Can't Afford to Buy a Gold Phoebe? How about planting one?

Author:Shaojie ShanSource:Tadpole StaveRelease time:2019-08-02

Your grandchildren will probably have a gold phoebe if you planting a seed now.

There is a kind of wood, which propped up the Majestic Palace (the Hall of Supreme Harmony) for hundreds of years with a natural fragrance.

There is a kind of wood, which was used to make thousands of pieces of furniture at the Emperor’s will. However, Shen He, an important official in the Qing Dynasty, was convicted by the Emperor Jiaqing for his several pieces using this kind of wood.

It’s this kind of wood that was once used as firewood but now auctioned at the price of 50,000 yuan per gram.

This legendary wood is called Gold Phoebe, which you must have heard of but may not be affordable.

If you want to get a Gold Phoebe, do not miss this article!


What is Gold Phoebe?

If you want to have a Gold Phoebe, you must know what is Gold Phoebe at first.

It’s probably different from what you thought, Gold Phoebe is not a specific tree species, but a series of trees belong to the Lauraceae. According to plant taxonomy, there are almost thirty species called Gold Phoebe, such as Phoebe zhennan, P. sheareri, P. bournei, P. chekiangensis, Machilus yunnanensis. These plants are widely distributed in the forests in Sichuan, Guizhou and other provinces in China, and some of them are species endemic to China.

“What? The tree in front of my house is the priceless Gold Phoebe?” Some people, living in areas like Yun Nan and Guizhou provinces, may question it, “Why haven't I seen the golden floss in the tree?”

You can’t see it in a young tree because the golden floss seems like wrinkles.

Here are the micrographs of Gold Phoebe trunks.



Tangential section of Machilus pingii and Phoebe zhennan (Zhenjing Guo, Identifying on the structure features of five kinds of Phoebe Nees and Machilus Nees wood [D]. 2015.)

Pictures 1-3 are the trunks of Machilus pingii,  and Pic. 4 is Phoebe zhennan at 400× magnification. Have you noticed the small bright spots on the photos, pointed to by the arrows? They are the crystallization of the plant cell secretion. Although these crystals are very small, when a lot of crystals accumulate in parenchyma cells (wood ray cells and axial parenchyma cells), in the lumen of the catheter or in the fiber space, they will look like the golden floss. Moreover, because the crystal faces have different orientations, they will have different reflection effects at different angles, seeming like golden floss gathering together.

According to royal etiquette, only the wood with a crystal coverage of than 80% could be called Gold Phoebe. However, the crystals will only occur after the plant growing for a long time, almost 60 to 90 years. That is the reason why there are a lot of Phoebes but few Gold Phoebes.

The rule and vanity

How much does the emperor like Gold Phoebe? The pillars of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, some tables and cabinets, and even some coffins are made of it.

Why Gold Phoebe is so popular. It’s not only its good-looking but also its natural anti-corrosion. As a plant of the Lauraceae, Gold Phoebe features many kinds of natural bacteriostatic substances, such as some acids and ketones. Buildings and furniture made of Gold Phoebe are not susceptible to insect and microorganism other than smelling good.


The advantages of the Gold Phoebe (Image source: watermark)

For this reason, Gold Phoebe has been an important kind of timber since the Qin dynasty. People, especially the royalty, exploited a lot of Gold Phoebe year after year. The resource became insufficient finally in the Ming Dynasty. Therefore, since the ear of Hongwu, Gold Phoebe has become a special wood exclusive for the royal family only. Nobody except the emperor can use it privately. Shen He, the famous corrupt official of the Qing dynasty, used it to make some furniture and was considered by the Jiaqing to have excessive behavior. This eventually became one of the reasons for his death sentence.


Chengde Mountain Resort "Danbojingcheng " Temple was built by Gold Phoebe totally (picture from the network)

Since the Reform and Opening Up, Gold Phoebe finally entered the ordinary family from the royal family. As people became more and more rich, some people are dissatisfied with eating well and using well, but instead of collecting precious wood. Having a set of furniture of Gold Phoebe could make them feel pride. Therefore, the price of Gold Phoebe has been rising all the way. A set of Gold Phoebe furniture can easily be auctioned at tens of millions RMB. During this period, many people were heavily in debt for a piece of Gold Phoebe furniture.

How ironic it is!


“Gold PhoebeKing”, the biggest and oldest Gold Phoebe in Guizhou province, China. (Image source: 名木坊)

Gold Phoebe, you can get it

Since we can't afford ready-made Gold Phoebe furniture, can we cut the tree to make furniture for ourselves?

Unfortunately, you can’t. Because Gold Phoebe is an endangered species, the state has a special law to protect it. If you want to cut it, you have to do a lot of applications at first for the logging permit. However, if you really want one, it is not a bad idea to plant a Gold Phoebe.

The rarity of Gold Phoebes resulted from excessive harvesting. In fact, the planting of Gold Phoebe is so easily. Most of the plants are neutral shade trees, and the roots are drought tolerant. As long as the temperature and precipitation are right, it can live in mountains and hills. In Guizhou province, there is a Phoebe zhennan that grows in a 50 cm thick soil layer. Under the soil, there is a large stone. Even so, the tree still grows stubbornly into a big tree, creating a rather inspirational spectacle of "root bouldering".

At present, the Gold Phoebe is planted by seeds. Different species of Gold Phoebe have different times for initial seed production. The longest is nearly 15 to 16 years, and the shortest is four or five years. However, current researches suggest that the longer the initial seed production time and the longer the interval between two seed productions, the better the quality of Gold Phoebe.

Good things take time to accumulate. There’s no way out.

If you live in South China, you can plant a seed. When you have your grandchildren, they will have a Gold Phoebe.