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Rare Chinese swamp cypress found in Nakai-Nam Theun National Park

A stand of Chinese swamp cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis), a very rare tree species, has been found in the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park in central Laos, sparking global attention.
Known locally as mai hing xam, the cypress was listed as a critically endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list in 2006.
According to the Nam Theun 2 Power Co., Ltd., this species is known to exist in only three countries - Laos, Vietnam and China - and naturally occurring populations are only known in Laos and Vietnam.

The Nakai-Nam Theun National Park supports the only stand of Chinese swamp cypress known in Laos after the creation of the Nam Theun 2 reservoir, when at least 468 trees were submerged.
Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Savankhone Razmountry, this week led a media team to see the trees which are growing on a hillside in the park, where there is one of the watersheds of the Nam Theun River.
The team spent more than five hours travelling by boat from Phosy Thalang and then trekking to the park’s Nahao area where some 150 mai hing xam trees are growing.
The species has also been reported in the park’s Teung area which is about a two-day walk from Nahao.
Mr Savankhone said the media team would explore the area and report their findings as well as make a documentary about the rare tree species, as it is considered to be a priceless national heritage.
“We need to conserve this tree species for successive generations and promote this area as an international tourist destination,” he added.
“This is a very rare tree species and no longer exists in other parts of the world. The 30-50 metre tall trees are thought to be more than 100 years old,” Mr Savankhone said.
This species grows along streams and seasonally inundated areas at attitudes of 500-700 metres above sea level. The total population of the endangered Chinese swamp cypress is not known. A decade ago, conservationists were aware of only 250 of these trees in the wild, mostly a remnant population in Vietnam.
Deputy Governor of Khammuan province’s Nakai district, Mr Sengkeo Phakhounmeuang, said that several decades ago local people used this type of wood to build houses as they knew the wood would last for many years.
“This tree species is also good for health if we sleep on a bed made of this kind of wood,” he said.
Mr Sengkeo said local authorities and villagers are trying to conserve these trees, with relevant officials and villagers being delegated to patrol the jungle to prevent illegal logging.
“What I worry about is unlawful logging which could lead to the disappearance of the species here. Many more people are interested in seeing these trees. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of foreigners came here to see them even though this area is not officially open to visitors,” he said.
“I want to see this national park become a conservation and research centre so that our children and people from around the world can come here to study its biodiversity and support efforts to conserve our forests,” he added.
Designated as a national park in 2019, Nakai-Nam Theun covers an area of 4,270 square km spanning the provinces of Khammuan and Borikhamxay in central Laos.


By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update
March 5,

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