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Al Jazeera on Agarwood

Al Jazeera had an interesting report on the endangered Agarwood trees of Hong Kong. This fragrant tree is the reason for Hong Kong’s original name, phonetically, “Heung Gong” or fragrant harbor. The agarwood tree (aquilaria sinensis) grew plentifully all over Hong Kong and its surrounding islands. The tree was widely found in southern mainland China as well. The tree produces a light odorless wood. However, the wood is frequently attacked by a fungus. The tree defends itself by producing a dark, aromatic resin that over time infects the heartwood and infuses it. This valuable heartwood fetches prices of US$ 1000 to 2000 per kilo. Even more valuable is pure agarwood oil distilled from the wood. For example, an Indonesian supplier offers it (see link here), presumably legally sourced, for US$ 10,000 to 12,000 per 100 ml.

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

A stand of endangered agarwood trees

The agarwood stocks in Mainland China are long gone, hoovered up by traders in the rush to economic development. Hong Kong’s stands have been mainly untouched, protected by the sound administration and relatively uncorrupt bureaucracy left behind after colonial rule. Now these stocks are under increasing threat as more and more poachers take what they can under cover of darkness from remote corners of Hong Kong’s islands.

Sadly, in their clandestine haste to harvest the wood, the thieves indiscriminately cut down all agarwood trees, regardless of whether they’ve been fungus infected or not. Which means that they cut down an entire stand and take only the infected heartwood they find. No wonder that Grace has her work cut out for her!

The resin of the agarwood trees of Assam (aquilaria agallocha) is considered the finest in the world. However, different species of this tree also grow in Vietnam, Cambodia (more on that in the forthcoming book The Trees of Ta Prohm), New Guinea and Burma (Myanmar). A propos Myanmar, congratulations to the NDP on their recent sweeping electoral victory. Best wishes to the newly elected representatives and wisdom to Aung San Suu Kyi in the difficult transition from military to civilian rule.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Read a sample from “Grace in the South China Sea” here.

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