Sensational find in Chinese jungle: biological toilet paper replacement?

Sensational find in Chinese jungle: biological toilet paper replacement?

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Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata var. Vilmoriniana)

Botanists have discovered a new species of tree that could also be of interest as a useful plant: it provides a purely biological alternative to toilet paper.

The corona crisis shows which everyday goods are really indispensable – for example toilet paper. As there will always be times of crisis in the future, scientists have been thinking about how to expand production in an environmentally friendly way to ensure the supply of toilet paper for some time now. The current industrial production process has hardly any future: Even if a large proportion is now made from waste paper, production is not exactly considered to be resource and environmentally friendly. After all, significant amounts of bleach, water and energy are still required.

A botanical sensation find in China could be the solution: An English research team from the biological faculty of the University of London came across a previously unknown tree species during an excursion in the Gaoligongshan jungle in the south of the country. “The tree was in full bloom when we discovered it. Its large, hanging petals looked like white paper towels,” said excursion leader Prof. Dr. David Vilmore the Deutschlandfunk. His employee had to try such a petal on site for urgent reasons – and was thrilled. “It’s very soft, but still has a rough surface and is very tear-resistant. And it smells of almond oil,” says Vilmore. “We immediately thought of you Germans. You use so much toilet paper. These petals are much better than the commercial pulp.”

Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata var. Vilmoriniana)

© Alamy Stock Photo / Jeremy Pardoe
Handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata var. Vilmoriniana)

In a joint research project with the Department of Forest Science at the University of Freiburg, the first step is to investigate whether the new tree species can be grown in Central Europe at all. Vilmore will travel to China again in late summer to bring ripe seeds. Half of the seedlings should then initially be planted in the royal botanical gardens of Kew and half in the botanical garden of the University of Freiburg on specially set up trial areas.

The new plant already has a botanical name: it was christened Davidia involucrata var. Vilmoriniana in honor of its discoverer. As far as the German name is concerned, the Freiburg forest scientists have coordinated among their students: the term “handkerchief tree” has prevailed – with a slight lead over “toilet paper tree”.


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