Iconic tree in Taitung to get new lease on life

Taipei, July 24 (CNA) It is currently just a pale shadow of the attraction that once drew crowds of hundreds each day, but things are looking up for "that tree" to return to its former glory. The bischofia javanica standing amid picturesque rice fields in Taitung, arguably Taiwan's best known tree, fell victim to Typhoon Matmo when the storm swept through Taiwan early Wednesday, coldly uprooting it and leaving it by the side of the road. By Thursday, it had been uprighted, even though one media worker said it looked like "a bald man on crutches." The 7-meter-tall tree shot to national fame in the summer of 2013, when Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro sipped tea in its shade for a prominent EVA Airways TV commercial. Since then, the lonely tree and its picturesque backdrop of rice paddies and distant mountains have become an exceptionally popular tourist draw despite the scene's remote location. Lin Wen-tang, mayor of Chihshang Township in Taitung, called the tree "an ambassador of tourism" and credited it with brining 2,000 visitors a day on average to his rice-growing town. As expected for a plant of its celebrity, the tree received special attention immediately after news broke that it had gone down into the neighboring field. Local officials and EVA Airways executives vowed not only to save it but also to make sure it grow stronger. And work got under way as soon as the storm blew past. On Thursday morning, horticulturists contracted by local authorities trimmed the tree's branches and wrapped its trunk to preserve moisture. They also dressed its wounds to avoid infection and removed excess roots. An excavator carefully removed gravel from around the roots and replaced it with nutrient-rich soil before a crane hoisted the tree back up to the joy of applauding spectators. Once it was erected, workers applied wooden support to the tree trunk and solidified the soil. The manager of a local nursery called in to help replant, who identified himself by his surname Yang, said his work will give the tree a more solid footing in the ground compared with before, when it was like a "potted plant." If it sprouts in two months, "the Takeshi Kaneshiro tree is living again and will begin to grow branches, twigs and leaves like before," Yang said. (By Tyson Lu and Jay Chen)