Beijing Trees (varieties, facts and allergies)

Spring is coming, streets of Beijing are going to become a little greener and trees covering themselves with leaves.

Here is a description of a few trees commonly found in Beijing streets and parks, just for you to know the names of your best friends against pollution. Beware some of them give allergies !


Chinese Plum

梅花   ( méihuā) / prunus mume

The Chinese plum (sometimes called Japanese apricot) is a very common tree in Beijing. It actually comes from the south of Yangtze river and can have a wide variety of flower colors, from white to red including all shades of pink. This is a tree featured on many Chinese paintings and in classical poetry.



In Beijing, the Chinese plum blooms from mid-march to mid-april.

The most renowned place to see them in Beijing is the Ming Dynasty City Wall Relics Park, but you can see them all over Beijing. Note that if you travel in the western mountains of the Mentougou in April, you”ll have very beautiful landscapes of Chinese plum trees.



      Pagoda Tree

( huái)    sophora japonica

Another tree originating from China (despite its latin name), is a  common ornemental tree in Beijing.  Its Chinese name is weird: sophora japonica is a demon tree (the lest part of the character is the tree, the right part a demon. Legends say that demons loved to live in it and the wood is never used in a home.




Sometimes called Scholar Tree, this is a tree famous in Chinese culture. Over 50 Pagoda trees  in China are said to be 500 years old. A strong tree, resistant to grought and cold, it is the ideal street tree for Beijing. Its solid timber is used to build houses, and it symbolizes luck.




 Ginkgo biloba 

银杏  (yínxìng)               / gingko biloba                                 


This is the famous “living fossil” that appeared before the dinosaurs and survived them. The Gingkos have been planted in Chinese temples for hundreds of years, and have a strong link with Chinese culture providing medecine and appearing in some sophisticated dishes (do not try it yourself, it is actually toxic).


Its Chinese name means “Silver Apricot”. The tree is nowadays spread in the whole of China  but is originating from Guizhou, Anhui and Zhejiang. It seems extermely resistant to pollution. You are likely to see more and more Gingkos in Beijing since the authorities have decided to plant them to replace poplars and willows that cause many allergies.





 Chinese Cedar or Chinese Toon

香椿  (xiāngchūn)     /     toona siniensis

 This very resistant and versatile tree can be found all over Asia and is very common in Beijing parks and Hutongs.

 Used in Chinese medecine, modern research has shown it has a real efficient effect to reduce cancer cells. The young leaves can be eaten and are an ingredient  in some Chinese dishes.



In Chinese culture, the Toon is a symbol of masculinity and fatherhood. There are thousand of different varieties. In Beijing, the Chef Kam in Beijing Shangri-La Hotel specialized himself in Chinese Toon signatures dishes.




Goldenrain Tree

栾树   ( luán shù )    /    Koelreuteria paniculata


Another tree originating from China that has conquered the world as an ornemental tree. Very versatile and pollution resistant, able to grow on poor soils, he is common in Beijing streets.




The Goldenrain tree is a native specie of Northern China.  In ancient times, it was used to mark the tombs of important officials, this was a tree frequently seen in Buddhist temples.




 Weeping willow

 垂柳  (chuíliǔ)     /    Salix babylonica


 Another beautiful tree originating from China where it can be seen in many varieties, one of them is specific to Beijing.  In Chinese tradition, its branches were said to turn away spirits and it is still used to weep tombs.  It is a common motive in Chinese paintings.




 It sometimes symobilizes the return to life after death in Chinese culture: this is a tree that remains green a very long time and because a single branch planted in the ground can become a full grown tree. Beware that the majestic willow can turn in a nightmare in springtime if you are allergic to pollen, since it releases its “willow catkins”  in Beijing’s dry air.



 Tree of Heaven 

臭椿  (chòuchūn)   /      ailanthus altissima


Native from northern China, this one has a strong link with Chinese medecine as well. Centuries-old manuals mention its properties to cure illnesses. As a Beijing tree, it is resistant and can thrive in diffucult conditions.  The Chinese s name means something like the stinking spring, actually the tree has a strong smell.



Its leaves are mong the last ones to appear on the tree when Spring comes, and in Chinese ancient times it was the sign that winter was really over. It stills symbolizes a spoled child, because of a taoist philosopher that made the metaphor with a tree springing from a sprout and growing with an irregular shape, like a kid unproperly raised will only become a bad adult person.




Yulan Magnolia

玉兰      (Yùlán)     /       Magnolia denudata




 The native magnolia of central and northern China is the favorite tree of the Tang dynnasty emperors, when it appeared.


This  tree is associated as well with Buddhist temple. In Beijing, visit the western temples in the mountain to see the most famous places for Mgnolias. White Magnolias in Dajue Temple and Purple Magnolias in Tanzhe Temple (one dates back to Qianlong Emperor).

Actually, Magnolias can be seen all over Beijing with their beautiful flowers in spring.



 The Dawn Redwood or Chinese Sequoia

水杉        (shuǐshān)      /       metasequoia


This one is different. Actually, you won’t see many since it is a critically endangered species. This huge tree shares with the Gingko biloba the honour of beijinbg a living fossil (mesozoic specimens have been found), but its future is way more insecure, and it was only discovered in the XXth century.




In Beijing, you can find specimens in Tsinghua University. In the wild, its situation is critical, a 5,000 trees forest exist in  Hubei, from which the tree is originated, but the demand for seeds is so strong that the tree may disappear soon in natural conditions. Its name Shuishan come from the name od a shrine in Hubei dedicated to the tree that the villagers found extaordinary.




 柏      (  bǎi )     /     cupressus


The cypress is depicted as a steady tree quietly facing adversity, with courage and strong will, hence it has been chosen as a symbol by Beijing city.The tee’s name is prononced the same way than “one hundred” and symbolises plentiness and can appear in Chinese traditional weddings.




In Beijing, a temple has the handwriting of Kangxi emperor “the everlasting cypress grove” in Bai Ling Temple. The Summer Palace counts a large number of cypresses, as well as the Temple of Heaven, some of them several hundred years old.




 Chinese White Poplar

毛杨白     (máoyángbái)       /         populus tomentosa


This one was among the most common trees in Beijing streets, but its heavy production of white fluff in springtime has caused the authorities to dismninish its presence in Beijing, because of the allergies it causes, another problem with poplars are their strong water needs.



In Chinese culture, since the poplar’s flowers can easily blown away, they represented cheating huspands and wives.








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