Plants and Peace on The Peak

One of the many wonderful things about writing this blog is that I am slowly building up an invaulable record of what I did and when. Before I set off this morning for Hong Kong’s highest point, I looked back at my post ‘A Walk Around The Peak’ published in October 2013. I recalled then the threat of a boutique hotel development which would have brought traffic and disruption to the narrow circuit which runs around the summit. Happily, it seems plans to develop the historic mansion at 27 Lugard Road are in abeyance after the planning authority granted permission, only with such stringent conditions that the proposed establishment would have been impossible to run. Hooray I say! Hong Kong has quite enough building going on without needing to dispoil one of its star attractions.

The much-photographed view from The Peak across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon
The much-photographed view from The Peak across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon

Imagine my amazement when, at the foot of the driveway up to the controversial property, I found my very own post, printed and neatly laminated, pinned to the rockface. The only piece of anti-development propaganda written in English it had clearly been there since it was published. I had to wait my turn behind other curious walkers to re-read it. It brought a little tear to my eye to think that, in a city on the other side of the world, something I had written had encouraged those protesting against the plans. My words might even have made a small difference. I felt very proud.

Fame at last! My post has been posted
Fame at last! My post has been posted

A world away from the tumult that is Hong Kong city, there is no question that The Peak and the country parks which skirt around it are precious natural resources. From these lofty heights it’s easier to appreciate that almost three-quarters of Hong Kong’s territory is still countryside, supporting thousands of species of plants, birds and insects. A surprising number are found exclusively in this small area.

Ferns and spike mosses flourish in the cool, misty microclimate of The Peak
Ferns and spike mosses flourish in the cool, misty microclimate of The Peak

Whilst the weather in October is lovely for a Sunday stroll it’s not the best time to see the island’s many flowers in bloom. For that one needs to visit in March or April, when the revitalising mist and fog that shrouds The Peak during winter has worked its magic, encouraging trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to open their flowers in the spring sunshine.

One of many trees that defied my identification skills!
One of many trees that defied my identification skills!

At any time of year, if you walk slowly and open your eyes you are sure to spot something interesting on The Peak. I was pleased to find a single, solitary orchid growing out of a steep bank at the end of Harlech Road road near the Lung Fu Shan viewing point. Its tiny flowers, the size of my thumbnail, were a lovely clear yellow.

A tiny yellow orchid, name unknown, springs from a rock face
A tiny yellow orchid, name unknown, springs from a rock face

Nearby I spied what I first took to be a type of toadstool or fungus. (I apologise for its rather phallic appearance, but that’s nature for you.) Thinking it was unusual for a toadstool to have structures that looked like leaves around its base, I then found more of the same but with little white points which looked like they might have been some kind of flower. I have no idea what this might have been, but it was rather fascinating.

Oo-er missus, not in public!
Oo-er missus, not in public!
Are these plants or fungi I wonder?
Are these plants or fungi I wonder?

Remaining with the weird and wonderful for a moment, I suspected the tree pictured below might be an exotic interloper, the Brazilian grape tree, Plinia cauliflora. (If you know any better, please leave me a comment.) Bright green fruits emerged directly from the trunk and branches.

Could these fruits belong to Plinia cauliflora, also known as Jabuticaba and Brazilian grape tree
Could these fruits belong to Plinia cauliflora, also known as Jabuticaba and Brazilian grape tree?

One particular small tree was flowering, although I think it might have been slightly confused by the seasons. This was Polyspora axillaris, also known as the Hong Kong Gordonia or fried egg tree. It has rather splendid orange bark which peals off in patches, a little like a London plane. Unlike camellias, to which Polsporas are related, the flowers drop off neatly when they die and create a pretty carpet on the ground. One would normally expect to see them flowering in winter rather than autumn.

It's easy to understand why Polyspora axillaris is also known as the fried egg tree
It’s easy to understand why Polyspora axillaris is commonly known as the fried egg tree

With no vehicular interruption other than a pizza delivery man on a moped, the Peak Trail was left to the usual mix of energetic joggers, pocket-dog walkers, local ladies with over-sized sun visors and chattering tourists. This is how it should be. Lugard Road, once listed as one of Hong Kong’s ‘Eight Great Sceneries’ and romantically dubbed ‘the fairy bridge locked by the fog’ can only retain its magic if left largely un-trafficked. There is more than enough space for another chi-chi hotel elsewhere.

Road signs and street lights on Harlech Road hark back to British colonial times
Road signs and street lights on Harlech Road hark back to British colonial times