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Plant Focus

Quercus peninsularis
A Red Oak (Section Lobatae) endemic to inland ranges of northern Baja California, Mexico

A Journey in Southeastern Taiwan Towards Conservation of Its Fagaceae Forests

Five IOS members, each representing their own institutions, traveled to Taiwan in March 2023, invited by the Taiwan Academy of Ecology and the Taiwan Forestry Bureau, to tour the Fagaceae forests of southeastern Taiwan and participate in an International Conservation Symposium: “The Ecological Value and Plant Diversity of Southeastern Taiwan.” The guest participants included Amy Byrne (The Morton Arboretum, IOS Board Member), Roderick Cameron (IOS President), Dan Crowley (Westonbirt Arboretum), Phillip Douglas (Denver Botanic Garden, IOS Board Member), and Joeri Strijk (Alliance for Conservation Tree Genomics); we had been invited to represent three institutions that would collaborate in the Symposium: Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Global Conservation Consortium for Oak, and the International Oak Society.  On the tour we were guided by, among others, IOS members Dr. Fuh-Jiunn Pan, Ai-Kuang Tung, and Fu-Che Pan.

Trip Summary

On March 22, the team set out to Pingxi District where we hiked the steep Xiaozishan Trail on Mt. Xiaozi and stopped along the way to explore the Fagaceae- and Lauraceae-dominated forests. The flora we encountered in the area includes tree ferns (Sphaeropteris lepifera, Alsophila podophylla, and A. spinulosa), Ficus, and Fagaceae species including Castanopsis and Quercus.

March 23, Taipei: The next day, we visited Taipei Botanical Garden to learn more about their collections and research, and to visit the herbarium to see some of the Fagaceae type specimens up close. 

Taroko Gorge, Taroko National Park
Taroko Garoge at Taroko National Park

March 24, Taipei → Taitung: Following the botanic garden visit, we headed south to Taitung. This is a six-hour drive in total, so we made a few stops along the way. Our first stop was at Taroko National Park, where we were able to get out and walk one of the main paths to view the gorge and marble cliffs, and we got to see some native Quercus tarokoensis as well. Further on, we stopped at the Tropic of Cancer Marker on Provincial Highway 11. And, of course we had to stop to take a few photos of the scenic drive along the Pacific Ocean. After making it to Taitung, we drove into the main city center and had our official welcome meeting where we were warmly received by staff of the Taiwan Academy of Ecology and the Taiwan Forestry Bureau. 

Group photo in front of Keteleeria davidiana var. formosana
Group photo in front of Keteleeria davidiana var. formosana

March 25, Daren Township: For our first hike we visited a forest with the native Keteleeria davidiana var. formosana, mixed with numerous Fagaceae species including Quercus hypophaea, Q. pachyloma, Q. longinux, Q. repandifolia, Q. championii, Castanopsis uraiana, Lithocarpus brevicaudatus, L. amygdalifolius, and more. To start the day, Professor Yueh-Fong Chen (Founder of the Taiwan Academy of Ecology) and Dr. Chang-Yu Wu (Director of the Taiwan Forestry Bureau) performed a traditional prayer ceremony, offering gratitude to the forests. Then we made our way through the forest to come upon the remains of what used to be the oldest and largest known Keeteleria davidiana var. formosana individual, which sadly succumbed to a typhoon in 2016. There were also some large Q. hypophaea growing along the cliff sides, jutting out, with the main trunk almost growing horizontally. During lunch, we had an in-depth discussion about the forest, who had jurisdiction over the land, the current threats the trees are facing, and what the Taiwan collaborators see as potential solutions in protecting the forests.

March 26, Daren Township: We had an earlier start to the day as we had a longer hike through a Fagaceae-dominated forest to see some large Lithocarpus shinsuiensis. Along the way we saw Q. repandifolia, Q. championii, L. dodonaeifolius, and L. amygdalifolius, among other interesting and threatened tree, shrub, and herbaceous species. As we made it to see the large, impressively buttressed L. shinsuiensis individuals we had a taste of the start of the monsoon season in Taiwan, as we were faced with a torrential downpour for about 30 minutes. Although it was a foggy day and we could not see much of the surrounding landscape beyond, it was still a beautiful hike through secondary and primary Fagaceae- and Lauraceae-dominated forests. As we made our way down by car it was much clearer, so we managed to stop and capture a photo of the amazing forest.

Amentotaxus formosana
Amentotaxus formosana

March 27, Daren Township: For this hike, we were lucky enough to be one of few visiting groups to see the rare Amentotaxus formosana. This is an IUCN Vulnerable species, and only a small number of individuals remain in the wild. A striking characteristic of this plant are the two thick, white stomatal bands on the backs of the leaves. We also saw fruits, bright green, soon to turn bright red.

Ginger plantation in Anshou Area_ a lone L. chiaratuangensis stands in the background
Ginger plantation in Anshou Area, a lone Lithocarpus chiaratuangensis stands in the background

March 28, Daren Township: We visited forests in the Anshou area, the only habitat of L. chiaratuangensis. The species is considered to be a synonym of L. harlandii (Least Concern), but our guides explained why it should be considered a distinct species. As such it is rare, threatened, and severely impacted by habitat loss due to agriculture, especially ginger plantations. The land in this area is owned by the National Property Administration, which has the option to lease the land for agriculture. In the development of ginger plantations, trees are cut down and their root systems are extracted, and herbicides and fertilizer are applied to the ground where the ginger is planted. This type of agriculture development has led to the major decline of L. chiaratuangensis, and there is concern for even further decline with more of the land having the potential to be converted to ginger plantations. Since they are removing all the roots, the forest cannot regenerate once they stop growing ginger in the area. Ginger crops can only be harvested once, and after that the land is too degraded to continue to grow it, so often the farmers will leave the land and move somewhere else. If the stumps of the large trees remained, the forest might soon regenerate, but that is not possible in this case. Also, we learned that oak trees (Quercus sp.) are cut down for shiitake mushroom production, which also has had a large impact on the decline of oak species in the southeastern forests. 

Following this visit to the Anshou area, we started our trek back north. On the way to Hualien city we stopped at Ai-kuang and Fu-Chen’s house to check out their Fagaceae-filled backyard garden/arboretum. 

Fagus hayatae
Fagus hayatae

March 29, Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area: We started to make our way back to Taipei for the International Conservation Symposium, but we made a stop at the Taiwan Beech National Trail, to visit the well-known Fagus hayatae. As we made our way up the mountain to the trailhead, the fog kept getting denser and denser. We stopped at the park center for lunch, eating the renowned local scallion pancakes, the perfect carb load before the long hike. The hike is relatively flat but there are some sections with steep inclines and declines. There even is a sign along the trail that describes one part of the trail as the “huff and puff” section, given the large amount of stairs you have to climb to get to the end. I have to agree that this was perfectly named as we made several stops on the way back ascending the stairs, with lots of huffing and puffing!

Huff and puff
Trail sign giving fair warning about the section that involves "huff and puff walking", Taiwan Beech Natural Trail

Although we could not see the beautiful view of the surrounding landscape, the weather certainly set the mood for seeing these large trees up close. You could not see more than a couple feet in front of you, but the trees stood tall, large, and contrasting against the white, fog-filled background. We were also lucky enough to see plenty of spring growth on them with new leaves and flowers forming. On the way back, some of us were split up and there were moments where some of us were alone and could enjoy the calm and stillness of the scenery, lucky enough to come across some wildlife, as the path was quiet enough for the animals to brave coming onto the trail not expecting encounters with humans. As the day came to a close, we traveled back down to the lodge and spent the night drinking hot tea and coffee to warm ourselves and discuss the adventures for the remaining couple days of our trip ahead of us. 

The Bong Bong train
The onomatopeic "Bong Bong" train at Tainpingshan

March 30, Taipingshan → Taipei: Before we headed back to Taipei we kicked things off in the early morning, hoping to see the sunrise, but alas the fog covered it. It still created this beautiful cotton candy pink color in the sky. Following the sunrise, we hopped on the “Bong Bong” train, which is a historical route that timber workers would use to transport logs.

Roderick Cameron, IOS President, presenting the joint statement at the 2023 BGCI _GCCO _ IOS International Conservation Symposium
Roderick Cameron, IOS President, presenting the joint statement at the 2023 BGCI/GCCO/IOS International Conservation Symposium

March 31, Taipei: Our official last day of the trip was spent at the Taiwan Forestry Bureau in Taipei, participating in the 2023 BGCI/GCCO/IOS International Conservation Symposium. The symposium was kicked off by an inspiring presentation of Dr. Yueh-Fong Chen. Then Joeri presented on the Fagaceae of Taiwan, followed by Dan Crowley and myself presenting on the Global Conservation Consortia, highlighting projects of the Global Conservation Consortium for Oak. In the afternoon, Roderick gave an introductory presentation of the International Oak Society. Phil followed with an informative presentation of the Plant Collections Network, specifically highlighting the Network’s Quercus Multisite. After the presentations, Roderick presented a joint statement that we put together emphasizing that the forests need to be protected and that we encourage the Academy and Forestry Bureau to ensure their conservation planning moving forward should be inclusive, open, and participatory. To wrap up the symposium, members from the Taiwan Academy of Ecology, Taiwan Forestry Bureau, and our group held an interactive panel discussion in which members of the audience asked us questions about our presentations, thoughts on the Fagaceae forests, about examples we have been involved in in protecting forests, etc.

We would like to thank the Taiwan Academy of Ecology and the Taiwan Forestry Bureau for their invitation to tour the Fagaceae forests of Taiwan, for sharing their knowledge and expertise of the flora, and for discussing how we may work together to protect these ecologically diverse and important forests. We look forward to continuing to grow our partnership together and hope that we can find solutions to preserve the Fagaceae species, both in the wild and in garden collections, so there will be seed for future restoration efforts, for education and outreach, and research. There is exciting work ahead of us for the Fagaceae forests in Taiwan!