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A challenging way to save the ancient camellia tree at the Mt. Daluoshan in Wenzhou China

Jiyuan Li1*, Jiarong Wang2

 1Research Institute of Subtropical Forestry, CAF, Fuyang, Zhejiang, China, 311400
2 Wenzhou Yunfeng Camellia Research Insitute, Wenzhou, Zhejiang, China, 32500
*Author for correspondence, Email:; Tel/Fax: 86 571 63346372

Before the1980s

Wenzhou is well known not only for its flexible economy and richness, but also for its camellias. Although most camellia enthusiasts know eight precious camellia cultivars there, few people can image that there is an ancient camellia tree growing in a cave on the rocky Mt. Daluoshan, one-hour’s drive from the centre of Whenzhou city.

It was said that this camellia tree was connected to the King’s family in the Tang Dynasty, through a relative who once took refuge here and later planted this tree. Another story told us that the camellia was planted by a famous Chinese poet, Mr. Luo Yin, who hid himself from rebellion in the Baoyan Temple and planted the camellia tree during the late Tang-Dynasty (833-909 A.D). So, local people called it the ‘Camellia of Tang Dynasty. It has been estimated that the camellia tree is more than 1,000 years old. In fact, according to the girth of the trunk, it is about 400 years old.


Baoyan Temple                                                          

ancient camellia tree


Fig. 1 Baoyan Temple at rocky Mt. Daluoshan in Wenzhou


camellia tree and cave


Fig. 3 The ancient camellia tree at 6m high before 1980


Fig. 2 The camellia tree and the rocky cave


 1980s to1990s

The huge camellia tree survives in a cave open at the top. It was 6 meters high and 1.05m in girth (Wang 1981). Lin recorded it as 11.60m tall and 33cm in diameter at breast height in 1996. Mr. You Muxian determined a height of 8.15m, girth of 111cm and diameter of 35.5cm in 2001, and drew a schematic diagram of the cave and camellia tree (Fig.2). Although the diameter varied slightly during the last thirty years, the height changed dramatically. The main reason is probably that its canopy was continuously injured by human and natural factors. The most harm was done by some local selfish camellia growers during the 1980s, who stripped the tree for graft scions. It grew there with a few branches and leaves and did not flourish (Fig.3). The healthy round stem was becoming weak due to its rotten bark. The trunk was only half of its original size in the 1990s.

camellia tree in 1984    

half the stem remained

Fig 4. The camellia tree growing at cave
   with few shoots and leaves in 1984

Fig 5. Only half the stem remained due to bark continuously rotting

 Early New Century


protected by covering of concrete

waterlogged soil with very limited underground space

Fig. 6 The camellia tree was protected by covering of concrete around the stem

Fig. 7 The camellia tree growing in heavily   waterlogged soil with very limited underground space














The local government started to pay much attention to the tree and organized a team to protect it in 2004. They used more than 1000kg concrete to cover the decomposed stem, and narrowed the opening of the cave by filling a big gap towards the southwest direction. This may have been the best practice they could have used at that time; however, the tree was greatly harmed due to these improper practices. It was the beginning of its misfortunes.

Year 2011

In March of 2011, the Cross-strait workshop on camellia resource and conservation was held in Wenzhou. More than 150 participants from 13 provinces attended the workshop, including a delegation of 10 people from Taiwan. The organizing committee arranged for participants to make a study tour to the ancient camellia tree. We found the tree blooming with very numerous single red flowers and somewhat unhealthy leaves. We were concerned about its health and discussed protection strategies. Finally a proposal on protecting this ancient camellia tree was drawn up and sent to the appropriate department of the Wenzhou government.

The Wenzhou government responded quickly and gave much attention to this tree. But, they did not forget the past experience on protection. They invited two delegates from universities and institutes to make study tours. Two small-scale workshops were conducted by the Wenzhou forestry department, and they hoped not to make mistakes during the protection project.

Mr Wang Jiarong, the director of Wenzhou Camellia Association, was chosen to be the manager to deal with protection work. Mr. Wang is like a doctor, caring for the tree as a patient. He had not imagined the tree to be so weak, but he was confident about the  current protection work on the basis of his experience of growing camellias over the past 40 years.

He made a careful plan for protection based on suggestions and comments from professionals and camellia growers. He took following steps:

  • To fix the stem and full canopy with numerous steel tubes
  • To remove all the concrete covering the stem, and to clean the exposed stem with a sulfurate disinfectant solution, and then to maintain some humidity around the stem by covering with clean moss or plastic
  • To remove more than 5000kg of waterlogged soil and replaced with mixed soil with some portion of peat
  • To supplement nutrition by injecting a nutrient solution
  • To prune some twigs and propagate by air layering
  • To provide the remaining stem and large sized branches at different heights with healthy camellia stock by approach grafting.

blooming at end of March, 2011

protected with a netted steel fence


Fig 8.  The camellia tree was protected with a netted steel fence at height of 3m


medium sized single red flowers


Fig 9.  The camellia tree was blooming at end of March, 2011


Fig 10.  The ancient camellia tree with medium sized   single red flowers, but somewhat yellowish green leaves



workshop held in Wenzhou

Study tour

Fig 11. Cross-strait workshop held in Wenzhou in late March

Fig 12. Study tour to the ancient camellia tree by participants


Fixing the tree

Concrete removed

Stem timber was decomposed

Fig 13. Fixing the tree with steel pipes

Fig 14. Concrete removed up to 1000kg

Fig 15.Stem timber was decomposed

treating soil under the decomposed stump

    soil was replaced with fresh mix soil

Supplemented with external nutrition

Fig 17. Original waterlogged soil was replaced with fresh mix soil

Fig 16.  Mr. Wang Jiarong is treating soil under the decomposed stump

Fig   18.  Supplemented with external   nutrition by injection



Literatures cited

Wang Yi-ping,1981. Ancient camellia tree in China. The Camellia Journal, vol.36 (2):23
Lin Hongxin, Ye Maozong, Chen Xizhi, 1996. Appreciation of Wenzhou Camellia in China. Shanghai Popular Science Press.
You Muxian, 2010. Tracking down Chinese ancient camellia trees for ten years. Zhejiang Science and Technology Press.


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