CR File: Baishan Fir
By John Oliver
Species: Abies beshanzuensis
Range: Mt Baishan-zu, Zhejiang Provence, China
- Deforestation for agriculture
- Climate change
High atop Mt Baishan-zu in eastern China resides one of the world’s most critically endangered coniferous plants, the Baishan (Baishan-zu) fir.
Growing up to 17 metres with a trunk around 80cm in diameter, the trees maintain the general appearance of all coniferous plants. Linear leaves up to 4cm long, and narrow cones between 6 and 12cm long, are carried on smooth light grey bark.
Abies beshanzuensis, the Baishan Fir, lay undiscovered on this Chinese mountain until 1963, when a total of seven mature trees were identified in the habitat.
By 1987, when the next major study was conducted on the trees, there were only five trees remaining, and they had become unable to self-propagate due to their small number and significant degradation of the woodland habitat in which the stand survives. At this point a concerted conservation effort commenced. Initially two mature trees were dug up and transferred to botanic gardens. Both these trees promptly died, leaving only three plants in existence.
Through grafting and cutting propagation in off-site facilities there has been some success in growing these trees, and programs are in place to restock the wild environment.
It is understood that the initial destruction of the trees was through unchecked deforestation to open the land for agriculture. Regrettably, whilst the Baishan Fir is now in a designated conservation area, there is still intrusion from local farmers who unwittingly damage either the trees themselves or the habitat in which they are located.
Due to the level of damage already done to Mt Baishan, the area is prone to flooding, landslides and erosion, which continue to damage the adult trees and the saplings reintroduced after propagation. Climate change will also impact the reforestation of the Baishan Fir, primarily due to the very small number still in existence and the prevalent landslides.
Fortunately for this rare plant, the Chinese Government is taking urgent and ongoing action to stop this tree from being lost in its original habitat. Through recognition of climate change, the government is also acknowledging the need to make larger and more widespread changes that may also help this plant survive.