Seeing the forest and the trees 

Published: 08/04/2011 05:00

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The lộc vừng trees in Phu Tho Village in Quang Binh Province’s Le Thuy District

One lộc vừng (Indian Oak or Barringtonia acutangula) tree is an arresting sight, whether it is in bloom with its scarlet, powder-puff flowers, laden with fruit or just standing tall with big green leaves and its huge knotted trunk.

But 300 of them that are centuries old standing around a large pond in a village?

Stuff of surreally beautiful dreams dreamt by an overly imaginative artist.

But I am not an artist and I was not dreaming.

While on a business visit to the central province of Quang Binh, I found myself in Phu Tho Village in Le Thuy District.

The magically beautiful scene described above can be found here.

Barringtonia acutangula is a species of flowering trees native to coastal wetlands in southern Asia and northern Australasia, from Afghanistan east to the Philippines and Queensland.

While it is well known in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines for its medicinal properties, and for the use of the bark of its tree to intoxicate fish, the tree’s popularity in Vietnam owes a lot to photographs of specimens that stand on the banks of the Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of Hanoi, symbolizing the capital city’s poetic beauty.

No one knows for sure exactly how old the trees in Phu Tho are, but villagers estimate them to be around 400 years old.  Covering an area of more than two hectares, the garden is the village’s pride, standing strong after having survived historic floods.

During the resistance wars against the French, this garden was a place where Vietnamese militia and guerillas took shelter.

In fact the riverside village covering 236 hectares owes its survival to the verdant trees that have protected it from at least three floods a year.

The lộc vừng trees are at their beautiful best two times a year – in spring when their leaves change color, and in June when they go into bloom. Villagers told me that in June, when all the trees bloom, the whole area is reddened with the flowers that are scattered on the ground, and their fragrance lingers everywhere.

Lộc vừng is listed among four valuable tree species in Vietnamese traditional culture, along with sanh (Ficus benjamina, commonly known as the Weeping Fig), sung (Ficus racemosa, popularly known as the Cluster Fig Tree) and tùng (Tetrameles nudiflora).

Over the last few years, the trend of growing lộc vừng trees has developed as bonsai growers and rich people believe the trees bring good luck. A particularly ornate lộc vừng bonsai can fetch up to several million dong.

With that kind of monetary value, the garden in Phu Tho village has been targeted by illegal loggers. Early last year, six men felled a tree at night and sold it to a man in another commune, said village chief Le Van Tien.

GETTING THERE

From Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, you can fly to Dong Hoi Airport, or take a train or bus to Dong Hoi, the capital town of Quang Binh Province. From there, take a bus to Kien Giang Town some 45km away, or ride a motorbike along National Highway 1A to get to Phu Tho Village.

“Police arrested the loggers and fined each of them VND5 million (US$240). We usually tell villagers to protect the trees and denounce anyone who tries to steal them.”

The villagers are proud of their precious natural heritage and will not sell them even though they have been offered billons of dong several times by traders from outside, Tien said.

Reported by Truong Quang Nam

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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