90 m tall yellow meranti tree, Maliau Basin
We don’t know the tallest trees in the tropics yet. But in 2016 in the pristine forest of Maliau Basin in Sabah, Malaysia was discovered a very tall one – 90 m tall Yellow Meranti tree. For several months this was the tallest known tropical tree in the world – until new discoveries in the nearby Danum Valley, when at first was reported 94.1 m tall tree and then in 2019 – 100.8 m tall tree!
Map of the site
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Maliau Basin is a very unusual structure – an enormous, rounded platform with a diameter of some 21 – 25 km, rising per some 200 – 1000 m above the surroundings. Its rims rise higher than the central part – thus it resembles an enormous dish. This dish is surrounded by sheer cliffs from all sides and due to this, it can be entered only through the valley of Maliau River in the south-east. This walk is not easy at all – it leads through gorges and around large waterfalls.
This plateau and its surroundings are covered with pristine tropical forest. As far as it is known, humans have never lived here, although nearby Murut people occasionally go here to hunt and collect fruits and nuts.
The enormous structure was discovered by a British pilot in 1947 and the first scientific expedition came here in 1988. Most of the plateau is not explored yet, although in the southeastern part have been developed research facilities and groups of scientists are working here.
Part of the basin now is set off-limits to any people (including researchers) for the time period until 2063 in order to have a pristine ecosystem by that time.
The giant yellow meranti
Yellow meranti (Shorea faguetiana Heim.) is a rather rare tree that is known to be very tall. Some years earlier in Tawau Hills (also in Sabah) was measured a tree nicknamed Poko gergassi with a height of 88.3 m.
While exploring the Maliau Basin the specialists from the University of Cambridge and Sabah Forestry Department noticed a very tall tree. It was noticed by using the LiDAR system which was mounted on the airplane. The upper part of the tree rose tall above the surrounding trees but the base could not be seen on the image. Thus the tree had to be measured manually, by climbing it and measuring the height with tape.
This thrilling task was performed by an experienced tree-climber Unding Jami. His short message sent from the summit of the tree now is legendary, as he wrote: "I don’t have time to take photos using a good camera because there’s an eagle around that keeps trying to attack me and also lots of bees flying around."
It was not easy to find the height of the tree even by this method because the tree stands on a slope. Downhill it is 91 m tall and uphill – 88 m tall. Thus it was assumed that the correct height is the average – 89.5 m.
Researchers led by Greg Asner (Carnegie Airborne Observatory) reported that this tree is somewhat higher – just a bit over 90 m tall!
Yellow meranti might be known to a wider public thanks to the popular computer game "Minecraft" – it is one of the tree species which can be planted in this game. Thus the headings of some articles about the discovery of the tree gave a kind of nickname to the tree – "Minecraft tree". This is not an official name though.
- Minecraft tree "probably" the tallest tree in the Tropics, University of Cambridge. Accessed on July 20, 2016.
- Kevin McLean, World’s Tallest Tropical Trees Discovered, National Geographic, published November 10, 2016, accessed on 4th April 2019.
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