Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Rare Native Tree 'Uncovered' in Serangoon

It is a native tree, Cordia dichotoma - one very rare living specimen in today's Singapore - finally 'uncovered'!

Why 'uncovered' and not 'discovered'? Well, it's because I have long known the tree in Serangoon (Rosyth Road) but its identity has eluded me till now; it's fruiting! I don't usually come this way, so I might have missed some previous fruiting spells if any. But yesterday's encounter was simply MAGIC... 'uncovered'! : )

It's a tree of back mangrove and coastal hills. In former days, it must have been found everywhere in Singapore, not just primary rainforest. I bet, if we look hard enough, there is a high chance some can be found in the relatively undisturbed southern islands of Singapore today, e.g. Pulau Senang or Pawai, and not discounting outbacks like the Western Catchment (which is off-limit to the public) and Pulau Ubin.

The fruit contains a sticky pulp and favoured as gum to the extend of being introduced into the villages of old in Ponggol, Changi and Chua Chu Kang. One name given to it attests to its gummy property - Birdlime Tree. The other common English name is Fragrant Manjack. A quick chat with the taoist nun living in the adjacent temple revealed it was planted by the temple's keeper more than 30 years ago.

Literature also tells of a tree which is highly diverse in its leaf shape and colour of its fruit. In exceptional circumstances it has also been found to thrive as a woody climber in Malaysia. Not surprisingly, three 'species' were previously recognised instead of one - all due to taxonomic confusion arising from wrong identification. It does make my present 'un-covery' all the more satisfying, doesn't it? : )

For those tree-lovers out there, don't wait too long to pay homage to this tree. More photos are found here in my Companion Guide to Wayside Trees of Malaya.

In the meantime, I have collected seeds which I will donate to the Singapore Botanic Garden and yes... Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve! Yeh!! This is definitely a native tree of cultural significance to be preserved.

The other two Cordia species in Singapore are Cordia cylindristachya and Cordia subcordata.

Joe Lai : )

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