Oriental white oaks, which in Taiwan are only to be found in Hsinchu County, are facing a renewed challenge to their survival on their home ground. A team led by Professor Chao Wei-chun of National Chiayi University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources spent two days at the Kengzihkou shooting range to do a survey about how well the local wild oriental white oaks are surviving. They found that one more tree had died since three months ago, while the trunks of several others had died, leaving only sucker shoots alive. At least one eighth of the 80 surviving oaks showed signs of wilting in their crowns. There were fewer acorns than last year, exhibiting differing levels of ripeness, which is a sign of delayed ripening. These findings give cause for concern.
Chao’s team says that the reasons for the aforementioned conditions are not clear. Taking the wilting, for example, although they suspect that it has to do with insufficiently cold winters, relatively high temperatures and inadequate rainfall in recent years, there is no way to confirm this, so they are deliberating about how to prevent the situation from worsening.
They have been doing surveys on the growth of oriental white oaks in their natural environment since 2013. They go into the restricted area every season to record the number of trees in the local oak population and measure their diameter at chest height. They also collect acorns and give them to Liao Yue-ken, a professor in the department who then uses the acorns to raise seedlings, which he gives to Hsinchu County Government for restorative planting outside the restricted area. This year they have added the further task of assessing the oaks’ state of health.
Photo courtesy of Chao Wei-chun照片：趙偉村提供
Unfortunately, they say, while they recorded 81 wild oaks in their June survey, now they have to change that number to only 80 trees left, several of whose trunks have died, leaving only the suckers still alive.
This was the first time that they found signs of delayed acorn ripening. They observed greater differences in the number and ripeness of acorns, not only within the same area, but even on the same tree.
They saw plump, ripe acorns growing on some of the oaks, but there were also some tiny acorns that had only just formed and had not yet reached the ripening stage. There was also one tree in the same area that was only 20cm tall, yet had produced big, plump acorns. This discovery overturned their previous understanding that oriental white oaks have to be over 50cm tall before they can flower and bear fruit.
Photo courtesy of Chao Wei-chun照片：趙偉村提供
Despite this, the overall acorn yield this year is lower than in previous years. In the past they could collect more than 1,000 viable acorns in two working days, but they only collected 500 to 600 in two days this time.
(Translated by Julian Clegg, Taipei Times)
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