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Island of Trees: Taiwan’s Magnificent Woodlands

Here’s a statistic that astounds many who’ve never visited Taiwan: About 58% of the main island is covered by trees or bamboo, with stands of hardwoods accounting for more than half of this area. That’s a higher percentage than in the US, Canada, or Brazil. The figure for the UK is a mere 12%.

This is even more impressive when you appreciate how just densely populated Taiwan is, and that typhoons occasionally obliterate woodlands. Taiwan has 670 people per square kilometer; the UK has 259, whereas the US has a mere 36. When a typhoon strikes Taiwan, it isn’t the strong winds so much as the heavy rains that endanger forests. Downpours often trigger landslides in mountain areas, sweeping trunks, branches and stumps downriver and out to sea.

There’s another reason why the health and size of Taiwan’s forests in recent decades is remarkable. Before the invention of synthetic camphor, the island was the world’s no.1 source of camphor. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, demand for camphor (which was used to make mothballs and other products) led to large-scale felling of camphor trees in the foothills. In the same era, pioneers cleared other types of woodland so they could launch Taiwan’s famous tea industry.

Sublime, accessible forests can be found around Alishan and Yushan National Park. One of favourite paths is the Tefuye Historic Trail. However, if you wish to hike the entire route (which is very worthwhile), you’ll need a car and a driver to pick you up at the other end. During the slow drive between Sun Moon Lake and Taroko Gorge via Hehuanshan, you’ll see steep high-altitude woodlands like those pictured top right.

The island doesn’t just have a lot of trees – it also has tree species that grow nowhere else on Earth, such as Pinus Taiwanensis (Taiwan red pine, pictured lower left). Most specimens are found quite high in Taiwan’s mountains, but there’s a splendid if ailing Taiwan red pine at Cingshueiyan Temple in the foothills of central Taiwan.

Recognising that forests can both limit the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and protect vulnerable slopelands during torrential rain, Taiwan’s government has long followed a policy of afforestation. One of the most important projects is in East Taiwan. At Danong Dafu Forest Recreation, more than a million trees have been planted across former sugar plantations. Wild animals including yellow-throated martens have been seen here. Many of the tourists who stay nearby get up very early in the morning so they can go birdwatching. If you want to experience Taiwan’s natural wonders, contact us today!