Sunday, 21 March 2010

cotton trees

One of the things I like most about Hong Kong, especially in springtime, is the sheer number of ornamental trees. Blue jacarandas (a native of South America) and royal poincianas (a native of Madagascar and frequently described as ‘flame trees’—you will understand why if you see one in full bloom) are quite common, but both of these flower in late spring. However, there is one native species that is even more spectacular and is flowering as I write: the cotton tree.

Cotton trees are also among the largest trees in Hong Kong, with the oldest specimens reaching 30 metres in height with trunks up to 3 metres in diameter. The tree seen in silhouette at the bottom of this page is a large cotton tree. The morphology of the cotton tree is also unusual: like pine trees, several branches split from the main trunk at the same height, and this is repeated all the way up the tree. And, unlike most other Hong Kong trees, cotton trees shed their leaves during the winter.

However, the really interesting characteristic of these trees is that flowers appear before the leaves in spring. And when these flowers eventually drop, they are so heavy that they hit the ground with a thud. Last year at this time, my wife fell into conversation with a fellow passenger on the minibus taking her to the station.

“Aren’t the cotton trees looking beautiful at the moment?” she remarked (there are a lot of cotton trees around these parts).

The reply stunned my wife, which is why she told me about the conversation:

“But they leave a mess on the ground!”

Some people have no soul.

However, because I've felt a little better today, I decided to take a few photographs, so you can judge for yourself.

Three small cotton trees, with typical Hong Kong countryside in the background.

Cotton trees are commonly found on roadsides.

Looking up from directly below the tree in the previous picture. The distinctive branching structure can be clearly seen.

“They leave a mess on the ground.”

At this point, you may be wondering why they are called cotton trees. The next photograph will explain.

A single cotton tree seed.


  1. Beautiful! I was totatlly fascinated. These trees are something. And the country in your pics is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice to see you posting again! I must go to Hong Kong. Spring is wonderful...
    Not that it has much impact where I live...

  3. Fantastic stuff. Those photos are wonderful. I can't imagine how much better they look if you're actually in front of one...

  4. u will really know how precious one can be when u wont see it anymore. :D


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