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Exploring Treetops in Old-growth Cloud Forests of Taiwan

Authors:
Fall 2015 Volume 21, Number 2-3
Nalini Nadkarni, Executive Editor Autumn Amici, Editor
What’s Up?
The Newsletter of the International Canopy Network
Taiwan is a densely populated island that straddles the Tropic
of Cancer. Unlike many areas surrounding the Tropic of Cancer
that are relatively arid, Taiwan has a humid climate because of
the high elevation mountains. Although the island is small
(36,000 km2), Taiwan has over 200 mountain peaks greater
than 3000 m in elevation. About 20% of forests in Taiwan are
cloud forests, which are characterized by continuously moist
and cool temperatures, and are periodically enveloped in
clouds. These forests display a diverse floristic composition due
to microclimates factors typical of cloud forests (e.g., latitude,
elevation, aspect, distance from the coast, mountain mass, and
prevailing winds). The dominant canopy trees of these forests
include Taiwan cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis and C.
obtusa var. formosana), Taiwanese firs, Taiwan spruce (Picea
morrisonicola), Rhododendron formosanum, Pinus armandii
var. masteriana, and species in the family Fagaceae.
Despite enduring devastating logging since the late 19th centu-
ry, Taiwan has retained large areas of old-growth forests. How-
ever, few studies have investigated the canopies of old-growth
trees, the associated arboreal community, or the structural
complexity that influences their distribution and composition.
Since 2014, I have organized a team to explore notable trees
in Taiwan’s old-growth cloud forests. In the following para-
graphs of this article, our exploration into a primary forest of
Taiwan is described.
In August 2014, I organized a team of six to explore some of
the tallest Taiwanese firs (Taiwania cryptomerioides) in prima-
ry forests of northeastern Taiwan. Taiwania cryptomerioides is
believed to be one of the tallest tree species in Asia. The log-
ging road we drove on was built during the 1950s, when timber
production was occurring at a massive scale throughout Tai-
wan. After logging was banned in 1989, logging roads that
penetrate deep into mountains were soon over-grown due to
damage from frequent typhoons and lush tropical plant growth.
From time-to-time, we were stopped by fallen trees on the road
removing them with chain saws. We drove up to about 2000 m
in elevation, and spent a night camping under an umbrella-
shaped Taiwan red pine (Pinus taiwanensis).
Exploring Treetops in Old-growth Cloud Forests of Taiwan
Rebecca Hsu, Ph.D.
Researcher, Taiwan Forestry Research Institute
Curator, Taipei Botanical Garden
Taiwan’s vast cloud forests. (Photo credit: Rebecca Hsu)
A remarkable Taiwania forest located in southern Taiwan. (Photo cred-
it: Chin-Yuan Ke)
What’s Up? Volume 21, Number 2-3
2
Fall 2015
The next morning, we packed up the tree-climbing gear and
began the last 5 km to our target: the legendary “Three Sisters”.
They are three giant Taiwanese firs that survived the logging
era. After crossing numerous landslides and streams, we
turned a corner, and our attention was drawn to the three huge
Taiwania trees standing side-by-side. We were astonished by
their impressive size and height. We immediately prepared the
climbing gear and began setting up a climbing rope. Thanks to
the “Second Sister’s” (as she was later named) kindness, we
successfully hung ropes on the third try!
Ascending the Second Sister on a rope, I noticed that the tree
limbs, which were as big as a dining table, were colonized by
thick epiphytes, including lichens, orchids, ferns, and rhododen-
drons (Rhododendron kawakamii). The entire tree was laden
with Davallia clarkei, a common cloud-forest fern, along with
Phymatopteris quasidivaricata in the higher canopy, which is
probably the highest elevation epiphytic fern in Taiwan. Just
above 2000 m in elevation, there were two epiphytic orchids
recorded in the canopy, Epigeneium fargesii and Dendrobium
moniliforme. The population of Epigeneium fargesii densely
carpeted the branches and were obviously playgrounds for ar-
boreal creatures. When we measured the tree’s height, we
found black scars in the treetops. A closer look revealed that
the Second Sister and the Oldest Sister (with respective heights
of 65 and 67 m) had been damaged by a lighting strike years
ago. After a quick investigation of the 3 sisters’ canopies, our
team packed up and made the return journey delighted that our
expedition was successful and rewarding.
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The canopy exploration team and the Three Sisters. (Photo credit:
Rebecca Hsu
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