Menara – the world’s tallest tropical tree, Danum Valley
One of the world’s oldest tropical forests – Danum Valley forest in early 2019 provided a long-sought discovery: the world’s tallest tropical tree, the first tree in tropics and the first flowering plant which is more than 100 m tall!
Map of the site
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Danum Valley Conservation Area was established in 1995 to protect the lush rainforest of the eastern Sabah – one of the oldest forests in the world, existing in this place for more than 130 million years! Most of this forest is a totally pristine natural area with very high species diversity.
Mr. Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University discovered some 50 trees with a height of over 90 m in Danum Valley in 2016 (or in 2014).
For a while the title of the tallest known tree in tropics went to another Shorea faguetiana tree not too far from the current record-holder – this is a 94.1 m tall giant!
New world record
A team of researchers from the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford in cooperation with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership announced the discovery of the new world’s tallest tropical tree – a 100.8 m tall giant. This tree was named simply Menara – “tower” in the Malay language.
The tree was climbed by the now legendary arborist and tree-climber Unding Jami (Jamiluddin bin Jami) who in 2016 climbed the former world’s tallest tropical tree in Maliau Basin (a bit more than 90 m tall!). He climbed the new world record holder (among tropical trees) on 6th January 2019 – first shooting the climbing line to an 86 m high (!) branch and then climbing some 3 hours to the top of the tree.
The height of this tree might be close to the maximum theoretical possibilities of biological systems of flowering plants – higher plants simply can not sustain themselves. Nevertheless, specialists are not convinced that this is the tallest tree even in Danum Valley. Thus – let’s wait for new, exciting discoveries! But: don’t expect that these trees would be much taller.
Maximums height of flowering plants?
Discoverers of the tree consider that Menara is close to the maximum theoretically possible height of flowering plants (3.). The tree is close to the limit of maximum height to keep it from breaking under moderate wind speeds. Here helps the location on a steep slope near its bottom, which shields it from winds. Thus very tallest trees of such composition can grow only in such shielded locations. Close to the limits is also the system of metabolism in the tree: there are hydraulic constraints to the vessels transporting the sugars and other substances. Even slight droughts would kill such a very tall tree.
The estimated biomass of the tree is 81,500 kg, where 95% is in the trunk. The tree grows on a very steep slope but is amazingly straight and, at the same time, very slender. Its diameter above the buttress is only 212 cm – amazing for such a tall trunk!
But… is it that high?
Mr. Brett Mifsud – a teacher and well-known Australian tree enthusiast and environmentalist – warns: not so fast! (2.) The height of 100.8 m is measured to the lowest point of the buttresses (3.). The high point was at 96.26 m. Thus the correctly measured height of the tree should be 98.53 m or even 97.58 m.
This creates a tricky situation. Three more tree species of the world now compete for the title of the 2nd tallest tree:
- Eucalyptus regnans: Centurion in Tasmania, Australia. The tape measurement shows a height of 99.82 m (2017). But multiple measurements with a laser rangefinder in 2019 show that the tree is 100.5 or even 101 m tall!
- Picea sitchensis: 100.2 m tall Sitka Spruce in the northern part of California, United States. The tree was discovered in the early 2021 and thorough measurements were made.
- Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii: Doerner Fir in Oregon, United States. The last known measurement was in 2011 when the tree was 99.76 m tall. Earlier it exceeded the height of 100 m (100.3 m), but the top has died. There are several more trees with a very similar height (and growing) and local enthusiasts consider that a taller one (100+ meters) will be discovered sooner or later.
- Mary Gagen, The world’s tallest known tropical tree has been found—and climbed, National Geographic, April 3, 2019. Accessed on 5th April, 2019.
- Victoria’s Giant Trees, July, 2019. Accessed on 4th December, 2019.
- Alexander Shenkin et al.. The World’s Tallest Tropical Tree in Three Dimensions. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 18 June 2019. doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2019.00032
Menara is included in the following articles:
Malaysia is an unusual country that is divided by the South China Sea into two distinct parts. The eastern part of Borneo island could be characterized as the "great wilderness" while the west – the Malay peninsula – is richer with amazing man-made landmarks. The most impressive landmarks in this spectacular country are the world’s largest cave chambers and amazing ecosystems in Sabah and Sarawak.
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Any other continent (and part of the world) seems small if compared to Asia. This refers also to natural and man-made heritage: in Asia are not just thousands of great landmarks, there are found landmarks created by thousands of diverse cultures from ancient Phoenicians to the mysterious small people in the Philippines and eastern islands of Indonesia.
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