Space & Innovation

Tallest Tropical Tree Discovered In Malaysia

It's familiar to some from a popular smartphone game.

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Photo: This computer graphic illustrates the scale of the tree found by researchers. Credit: University of Cambridge

If you're familiar with Minecraft, you've know about Yellow Meranti trees, a towering species which players can grow in the game.

But University of Cambridge researcher David Coomes and his colleagues did something even cooler. They found a real Yellow Meranti that's the biggest tropical tree in the world.

The tree, discovered in a Malaysian forest, is nearly 294 feet tall, about the height of 20 British double-decker buses stacked up. It was discovered during reconnaissance flights by the scientists, who are working with government officials to protect biodiversity in the Maliau Basin Conservation Area, one of Malaysia's last few pristine wildernesses.

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They spotted the tree with a LiDAR scanner, a device that uses a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the Earth in dense forest areas, and provides data that can be used to construct a 3-D map. The same technology was used by other researchers to find the ruins of an ancient lost city in the central American jungle.

Determining the precise height of a giant is tricky. A agile local climber, Unding Jami, had to scale the tree with a tape measure to accomplish that feat. He reported that he was unable to take a picture from the top, though, because he was too busy fending off an attack from an eagle.

The Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana) is classified as endangered due to habitat loss on the International Union for Conservation of Nature 'Red list,' an inventory of biological species and their conservation status.

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"There may be more of this tree in cyberspace than in the world. It's one of the trees that players can grow in the computer game Minecraft," Coomes said in a press release.

"Conserving these giants is really important. Some, like the California redwoods, are among the largest and longest-living organisms on Earth. Huge trees are crucial for maintaining the health of the forest and its ecology. But they are difficult to find, and monitor regularly, which is where planes carrying LiDAR can help."

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