Hong Kong is a surprisingly green place: the skyscrapers that form the stunning cityscapes that are the territory’s most common and iconic images hug the coast. Some three-quarters of Hong Kong is in varying degree countryside and 40 percent set aside as parkland.
Hong Kong has, we are told in the foreword to this remarkable book, almost 400 indigenous species of trees and that
more that have been introduced for one purpose or another. New species and varieties continue to be discovered. As recently as 2014 a species of Hornbeam, Carpinus insularis, native to Hong Kong and new to science was described from a tiny population found by botanists at Violet Hill.many others that have been introduced.
Portraits of Trees of Hong Kong and Southern China is something of a throwback to botanical volumes of yesteryear, both in its attempt to be encyclopedic but even more so in the inclusion of extraordinary original illustrations from artist Sally Bunker. Each double-page spread includes a scientific description accompanied by a detailed, colorful, luxurious and invariably beautiful watercolor. To extol this artwork is not denigrate the value of photography, but there really is no comparison.
The scientific descriptions are, it must be said, rather dry, but these are preceded by readable, informative essays. One has to have a soft spot for botanists who start discussions on “botanical nomenclature” with a quote from Turgenev.
The illustrations (examples above) could easily grace many a Hong Kong living room wall, but then one would have to sacrilegiously cut them out of the book.
Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.