recreation Department director Mustafa Mohd Nor said the local authority maintained some 600,000 trees in the capital.
“We planted some 108,000 trees since 2011. Before that we had about 90,000 trees. Another 400,000 are wild but growing in areas under our jurisdiction,” he explained.
He said the department was now preparing a tree inventory, which would take an estimated 15 years to complete.
“Each tree will be marked on a map, along with its GPS coordinate.
“We will measure the physical aspects of the tree and provide its classification. Wherever we can, we will also label it.
“Right now we are into the third year of this process and are confident that we can complete this exercise,” he added.
Mustafa said years of accummulated experience in the field had helped shaped the department’s knowledge in managing the capital’s green assets.
“Before that, one must understand that planting trees in the city comes with certain challenges.
“One such problem is the lack of space for roots to grow, compared to other settings such as a forest. There could be any number of obstructions such as underground structures that we might not see,” he pointed out, adding that given enough space, the roots could grow as wide as three times the size of its canopy.
Mustafa said trees had a lifespan and beyond it, the trees were at a higher risk of falling or breaking apart.
He acknowledged that most of the problems tended to occur between March and June as well as September and November.
“We have a lot of heavy rain and strong winds then. These two factors are triggers for trees toppling over or branches breaking off,” he said.
Meteorological Department corporate and commercial service division officer Phang Kun Liong said wind direction was generally unpredictable during the inter-monsoon months of April to October.
“That can change by the hour whereas the wind direction is steady during monsoon months,” he said.
He said that although in general the wind patterns had remained the same every year, some weather conditions produced above-average wind speed that could cause a lot of damage.
“Heavy rain causes downdraft, which could result in nearby areas experiencing a microburst that can sometimes be quite damaging.
“Wind can also increase in speed when being forced through narrow openings such as between buildings. This is according to the Bernoulli Principle in physics,” he said, adding that wind also carried moisture with it that could weigh down tree boughs.
There have been previous incidences in the Klang Valley that demonstrated the devastating effects of a microburst, one of them being the 2006 afternoon incident in Subang Jaya that many described as a “freak storm” with “violent winds”.
Lasting about 30 minutes, the incident uprooted dozens of trees, toppled over lampposts and billboards as well as blew away roof tiles, leaving behind a scene right out of a disaster movie.
Malaysia Arborists Association president Dr Ahmad Ainuddin Nuruddin said trees adapt to the average conditions they grew in, including weather conditions.
“Therefore if there is any extraordinary condition such as a much stronger wind than normal, the tree may not be able to withstand it.
“Trees in an urban setting like Kuala Lumpur face many kinds of stress from pollution, high temperature and other kinds of damage, including vandalism.
“Maintenance, including fertilising, treating diseases and getting rid of pests will help keep a tree healthy and strong.
“Visual inspections are usually sufficient to see if there is anything wrong with a tree,” he added.
Mustafa said the city experienced isolated cases of freak weather every now and then, which generally uprooted or damaged a large number of trees at one go.
One such incident took place in March this year in Taman Tasik Permaisuri, when a total of 200 trees were either damaged or completely uprooted in the park.
The incident happened during heavy storms in the city and ended shortly after. Similar incidences also occurred in Taman Desa and Bukit Damansara.
According to Mustafa, other conditions causing damage to trees in the city include extremely hot weather that results in soil cracks and if it is on a slope area, this causes instability and consequently trees are uprooted during rain.
He said the department now selected trees to be planted based on three aspects, namely shape, shade and strength.
“We know that most fast-growing trees are not strong therefore we avoid those species. We only go for medium-sized trees.
“Apart from that, our mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib has asked to plant some forest trees in the city,” he said.
Among the common trees planted around the city are merawan siput jantan or cengal kampung, giant crape-myrtle, Ceylon ironwood and pink tecomas.
Mustafa said the Landscape and Recreation Department was discovering that the forest trees were growing much slower in the city because of a lack of competition for sunlight and water.
“In order to encourage its growth, we are experimenting with cluster plantings with other trees.
“We are also encouraging pocket parks, such as the one adopted by Standard Chartered at the corner of Jalan Pinang and Jalan P. Ramlee.
“It is growing very well and is pleasant to walk through, especially during a hot day because the path is cool. The trees are quite easy to maintain as well, small boughs will break off on their own and we just need to occasionally go by to clear them away,” he said.