Asia’s Tallest Tree Discovered in the World’s Deepest Canyon

Researchers have discovered the tallest tree in Asia in the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, China. The cypress tree is 102.3 meters tall, making it the second tallest tree in the world and narrowly beating out Asia’s previous record holder, a 100.8m yellow meranti tree.

Peking University researchers found the Himalayan cypress in May as part of a conservation project that is focused on protecting the flora and fauna in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon. The canyon was a natural starting point for the project, as climate change and human development increasingly threaten the ecosystem. On average, the canyon is 4.9km deep, with a maximum depth of 5.7km.

Asia's tallest tree.

Asia’s tallest tree. Photo: Peking University


A natural museum

Biologists consider the canyon to be one of the top biodiversity spots in the world. Its valley is sometimes called a “natural vegetation museum” because it contains so many of Earth’s terrestrial plant species, including species usually found in extreme environments, from tropical regions to arctic zones.

During the project, researchers have found a number of exceptionally tall trees. Last year, they found an 83m tree and a 77m tree. They initially thought that the 83m fir tree was the tallest tree in China, but now stand corrected. Since then, they have found many trees that are over 85m, and 25 that are over 90m.

3D modeling a 102m tree

Locating tall trees may sound like a relatively easy task, but it involves a fair amount of technology. The team used drones, lasers, and radar equipment to map out a cluster of Himalayan cypresses. Peking University researchers then used drones carrying 3D laser scanners and light beams to take measurements of the tree and create a 3D model.

The 3D image of Asia's tallest tree.

The 3D image of the cypress tree. Image: Peking University


What makes this tree even more interesting is its unique root system that is both above and below ground. Alongside its intricate branching system, the tree creates “ideal microclimates and habitats for some endangered plants and animals,” said Guo Qinghua, who led the study.

Himalayan cypresses are incredibly rare and are protected in China. They need perfect soil and climate conditions to grow. The team hopes that continuing to study the giant trees will provide insight into the health of the entire ecosystem.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.