The diverse-leaf poplar forest lies beside the desert, with endless dunes and extreme aridity being its sole company. In this harsh environment, the diverse-leaf poplar trees have managed to survive and prosper, making everyone marvel at their strong life force and thus earning the fame as “heroic trees in the desert.” The Luntai region of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region boasts the world’s largest and densest diverse-leaf poplar forest. The natural forest covers more than 400, 000 mu (26, 666 hectares), stretching along Tarim River, which flows across Taklimakan Desert. The diverse-leaf poplar is called “Tok-rak” in Uygur, which literally means ‘the most beautiful tree.” To withstand freezing cold, extreme heat and strong winds in the desert, the diverse-leaf poplar trees are mostly thick and sturdy, with a five- to six-meter-high tree having a trunk of a one-meter diameter. As straight trunks are vulnerable to wind erosion, most diverse-leaf poplar trees have twisted trunks that grow all kinds of strange shapes. The crown of the tree is as dense as a lid, while the leaves are small and delicate-typical features of desert trees in response to the arid climate. Even mid-summer, the leaves of the diverse-leaf poplar won’t yield any green, which protects them from the sizzling sun. In autumn, however, the leaves will suddenly turn golden as if they want to display the glory of life with such a splendid color.
Seen from a high perspective, the Tarim River winds through the desert with numerous tributaries. The diverse-leaf poplar trees grow between the courses of the river and tributaries, and stretch far into the desert. Due to the severe lack of water in the desert, the poplar trees are largely scattered, either standing alone or existing in small groups of two or three. The blue river reflects the sky, and the golden poplar grows by the sand dune, the picturesque scene not only feasting the eyes, but conveying the profound meaning of life.