Uprooted by typhoon, tree in Taitung gets star treatment

Taipei, July 23 (CNA) Of the hundreds of trees felled by Typhoon Matmo around Taiwan overnight, one drew special attention Wednesday, with local officials and one of Taiwan's major airlines immediately pledging not only to save it but to make it grow stronger. The bischofia javanica has become arguably Taiwan's best known tree since the summer of 2013, when Japanese-Taiwanese movie star Takeshi Kaneshiro sipped tea in its shade in an EVA Airways TV commercial. The commercial catapulted the 7-meter-tall tree and the surrounding paddy fields located in Chihshang Township into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taitung County. Tourists who ventured out in the blustery winds Wednesday morning were shocked to find the iconic tree having fallen sideways into a field, with its roots exposed over the paved surface of a narrow road. "This has got to be the most serious damage" that Typhoon Matmo has inflicted on Taitung, one local resident said. Lin Wen-tang, chief of the township, and local village chief Hsu Chin-hsing went to the site to survey the damage. Saying he was saddened to see the tree lying in the field, Lin called on workers to first trim the tree's branches before trying to put it back in place Thursday, when the storm is expected to have blown over. "Hopefully it will survive," Lin said. A worker hired to preserve the tree said there was a good chance that it will live on given its robust nature. It will take about half a year for the tree to get back to normal, he added. In Taipei, executives of EVA Airways were kept abreast of efforts being made to save the tree in Chihshang. Trimming the branches, the company said, will prevent its roots from sustaining further damage by reducing windage. But the airline did not stop there. EVA Airways will foot the bill for the "most environmentally friendly and effective" care of the tree in the future to make sure it grows stronger, pledged company chairman Chang Kuo-wei. The company has strengthened its association with the beloved tree in the last few months, including providing financial support for the launch of a shuttle bus service to ferry tourists around the area earlier this month. The service was initiated after local residents complained of tourists overcrowding the stand-alone tree and interfering with their farming activities. (By Tyson Lu, Liu Te-chan and Jay Chen)