How We Build Better Trees

Lab Techs at Hainan nursery
Lab technicians insert sprouting eucalyptus into nutrient-filled jars.

In August I had the opportunity to travel to China with Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world’s largest paper companies, to learn how they were greening their supply chain.

After touring paper factories around Shanghai, our group of journalists and company chaperones travelled to Hainan Island in the South China Sea to visit a 68,000 hectare plantation growing millions upon millions of eucalyptus and acacia trees.

When I got back, I had the opportunity to write about the experience of learning how these fast-growing trees are spawned in-lab for The Walrus.

Here’s an excerpt:

At 68,000 hectares, Asia Pulp and Paper’s eucalyptus and acacia plantation on Hainan has the same spatial footprint as Edmonton. Roughly 80 percent of the millions of individual specimens here are eucalyptus, Wang Liyong, nursery head at app’s Hainan tree lab, tells us through our interpreter. Though they could be harvested now, Wang says, the trees will be left for another two years to maximize growth. Already, they tower above us like utility poles. Huddled together, the trees appear ornamental. I study their patchy bark, the way it wraps around their spindly trunks; the meagre canopy drops its leaves like fat green beans.

The minimal foliage is all part of app’s plan. It’s all been accounted for: species growth rate, trunk girth, everything down to the individual trees that were selected to produce the shoots that became the quick-growing eucalyptus we’re standing beneath. Because on this plantation in the South China Sea, deep in this manufactured forest, a forced evolution is underway.

You can read the entire story at ‘Building a Better Tree’.

You can also see a collection of photos I shot of the trip on my Flickr page.

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