Coffin tree conservation in Vietnam

Conservation Problem

Logging and agricultural conversion threatens the existence of the Vulnerable Taiwania cryptomerioides and the coffin industry in Vietnam that relies on the species.

Project Goal

To develop the capacity of local communities to regenerate wild populations of Taiwania cryptomerioides and work towards the inclusion of the species on the Vietnamese government’s list of official restoration species.

Why this species?

Conifers are an extremely ancient and important collection of organisms – the world’s tallest, largest and oldest living beings are all conifers. Taiwania cryptomerioides is the only species in the genus Taiwania. Commonly named the Chinese Coffin tree, Taiwania is found in mountainous areas of Eastern Asia, including China, Myanmar and Vietnam. Growing up to 55 meters high, this giant has a light and pleasantly spiced scent. The tree gets its name from its highly valuable, workable timber. This timber is particularly suited to coffin building and coffin makers are highly reliant on the existence of Taiwania for their livelihoods. Aside from the coffin industry, the timber is also sought after for use in construction, furniture, boats and bridges. Unsustainable logging and conversation of forest to agricultural land has resulted in huge losses to Taiwania populations and the species is now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Fortress in the sky. A pair of mature Chinese Coffin trees probe the mist. Credit: Centre for Plant Conservation, Vietnam.

What did we do about it?

GTC has been involved in conifer conservation in Vietnam since 2005 and this project, active from 2010 to 2012, built upon that experience and focused specifically on Taiwania. As the project commenced, there were only two small populations comprised of 120 individuals recorded in the districts of Van Ban and Mù Cang Chải in northern Vietnam. The project was implemented by the Centre for Plant Conservation, a local partner, and developed the capacity of local families in Co Thai village in Mù Cang Chải district to manage a wild population of Taiwania, in order to produce seedlings and to reinforce populations.

Planting Taiwania with the next generation. Credit: Centre for Plant Conservation, Vietnam.

Key achievements and future directions

The project supported communities to fulfil certain prerequisite requirements for the inclusion of Taiwania on the Vietnamese government’s list of official restoration species. This involved growing, planting and monitoring the species in the wild. The protection of mother Taiwania trees (from which seeds are taken) was secured in their natural habitat through the involvement of four stakeholder families in Mù Cang Chải who were trained in nursery management, tree monitoring, seed collection and seedling production.

Seeds from Van Ban Natural Reserve were found to be the healthiest in the region and subsequently were prioritised for collection, propagation and planting. This decision paid dividends and 95% of seedlings that were grown through this programme survived the first year after being transplanted from village nurseries to two wild sites. The seedlings have continued to flourish – site visits in 2018 recorded individuals at heights of up to 6 meters.

The Chinese Coffin tree, Taiwania cryptomeriodes, reaching 5 meters in height. This specimen was planted in 2012 in Mù Cang Chải district. Credit: Dr. Hiep.

The Centre for Plant Conservation (CPC) is now planning work to meet the final requirement for the listing of Taiwania as an official Vietnamese reforestation species – the demonstration that planted seedlings can survive in a wide range of locations and elevations – which will be achieved by expanding their successful work into different habitats.

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

Did you know?

More than a third of all conifer species are threatened with global extinction