Monday, January 9, 2017

Cinnamomum javanicum: The Spice of Life


A rare find! Cinnamomum javanicum
Cinnamomum javanicum is a native wild cinnamom tree considered to be critically endangered in Singapore. It is so very rare that to find not one but two (though young trees) close together is to me an exceptional event in modern-day Singapore. All the more poignant that they should be found in MacRitchie forest currently threatened by the intrusion of the Cross Island MRT Line.

Persistence did the job. And love too. Going where no one go, I do cut a happy trooper most of the time and I am glad. A fruitful start coming at the turn of a new year but not without the bittersweet spice of life attending the wake of my consciousness. It was only last Christmas Eve that I was told of my dear friend's passing. Dr Benito Tan or Ben as I affectionately called him; he is and will forever be etched in my memory as among the best of friends that I could ever find. I am indeed blessed.

Death, Love and Time are my constant friends; recurring themes that I find so much alive and ado living with nature, especially for a happy 58-year-old that is me. The taste of joy is hard to describe when the contemplative recesses of experience never leave you alone. You remember in your head where whither you have been all these years and in your heart whom you have known and loved and got inspired. I thank them all. Such is the spice of life.

This discovery comes also in the wake of an oil spill in the vicinity of our much-loved Pulau Ubin island. Only a few days earlier I swam almost 200m towing a long train of oil booms to secure the seaward side of our marvelous mangrove at Chek Jawa. I did not want my young inexperienced colleagues to do it so I took the plunge myself. It is over and done with and I am glad. I have Dr Tan Wee Kiat (formerly of NIE) to thank though. He taught me an invaluable respect of the sea and the skill of drown-proofing. He also showed me what a wonderful human person could ever aspire to be. To him (a non-botanist) and all my esteemed botanists (past and present) I put at the threshold of your door my deepest respect; all mistakes and failures are mine totally. (Haha)

Last but not least, this moment of happiness has been heightened by Prof. Teh Tiong Sa coming online in Facebook after such a long break of silence! I was worried and as you can imagine, immensely glad to know he is well at long last. To him I am deeply indebted. Gave me courage when I needed it most and all the time inspiring me with his love of outdoor and his keen sense of enquiry as a geographer. I aim no less to see beyond the normal and be out there as much as I can in the field - happily ground truthing.

For these and many things I am truly glad and give thanks.

Leaf as long as 25cm
Long drooping slender branches
Leaf arrangement - opposite, sub-opposite and spiral
Aerial roots
Lamina bullate with pointed leaf tip
Midrib and secondary nerves raised above
Midrib and lamina hairy throughout
Secondary nerves and inter-marginal veins hairy throughout
Hairy rounded stem and bud
Tripli-nerved and densely hairy

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Alangium hirsutum: A New Record for Singapore from MacRitchie Forest

Alangium hirsutum Bloemb.
Small tree about 5m tall. Trunk sparsely thorny and bark scaly. Branches long and slender. Leaves alternate, oblanceolate, hairy throughout; leaf-base somewhat equal and tri-nerved. Flowers: borne singly, hanging downwards, bracteolate, smelling strongly of Jasmine; petals 5-merous, white, slender and strongly reflexed; filaments hairy; a pair of tiny bracts behind calyx. Fruit ellipsoid, fine hairy, ripening red with faint longitudinal lines. Ants observed to be attracted to the fruit, especially inside the persistent calyx tube. Tree flowering profusely and its fragrance detected at some distance; would make an excellent garden plant.

Extremely fragrant flowers

Cylindrical flower butt

Fruit ripens red with faint ridges


Pubescent leaves, twigs, fruits and flowers

Thorns on smooth trunk

Monday, November 7, 2016

Journey's End with Ficus superba

I dedicate this poem to the ill-fated gentle giant of a veritable old tree Ficus superba of Tanah Merah (Limau Estate) woods.

Injustice truly for you to be felled. Thank you for letting me walk the last mile with you. But it is not the end for you and me. I have carried you to the mountain of Taiwan and planted a seed from my heart. When the wind blow I will hear you rustle above the eave of my conciousness.



Journey's End At Beitou Library

A scholar's balcony
Looks out from
A mother's heart
Embracing a fig bough
With her eave
Where a furry squirrel
Finds love and warmth.
There is a rhythm of rest
Fresh-breezy woody
Where beneath his perch
A sweet brook runs
With songs of loving kindness
From the mountain above.
A scholar's balcony embraces all
Not from knowledge
But from a heart that moves
His mind to the expanse
Of the universe
His home.

- Joseph Lai

Afternotes: innovation = knowledge + will + kindness. Our giant fig was killed by the lack of the latter two. There was simply no will for innovative development which could have preserved the tree in-situ. See how a giant fig in Beitou is respectfully preserved between a new 5-star hotel and an old hotspring bath.