Hai Phong's street-side jackfruit trees stir controversy

By Quynh Nguyen, Le Tan   May 17, 2024 | 05:14 am PT
Jackfruit trees planted in the northern port city Hai Phong are laden with fruits, leaving some amazed while others fear that branches may break off and the fruits may be stolen.

Huyen My, 30, is awed every time she passes by the three- to five-meter-high jackfruit trees growing out of the pavement along the city streets of Hai Phong. They’re bearing fruit and shade her drive to work every morning in the northern port city.

On many of the trunks’ lower stems grow more than a dozen fruit buds. When she saw the new fruit trees on sidewalks for the first time, My liked the new scene so much that last weekend she called her friends out to take photos with the city’s new decor.

"This change is very interesting," My said. "Seeing the trees bear fruits makes me feel the city I am living in is greener and more peaceful."

A row of jackfruit trees bearing fruit along Tam Bac Street, Hai Phong, as seen on the afternoon of May 1, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A row of jackfruit trees bearing fruit along Tam Bac Street, Hai Phong, as seen on the afternoon of May 1, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

New greenery

About 150 jackfruit trees were planted along one kilometer on Tam Bac and The Lu streets, which run along the banks of the Tam Bac river in 2023, replacing the dried willows that once hung over the city. Other roads in the city’s districts of Ngo Quyen, Hai An, and Le Chan are also home to multiple new fruit trees as part of the project, including mango, and star apple, besides other more common urban trees.

These fruit trees, along with red cotton, bauhinia, Osaka, royal poinciana, and mango, are part of a 2022 city project to plant 5,000 new trees.

At a regular press conference at that time, city leaders said that the planted trees had been carefully studied, could withstand storms, and were more resilient than the everyday flamboyant trees which had been planted for many years. These types of trees would be tested in small areas before being planted in larger areas to diversify the city’s green coverage, they added.

Van Tuan, 65, thanked the city for his residence’s "new clothes," as several new jackfruit trees were planted in front of his house. He said the trees have enticed dozens of people to visit and take photos every day.

Yay and nay

It was not until the trees started to produce fruits that the planting became a debate topic on social media. Proponents have said the fruit trees have helped expand urban green spaces, beautified the urban landscape, and are also providing residents with fresh fruit.

Opponents have expressed concerns that branches could break and injure people when they fall from the sky to the city streets. Others have raised questions as to who "owns" the fruit that the trees bear.

Tuan affirmed that he and his neighbors never thought of stealing the fruit.

"You can buy a kilogram of pre-peeled jackfruit for just a few tens of thousands of dong (VND10,000 equals US$0.4)," he said. "But if you get caught stealing it, you won’t know how to deal with the embarrassment."

He also said that he has become willing to protect the trees planted in front of his house. If he sees someone trying to steal the fruit, he will tell them not to, Tuan asserted.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bich, chairwoman of the People’s Committee of Ha Ly Ward, where the Tam Bac and The Lu streets are located, said that planting fruit trees on the ward’s roads is under the city’s plan and taken care of by tree companies.

"People living around also actively help protect the trees," she said.

Still, Ngoc Ha, 40, a sanitation worker in charge of these streets, said that last year some jackfruits were stolen before being harvested. Monitoring by her fellow coworkers and residents was not sufficient.

A jackfruit tree planted on a Tam Bac street sidewalk bears many fruits in the northern port city of Hai Phong, as seen on the afternoon of May 1, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

A jackfruit tree planted on a Tam Bac street sidewalk bears many fruits in the northern port city of Hai Phong, as seen on the afternoon of May 1, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Despite being a supporter of planting fruit trees in the city, Hai Phong resident Thanh Tung, 50, is concerned that the trees’ brittle branches break easily, especially during storms. A number of cases where vehicles parked outside were damaged by falling jackfruit or mangoes have been reported.

"They are all public trees, so if any property is damaged by their fruits, who will be to blame?" Tung commented. "It is best to plant those trees in parks, or areas with few people and very light traffic, instead of urban roads."

Dr. Truong Van Vinh, deputy Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Agriculture and Forestry, said people’s concerns were well-founded.

Decisions about where and when to plant such trees depend on many factors – climate, soil, sidewalk area, drainage systems, electrical systems, as well as nearby constructions and architecture, said Vinh.

He argued that local governments thus need to carefully study and appropriately plan the planting in a way that ensures efficiency and allows trees to play their roles while guaranteeing the safety of people and their properties.

According to Vinh, growing fruit trees in public places has four major disadvantages. First, ripe fallen fruits cause slipperiness on roads, endanger people, and pollute the environment.

Second, fruits attract insects such as mosquitoes, ants, and bees, all of which can be nuisances.

Third, some fruit trees secrete sap that can be harmful to humans. As an example, Vinh mentioned that mango sap can cause terrible skin burns and is difficult to get rid of when it sticks to clothes or cars parked under the trees.

Finally, the big size of the fruit trees, combined with their spreading roots and susceptibility to pests, makes them not ideal for the limited space of urban areas, including parks and streets, he said.

Responding to people’s concerns, the Hai Phong Department of Construction affirmed that all shade trees, fruit trees, and flowering trees planted during this period are resilient, with straight trunks, wide crowns for shade, and they are all evergreen.

Vinh said that Vietnam is a tropical country, with more than 2,500 species of woody plants. Therefore, he argued that suitable species should be selected and tested. It would be best to prioritize perennial, slow-growing, and native plants, he said. Doing so could help preserve rare genetic resources, increase diversity, protect the environment, raise community awareness, and educate younger generations about the value of nature.

Architect Dao Ngoc Nghiem, vice president of the Vietnam Urban Planning Association, said that fruit trees in public spaces are not prohibited by the government’s urban landscape planning schemes. But Nghiem also said that such plantings should be limited to certain locations that meet certain conditions.

"Agencies need to study and test the areas slated for planting to ensure they sufficiently meet the necessities of such plantings," said Nghiem. "At the same time, before placing the trees in public areas, authorities much get people’s opinions and approval."

Tung said that although the trees have already contributed to the city’s beautiful scenery, he is still worried every time he moves under fruit trees. He tells his family members not to park near the trees and to avoid routes with the new trees on them during rainy and windy days.

"They are beautiful yet potentially dangerous," Tung said. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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