Trunks for the blind drunk or insect free trees

Visitors to Sai Gon will notice most of the trees are painted white around their bases; most trees in the rest of the country and the South East Asian region are similarly painted. I’ve asked why this is done and I’ve had many, many answers.

Typical Vietnamese street.
Typical Vietnamese street.

One reason is that many streets are poorly lit and it would be easy to miss the tree trunks in the darkness. Painting the trees white at the base makes them stand out in the gloom, and considering the sheer numbers of drink drivers, I’m glad they’re hard to miss. This reason certainly rings true because the painted trees really do jump out at you at night. This is an elegant, low-cost, long-term solution to a problem. But then, check out some of these exceptional examples below.

If you're in danger of riding into this tree, then you probably have bigger problems.
If you’re in danger of riding into this tree, then you probably have bigger problems.

Also this tree on a hill top at 150 metre elevation.

6.3ft tall foreigner for scale.

So, we come to another good explanation for the paint. It is supposedly Limewash; a breathable paint that soaks into underlying materials and is primarily composed of Lime (Calcium Hydroxide, not the fruit) and chalk. It can prevent termites and insects from eating or boring into the trees. This would explain why you find painted trees deep in forests, far away from any traffic.

In an Emperor's private forest (he wasn't there at the time).
In the Emperor’s forest.

Other explanations given are that it is kind of sun protection to prevent damage from excessive sunlight. This pairs nicely with the Vietnamese obsession with avoiding the harmful effects of solar radiation.

By far the most romantic reason given was that during the American War, trucks would travel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but as they couldn’t use their headlights to see the way, women from the villages used to stand along the road during the night wearing white Ao Dais (Vietnamese women’s traditional dress) to guide them on their way. Trees are painted white in their memory.

The white paint might be a combination of all these reasons and more. If anyone wants to add another explanation, I’m open to suggestions.

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4 thoughts on “Trunks for the blind drunk or insect free trees

  1. How interesting. I can never get a straight answer for things like that in Thailand either. Mostly I’m told things are done for ‘luck’. Tree trunks on the pavements here are the leas of your problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t add any reasons but you see it a lot in central Asia and it’s definitely to protect against insects there- was told by two guys working in tree planting projects in Uzbekistan, which seems like a reasonable qualification for the subject

    Like

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