Planting The Peak | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Planting The Peak

I would like to know something about the early efforts to plant and cultivate the Peak.

When looking at old photos of HK, say from the 1860s-80s, the peak looks more like a lunar landscape than the hillsides we have today with dense, impenetrable vegetation (hence the customary description of HK by early visitors as 'a barren rock').

Can anybody direct me to any reading about the efforts to cultivate the Peak, and about the decision what sorts of vegetation should be introduced?

I did try to search here but did not find much. I apologise if I missed some discussion.



I asked the same question some years back, but unfortunately I can't find that post either!

One reason for early tree-planting was to help stablilse the slopes in water catchment areas, and so slow down the rate that a reservoir gets silted up. You might be able to find out more by reading the annual reports of the government's botanical department, as they include details of progress on forestation. You can find them in the HKGRO website if you go to, search for botanical, and skim the results.

Please let us know if you discover anything interesting.

According to The Ecology and Biodiversity of Hong Kong by David Dudgeon and Richard Corlett, reforestation began in 1870 and by 1880 a million trees per year were being planted, mostly native pines (pinus massoniana).  By 1938, 70% of Hong Kong Island had been reforested in government plantations, which were protected areas (i.e., not trees grown for timber or firewood). There was substantial reforestation work done in the New Territories as well, including the Tai Po Kau forest.  During the Second World War virtually everything that had been planted was cut down for firewood, and few forests remained by the end of the conflict except for the most remote upland valleys and village fung shui woods.  --Steve Bailey

Great and helpful replies from David and Steve! I will post more on the subject when I have time to study the website and the recommended book in detail.

The secondary forest are post 1945. This may be of interest.

Prior to 1873 the planting was mainly in Gardens and alongside roads. A summary can be found here for 1872


The planting of Hong Kong seemed to begin in earnest in 1873 when JM Price became surveyor general. A report from 1877 giving an overview is here (from page 7 of the PDF) including methods, numbers and species planted.  By this point 76 thousand trees had been planted and the hillsides still seemed barren


A further report from 1879 here indicated that many of the early tree planting efforts failed, with up to 75% of the trees dying. 


More dispatches here on tree planting efforts in 1880 


Tree preservation ordinance of 1888 here


The 1890 report here states that sufficient numbers of trees have now been planted in portions of the island to catch the eye of the casual observer. 556,982 trees were planted in 1890. Trees planted 18 years ago near the peak road have reached an average of 30 feet in height.


There are annual reports on GRO online that David linked to above titled "Report for (Insert Year Here) Botanical & afforestation Department" that give a good summary of 1890-1940 tree planting efforts.