An Overview of Fung Shui Woods in Hong Kong


AFCD Survey of Local Fung Shui Woods

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department initiated a territory-wide fung shui wood survey in 2002. In just over a year, the Plant Working Group surveyed 116 fung shui woods for their latest status. Plants and environmental information were gathered to establish a complete database (a list of fung shui woods in Hong Kong can be found in the Appendix). This information helps us assess the ecological value of fung shui woods from a holistic territorial perspective, and identify sites that require a higher level of protection. All these elements will be taken into account in the formulation of conservation policies.

 

Distribution and Settings

Fung shui woods at Luk Keng area

Fung shui woods and rural settlements have an inseparable link. The distribution of fung shui woods reflects the distribution and general development of villages.

Large fung shui woods are found mainly near the northeastern border of the New Territories (e.g. Lai Chi Wo, Sheung Wo Hang, Muk Min Tau, Luk Keng), Sai Kung (e.g. Lai Chi Chong, Wong Chuk Yeung) and Ma On Shan (e.g. Mui Tsz Lam, Mau Ping San Uk). The fung shui woods in these areas are generally well preserved and less disturbed owing to their remoteness. Typical fung shui woods also exist in Shatin, Tai Po (e.g. Fung Yuen, Shing Mun Tai Wai) and Lam Tsuen (e.g. She Shan Tsuen, Tai Om). Fortunately, these forests were preserved during the development of new towns. In Lantau and the northwestern New Territories, fung shui woods are usually smaller and often disturbed by human activities. On Hong Kong Island, the only existing fung shui wood is the one in Nam Fung Road.

Wong Chuk Yeung fung shui wood at Sai Kung

A typical fung shui wood is fronted by agricultural fields and back onto hills. Given this topographical constraint, it is generally limited in size. The average area of a fung shui wood is 1 hectare. The smallest wood (Wong Chuk Yeung) is only 600 m2, while the largest one (Shing Mun) spreads across 6 hectares. Since most villages are built on plains or valleys, 80% of fung shui woods are lowland sites of 100m elevation or less. Ngong Ping (Ma On Shan) is the only fung shui wood that stands over 300m above sea level.

As a general rule, forests of higher elevation, given their remoteness, are subject to less human disturbance. These woods are much better preserved with richer plant diversity.

 

Plant Community Structure

Vertical stratification of plants in fung shui woods

Stepping into a fung shui wood, you enter a secluded and dark domain as most of the sunlight is blocked out by towering trees. This upperstory is called the tree stratum. In a mature fung shui wood, the canopy of the tree stratum is dense. The uppermost storey is made up of very tall trees like the Endospermum (Endospermum chinense) and Schima (Schima superba). Often growing to more than 20 m, the canopies of these trees are clearly visible from the outside of the wood, while inside the forest you can only see their trunks. The tree stratum also has smaller members, including the Lanced-leaved Sterculia (Sterculia lanceolata), Incense Tree (Aquilaria sinensis), Chekiang Machilus (Machilus chekiangensis) and Fleshy Nut Tree (Sarcosperma laurinum). On tree trunks, mosses and other climbers are common. Under the tree straum is a shrub stratum, dominated by plants like Wild Coffee (Psychotria asiatica) and Asiatic Ardisia (Ardisia quinquegona). Further down, the herbaceous stratum and ground stratum showcase a phalanx of ferns and herbaceous plants.

As you can see, plants of different heights form different layers. This is a very common phenomenon in forests, known as vertical stratification of plants. Photo index of Plants of Fung Shui Wood

 

A Comparison of Fung Shui Woods and Other Types of Forests in Hong Kong

  Fung shui wood Lowland Secondary Forest Forest Plantation
History The oldest fung shui wood dates back more than 300 years The majority of secondary forests were developed from grasslands naturally after the Second World War
Most woods were planted after the Second World War
Canopy Dense and tall Dense but shorter Sparse
Undergrowth Dense Dense Sparse
Tree Sizes More old trees and large vines Trees of all sizes Tree size is fairly uniform
Plant Species Diverse, with mostly native shade-tolerant species Diverse, with mostly native sun-loving pioneer species Diversity is low. Includes both exotic and native pioneer species

The dense vegetation of fung shui wood backing onto denuded hillslopes (ca. 1960s)

 

The Conservation Value of Fung Shui Woods

Chinese Bulbul

From a conservation point of view, fung shui woods can be considered remnants of Hong Kong’s native low-elevation broad-leaved forests. By preserving the rural landscape and habitats, these forests play a key role in maintaining biodiversity. In particular, fung shui woods can preserve lowland tree species which are fast disappearing due to habitat destruction. These plants provide the sources of natural succession and recruitment for nearby habitats, hence maintaining the biodiversity in the ecosystem at large.

Fung shui woods are generally limited in size, but as long as they are preserved intact, they can provide food and shelters for many wild animals. The thick canopies of banyan trees offer great shelter, and are favourite bird nesting sites. All in all, the fung shui wood is a vibrant and dynamic habitat for wildlife.

Fung shui woods, with their rich flora and fauna, have immeasurable value for scientific research. Their unique ecological features and species composition provide valuable reference for our study of Hong Kong’s native vegetation. This information is an important reference for selecting the right species for afforestation. A fung shui wood is like a living herbarium or plant museum, offering valuable resources for both academic research and nature conservation.

 

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