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Nature and Science 2010-04-07 Forest China Part 13 - Tibetan Spruce Part 1

04-07-2010 10:58 BJT

Spring comes late here. Winter lingers until April. A seedling of the Cang Qiong spruce breaks through the ice and enters the world.

The Cang Qiong lives in the virgin forests of the Nanjiabawa Peak Area, which is the highest point in the southeastern Tibetan Plateau.

With winter’s departure, the highest forest in the world is about to welcome the warm humid front from the Indian Ocean.

The Cang Qiong is dancing in the westerly breeze.

Cang Qiong is the Tibetan name for this spruce. The three branches indicate that the Cang Qiong is three years old. Other trees reveal their age through growth rings. The spruce grows another branch every year.

The three-year-old Cang Qiong is only a dozen or so centimeters tall. The older spruces nearby are more than 60 meters tall.

The strapping spruces live on the high plateau of southeastern Tibet, between 2800 and 3800 meters above sea level. The tallest of them is 70-meters high and 2-meters in diameter.

Cang Qiong is the Tibetan name for this spruce. The three branches indicate that the Cang Qiong is three years old. 
Cang Qiong is the Tibetan name for this spruce. The three branches indicate 
that the Cang Qiong is three years old.

It’s gloomy inside the forest. This is the densest spruce forest in the world. A distance of only a few metres separates the trees here, with the result that in each hectare there is approximately 3000-cubic meters of timber.

The forest lies just below the alpine meadow. The meadow, as it extends upwards, reaches areas that are permanently covered in ice and snow.

A river, the Brahmaputra, flows past the spruces. When it finds its course blocked by the eastern Himalayas, it turns northwards. Heat and moisture from the Indian Ocean travel along the canyon, turning it into the warmest and most humid place on the plateau.

The Tibetan Plateau, or the “Roof of the World”, is in fact the youngest region on Earth. 60 million years ago, it was an area of plains. But through several convulsions of the Earth’s crust, Nanjiabawa was forced upwards at a rate of 3 centimeters a year, eventually to become the highest peak in southeastern Tibet.

The weather is getting warmer. The waterfall descends form Nanjiabawa, eventually to flow into the virgin forest.

At the sight of the mist, a golden eagle leaves its nest.

The golden eagle’s sudden dive terrifies the Tibetan snow cocks. They flee to the Niguo Temple, deep inside the forest. Niguo in Chinese means crown, and this temple is rare, standing as it does at an altitude of 5000-meters.

The mist passes Niguo Temple and carries on deeper into the forest.

At the base of the Cang Qiong, the thick lichen is absorbing water from the mist.

The mist softens the cutin layer on the Cang Qiong’s needles. The stomas slowly open and breathe in the humid atmosphere. The spruce’s stomas, located in its needles, open and close according to changes in the environment. They open to breathe, in humid conditions and close to save water when it is dry.

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