Researchers from the UK and Malaysia have revealed the world’s tallest tropical tree, measuring more than 100 metres high.
Within the thick rainforest of Malaysia, a tree has been found that could be described as the ‘Everest of trees’. First spotted by University of Nottingham researchers in 2018, the yellow meranti tree measures more than 100 metres high, making it the world’s tallest tropical tree and possibly the world’s tallest flowering plant.
By comparison, Ireland’s tallest building is Capital Dock, which measures just 79 metres high.
The tree was first detected during an airborne LiDAR survey where laser pulses were reflected off the canopy of the rainforest. This was followed by a trek out to the tree by University of Oxford researchers who flew drones to create high-resolution 3D scans of it for future research.
Named Menara – after the Malay word for tower – the tree was first climbed in January 2019 by local researcher Unding Jami, who travelled up with a tape measure to record its height. At 100.8 metres, Menara officially surpasses the previous record holder, a eucalyptus tree in Tasmania, Australia.
Describing what it was like to climb, Jami – who is a member of the Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Partnership in Sabah, Malaysia – said: “It was a scary climb, so windy, because the nearest trees are very distant. But honestly, the view from the top was incredible. I don’t know what to say other than it was very, very, very amazing!”
‘There could still be taller trees out there yet’
Excluding roots, Menara weighs 81,500kg, or the equivalent of more than the maximum take-off weight of a Boeing 737-800. Of that weight, only 5pc is held in its 40-metre-wide crown, with its stem being very straight, with a centre of mass 28 metres above the ground.
This suggests the tree is highly symmetrical and well balanced, despite being located on sloping ground in a sheltered valley. This also means that it could continue to grow for some while yet if left untouched.
While the tree would be vulnerable to wind damage, its location in a sheltered valley has likely helped it to grow to such an extreme height. But it will be a challenge for the tree to absorb water from its roots up past 100 metres.
Prof Yadvinder Malhi of Oxford, who leads the lab studying the 3D structure of the tree, said this discovery might not be the last world-beater. “There could still be taller trees out there yet to be found; however, given the evidence we have found on the mechanical constraints caused by the wind, it is unlikely any new tree would be much taller.
“But it is likely that the tallest extant flowering plant still sits undiscovered somewhere in the forests of Borneo.”
A paper documenting the tree’s discovery is currently under review at an academic journal.