Vietnamese tree collection is worth $17.64m

In Vietnam, ornamental tree collecting circles were excited when two rich men in Viet Tri city, in the northern province of Phu Tho, revealed that each of them owned a tree worth $1.2m.

The revelation came when one of the men, Nam Thanh, entered an ornamental tree contest at the home of businessman Nguyen Van Phien in Vinh Yen tow, Vinh Phuc province.

The tree was sourced from the famous Huong Tich pagoda, Honoi, was several hundred years old and had a posture described as, "chicken and steamed glutinous rice tray."

There, a Japanese man appraised its value at $1.2m. But, in the world of ancient tree collecting, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The other man, Phan Van Toan, also in Viet Tri city, claims to own the largest number of the most expensive ornamental trees in Vietnam.

Among his prized specimens is a tree named 'Buddha', worth over $1.2m because it is over 500 years old, according to the news source VietNamNet Bridge.

The smallest tree in his three large tree gardens is worth $3,000. Overall, tree experts value Toan's gardens of ornamental trees at an incredible $17.64m.

But, to Toan, they are priceless. A businessman recently offered him $1.3m for the sahn tree but he refused, saying that he doesn't need the money at present.

They are clearly incredible investments: last year he sold another ancient sanh tree for $69,000, which he bought for around 5% of the price several years ago, when he discovered it growing along the fence of a family in Hanoi.

He bought the sanh tree, for which the businessman offered $1.3m, for a tenth of that amount several years ago from a mandarin family in Hue.

Toan recently sold an ancient tree to buy a $206,000 BMW car for his wife.

As his gardens have grown, he has hired an expert of ornamental trees from Phu Tho province to take care of his trees.

The two most valuable famous ornamental trees in Vietnam can be found in the Trieu Khuc ancient village.

They are a sanh tree owned by Mr Nguyen Gia Hien and a red-bud banian tree owned by Mr Chau Thu - both are second to none at many contests for ornamental trees in Vietnam.

Some business men offered $400,000 each for the two Trieu Khuc trees in 2006. But the owners refused, as bonsai tree experts had valued them at $5m.

But especially impressive is how priceless the trees are to their owners.

For Mr Toan, his trees are invaluable. "A man was willing to pay $1.2 million for my tree but I didn't want to sell it. If I sold it, how could I find a second tree like it," Toan said.

Why are ornamental trees worth so much?

Interestingly, these Vietnamese 'super trees' are not very valuable in the eyes of Japanese bonsai experts. And, likewise, Japanese bonsais are not valuable to Vietnamese experts.

According to experts, ornamental trees must meet certain criteria.

Firstly, the trees must be grown in pots for over a hundred years. Secondly they must be a special species and have a unique shape.

Thirdly, they must express some message or topic through their postures, which are believed to reflect the characteristics of the tree's creator or gardener.

The fourth factor is the individual tastes of the buyer.

Hanoians are apparently the most refined in their taste for ornamental trees, because their trees are different from any place in the country and even the outside world.

These trees are very rare. A several hundred years-old ornamental tree will have been cultivated by several generations of gardeners.

The process of cultivating the trees is very spiritual in itself. A branch of leaf must only be pruned after careful thought, and at the right time.

For the gardener or owner, the tree is treasured and sacred. It therefore often proves difficult for would-be buyers to assess a price or pursuade the tree's owner to sell.

One ornamental tree collector had his offer of $188,000 for a 300 year-old sanh tree refused by the Do family in the northern province of Nam Dinh. The offer, they said, wasn't enough for the 300 year-old masterpiece. Such refusals are relatively common.

Another family refused to sell because their tree was regarded as a spiritual asset for the whole family.

Rich tree collectors always pay attention to the spiritual aspects of the trees. For instance, a man named Dinh Hong Quan paid several billion dong to buy two sanh trees to avoid bad luck.

It has been said that once a man devotes his heart to a tree, the tree can understand his mind. Though there are no scientific grounds for this, this is a core belief of tree collectors and experts.

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