Cilan sacred tree

Cilan Sacred Tree Garden is located in the mountainous area of ​​Datong County, Yilan. It is one of the 18 potential world heritage sites in Taiwan.

Story and photos by Steven Crook

When I was still some distance away from the Qilan Shenmu Park, I realized that the region’s strict access requirements protected more than just the ecology of this remote reserve.

Visits must be booked at least one week in advance, and all sightseers must arrive in one of the operator’s minibuses. I immediately understood why, as no sane owner wants to drive their vehicle over 11 kilometers of potholed logging roads that separate gardens from more civilized driving conditions.

The previous afternoon, when we saw some minibuses carrying tourists back to Mingchi Villa, my wife commented that the sides of the 12-seater vehicles were covered in mud. But when our small convoy takes us up higher mountains through a series of narrow zig-zag routes, we understand why keeping the minibus clean is impossible.

Once past the gates controlling Route 100 in Forest Road, the pavement deteriorates rapidly. We splashed through puddles and mud and passed landslide damage in several places. I’m happy to hand over the driving to someone who comes a few times a week, and also thankful that I never get motion sickness.

If you come from Taoyuan or Meiji, the turnoff is at the 74.6 km of the Taiwan 7 line, which is the Taoyuan-Yilan line, also known as the Beiheng Highway.

Forestry 100 Road starts at an altitude of about 1,100 meters and climbs to the Qilan Shenmu Service Station at an altitude of about 1,620 meters. Between the two locations, the forest isn’t particularly attractive. Predominantly commercial cedar plantations, lacking the thickness and rich green undergrowth character of healthy natural woodland. However, there is also an upside. Occasional gaps offer brief but impressive views of the upper reaches of Lanyang Creek, the main water system in northeastern Taiwan.

Confucius Sacred Tree

The outlook is equally fascinating. On the way back to Meiji, when most of my passengers were dozing off, I spotted a Taiwan antelope a few meters from the logging road. This endemic protected species does not like human company, and some English-language sources incorrectly refer to it as a “goat”. The animal stared in our direction for a moment, then rushed into the depths of the forest. I consider myself lucky to have encountered two antelopes in the past four years.

Exploring the gardens from the station alone is not permitted. It’s a wild place – despite the word “garden” in the name – where straying from the right path can have disastrous consequences. Tourists need to choose the 2.3km or 1.2km route and follow the guide assigned to their group. We wanted to see as much as possible, so we took the longer route, which took about two hours.

Our guide said we brought good weather, and by that he meant that it hadn’t rained so far that day. The temperate coniferous forest in Zhilan receives twice as much precipitation as Taipei, and fog is the norm. The trail can be slippery in places and has many steps, so hiking shoes are a must. That said, the trees that make Ziran unique can be reached by anyone in good health.

There are two evergreen species of Taiwan red cypress and Taiwan cypress in the Cilan Sacred Tree Garden, as well as the protected thistle (Cirsium albescens) in the lower left corner of the thousand-yuan banknote. The Ministry of Culture (MOC) website says 62 of Cilan’s cypress trees are over 400 years old, while other sources say there are nearly 100 cypress trees in the area that are at least 1,000 years old. This uniqueness prompted the Ministry of Culture to list it as one of Taiwan’s 18 potential world heritage sites in 2002.

In 1959, the government handed over control of 45,000 hectares around Zelan to the Vocational Assistance Council for Veterans, now the Veterans Affairs Council (VAC). Veterans who came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek established a network of logging roads and began commercial exploitation of the region’s forest resources. By 1985, more than 7,000 hectares of native trees had been felled. However, some accessible giant cypress trees have been spared because their shape means they cannot be easily cut into marketable planks.

After natural forest logging was banned in 1991, VAC’s Forest Conservation and Management Authority (FCMA) commissioned surveys of surviving ancient trees and began naming them based on their age.

Before moving on to individual trees, our guide explains how experts can estimate the age of a living tree without having to cut it down by measuring the tree’s girth and comparing it to nearby fallen trees of the same species. Examining those dead neighbors allows calculation of average ring width and determination of normal bark thickness.

Counting the growth rings of fallen trees helps scientists estimate the age of the giant cypress.

For me, the most memorable of the 51 named trees is the sixth, the sacred tree of Confucius. The 41-meter tall red cedar is thought to have sprouted from the hillside within a few years of the birth of China’s greatest sage 2,574 years ago. In addition to being the oldest of the named trees, it also features a twisted branch extending to the ground, known as “Confucius’ staff”.

The tallest red cedar in the park is No. 26 Baojiu Shenmu. It is 51 meters high and is named after a Song Dynasty official who lived from 999 to 1062 AD. Bao Gong was posthumously named a god because of his reputation of integrity and justice.

If you’ve ever been to the Taroko Gorge, you’ve probably passed a small inland settlement called Tianxiang. Both the town and Cilan’s Nine Trees commemorate Wen Tianxiang (文天祥, 1236-1283 AD), a Southern Song literati who chose to die rather than submit to Kublai Khan after he defeated the Song Dynasty and established power. Blair is famous. Yuan Dynasty.

living memorial

Many of the trees here are named after historical figures in Chinese history. Number 5’s name is Sima Qian, often referred to as the father of Chinese historiography. Sima Shi was born around 145 BC. His tree is the strongest in the garden with a girth of 4.14 meters. Number 12 is a 38.4-meter-high living monument to Zhuge Liang (181-234 AD), who has been revered as a Chinese military and political hero since the Three Kingdoms period.

Number 29 commemorates Emperor Guangwu who restored the Han Dynasty in AD 25. Oddly enough, the information panel has more text written to Jesus of Nazareth than to him, a contemporary of the emperor. No. 46 commemorates Ming Dynasty general and intellectual Wang Yangming (Wang Yangming, 1472-1529 AD), whose name is also attached to Yangmingshan National Park near Taipei.

Countless rotting tree trunks littered the hillside as FCMA stopped collecting dead wood in 1999 after the “Tree Falling Incident”. Some officials have been accused of falsifying documents to allow the felling of live cypress trees and passing off precious wood from dead trees. The prosecution was unsuccessful, and the controversy furthered efforts to create a national park that included Chelan (see accompanying sidebar).

Ferns thrive in Zelan’s cool, moist environment.

It is said that there are more than 1,000 different species of plants in the Cilan area. In addition to various ferns and mosses, Chinese bloggers also report seeing some interesting plants in Zhilan, such as the red berry araceae (sometimes called miniature terrestrial orchids that bloom in February or March) and formosan orchids. Rhododendrons are an endemic species that bloom red and white in April and May.

When we finally found a cypress with a connection to a prominent local figure, I began to wonder if the tree-naming committee had been told to celebrate China’s heritage and downplay Taiwan’s much shorter written history.

Zheng Chenggong Shenmu No. 32 is a 29-meter-high cypress that sprouted in 1624 AD, the year Zheng Chenggong was born. In 1661-62, forces led by the Zheng family (a Ming loyalist known as Zheng Chenggong) besieged the Dutch trading base in Tainan, drove out the Europeans, and established a China-centric regime.

None of the other historical figures of the orchid tree have the most distant ties to Taiwan. But at least some recognition has been given to the local Atayal Aboriginal people in the name of the private sector entity managing the gardens on behalf of the VAC.

Lealea Makauy Ecological Park (力丽马高 Ecological Park) – named after makauy, the Atayal name for a type of peppercorn (sometimes written maqaw) that often appears in indigenous cuisine – is also in charge of the Mingchih Resort and adjacent Mingchih National Forest Recreation Area (Mingchi National Forest Recreation Area) at 1,170 meters above sea level and the Cilan Resort (余兰山庄) at a lower elevation.


Rooms at both resorts can be booked through the usual online platforms, but if you want to visit the sacred tree, it is best to contact Lealea Makauy Ecological Park. Regarding the signs and information signs, there is not much English around Cilan Sacred Tree Garden, but if you notify in advance, the park staff can arrange an English-speaking guide for free.

The garden ticket is NT$770 per person, including the shuttle service to and from Cilan Villa or Meiji Villa. Guests staying overnight at either resort will be charged TWD 670. The service station adds 180 yuan for a bento.

No advance reservation is required to visit Mingchi National Forest Recreation Area (open daily from 8:30am to 4:00pm). Two hours is enough time to visit the small lake (hence the area’s name, which means “bright/clear pond”) and the surrounding woodlands. The fare is NT$150 on weekends and holidays, and NT$120 on weekdays. There are also the usual discounts for students, children, seniors and the disabled.

national park that never came to fruition

Taiwan’s once vast cypress forests were heavily felled during Japanese rule from 1895 to 1945 and after World War II. By the end of the 20th century, there were less than 26,000 hectares left, more than half of which were in the highlands of Yilan County.

Fearing that Cilan’s cypresses could gradually degrade if left unprotected, a coalition of NGOs first petitioned the Ombudsman to investigate the FCMA’s removal of the controversial tree it had listed as dead. The coalition then launched a campaign to create a national park that would include Chelan and its adjacent mid-elevation wilderness areas.

The idea was quickly picked up by the central government, which eventually named Magao National Park and proposed boundaries for the reserve, making the reserve roughly half the size of Yushan National Park.

If completed, the new national park will cover most of Datong Township in Yilan County, Jianshi Township in Hsinchu County, Fuxing District in Taoyuan and Wulai District in New North. All four areas are designated Aboriginal areas, which means they enjoy additional autonomy. The central government promised from the beginning that residents would play a key role in the management of the national park, but opposition from certain Atayal communities — notably Nanshan and Siji in Datong — proved intractable.

According to a 2006 report published on the Ministry of the Interior website, the hostility encountered by the authorities stemmed from tribal distrust over “lifestyle rights, land rights, independent development rights, and the proposed co-management regime, combined with awareness that other national parks There have been many previous conflicts with Aboriginal people.”

Margao National Park’s budget was frozen in 2003, and the plan was never revived in the two decades since. This is not the only national park project to fail in Taiwan’s recent history. The proposed Orchid Island, Green Island and Neng Dan (part of the Central Range) national parks were also canceled due to local protests.

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