- Species: Camphor, Queen Crape Myrtle, Jacaranda, Flame of the Forest, Golden Shower, Indian Rubber Tree
- Location: HKU main campus
Well, I am not asking you to literally enrol back in school, although you might have noticed the double entendre in the headline. First, yes, join me in a visit to one of the leading educational institutions in Hong Kong for a tree walk that will surely not disappoint. Second, it is kind of a metaphorical invitation for you to join me in my personal journey to learn about trees, albeit far from formally or in a classroom.
So yes, let’s go back to school. In this case, the campus of the University of Hong Kong, where many fine specimens of trees accompany the thousands of students over the years who enter as teenagers and hopefully exit as productive members of society, or simply adults.
Before I get into the trees, I should mention that HKU has a beautiful campus, which began construction back in 1911 when the British governor at the time, Sir Frederick Lugard, whose name marks the road around Victoria Peak, felt it was time for Britain to set up a house of higher learning in Asia, in order to stay on a par with other European countries such as Prussia (Thank you Wikipedia!).
You can find a lot more material about HKU on Wikipedia, but I’ll try to sum up my impression of my frequent treks through the grounds here.
The campus has expanded significantly over the years with many generations of buildings reflecting their era, from quaint colonial structures such as the Department of Law, to the contemporary utilitarian facades of the engineering complex. And because it grew organically, literally up the slope of the hill, it can be a maze for new visitors. But if you just head upwards, or downwards, depending on where you start from, you usually find some stairs, or a path, that eventually leads you out on the other side.
Don’t be afraid to explore, because there are multiple paths that traverse different gardens and alcoves and green patches, each with their own collection of trees. Do be mindful however of the students so you don’t become a distraction or a nuisance to their daily pursuits.
The campus is a botanical treasure grove, and features many species, including Golden Showers, Flame of the Forest, Queen Crape Myrtles, Jacarandas and many, many more, but there is one specie that really stand out – Camphors, which grace the hill as you make your way up from HKU’s East Gate entrance on Bonham Road.
As you go up the stairs, look for a quiet path to your right and walk along it for a minute and you will come across the first of many Camphors in this area. This particular individual, or should I say group, appears to be six or seven small trees clustered together like they were attending a party. On closer inspection however, you’d notice that it is actually a single tree, with seven limbs that meet near the ground.
According to popular folklore – and a sign at the start of the ‘Central Green Trail’ that runs from Magazine Gap Road and Bowen Road up to Barker Road – this is a distinct feature of Camphor trees, which are hence dubbed ‘romance trees’ because they tend to resemble multiple trees growing out from a single spot. In this case however, the romance appeared to have bear some children as multiple smaller limbs have sprouted out from the main grouping.
After your meeting with this family, it is time to head back to the main stairs and continue up, by the elevator, to the next level, and then up a path to the Chong Yuet Ming Amenities Centre. From here you can see a whole community of Camphors growing on the slope between the buildings. They are not massive or old, like those bordering Kowloon Park, but they are full of vitality and are thriving in their protected enclosure, left to their own devices. For a full view of the whole community, turn around as you get to the Amenities Centre and look through the window back down over the slope.
No doubt there are other Camphors on the campus worth visiting, but I will take you to just one more. If you continue up the escalator of the Amenities building to the top, turn left and go through the exit directly in front of you, you will then have to climb a couple of flights of stairs (outside) to reach a terrace and entrance to the Wong Chue Meng Building. Don’t go in, but instead take the stairs to the left, which borders May Hall. Follow this around the corner and come face-to-face with another clan of Camphors. As far as I can tell, there are three individuals in this camp – a massive one with three main limbs, one next to it that may or may not be an offshoot, and a younger one across the path. The three-limb elder is pretty impressive on its own, but the three (or two) trees together, juxtaposed on either side of the walkway, is an experience in itself.
But that is not all, there is a huge, ancient Indian Rubber tree just up the hill from where you’d be standing that will surely take your breath away – but that is another story for another post.