Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trees that touch and inspire

I planted the fig saplings more than a decade ago and she painted them years on as handsome trees that they have become. This is a sweet chapter of my life unfolded to me by chance a couple of weeks ago when I found the painting in a students' art exhibition at Lasalle, our famed school of the arts.

You can imagine the pure joy I felt then seeing my past effort rendered on canvas in beautiful colours. It felt like a fairy tale; sweet as memory-dews, coming full circle at a time for me to recall every step I took in the early life of these trees. I knew I had to share my experience with budding artist Ms Denise Jillian Tan (above). She should know, I thought; the story that enriches must be told and she is so much part of it now. I found her contact in due time and wrote her.

This is the story of the fig trees I shared with Denise:

"These fig trees were destined for the rubbish truck when I found them as forlorn-looking two-meter tall wiry saplings in torn-up bags at the waste-yard. They caught my heart and I salvaged them from sure destruction. I am happy for them now - so strong and spreading - providing figs for animals and shade for man, and not to mention, inspiration for Denise to paint them so beautifully."

[Photos above & below: Ficus benjamina var nuda (synonym: Ficus nuda)]

Subsequently I met up with Denise and her mum Catherine for a memorable lunch together. In her own words, she shared how the trees inspired her:

"I chose that tree [foreground] in particular because of its beauty. Its many branches stretching towards the sky, giving shade to the pathway, and its roots were most perculiar: emerging from the ground, almost like a reflection of the branches above - an assymetrical beauty of nature".

I must say I am extremely blessed with Denise's generosity of heart as she presented the gift of the painting to me. For this I remain forever thankful. I hope she will realize her dream of becoming a successful artist.

I also hope this charming story ends not here but continues as a first chapter to many many other stories of people drawn to the life of these trees. May they continue to grow, touch and inspire anyone who come under the spell of their generous loving embrace.

[Footnote: the 3 trees are figs: 2 nos. Ficus microcarpa and 1 no. Ficus benjamina var nuda (synonym Ficus nuda); located above slope overlooking Symphony Lake, Singapore Botanic Gardens]

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two notable trees of MacRitchie Reservoir Park

Two notable trees worthy of special attention can be found in MacRitchie Reservoir Park today. Both are mature trees and both coincidentally exhibiting drooping branches of leaves. They are Anisophyllea griffithii, a tree of considerable rarity, and Shorea acuminata, a possible new record for Singapore.

Though I have known Anisophyllea griffithii or Griffith's Leechwood (photo above, centred) for many years, never have I the privilege of witnessing it in bloom. For this very reason the tree has become a necessary first-stop before starting my explores of the forest nearby. I must say I have grown very fond of this lovely tree over time. It is so graceful and elegant; so quietly enduring to the heart.

Shorea acuminata or Meranti Rambai Daun (photos below) on the other hand is conical in form, almost as if accentuating the lofty summit spot it hails - on the hillock above my lovely leechwood. Surprisingly, to say the least, I only discovered it recently in June this year 2009; this hillock being so small and I thought I knew all the trees there. I was proved wrong.

On that fateful late afternoon, the weather had taken a turn for the worse just as I was finishing surveying my lovely leechwood. Dark ominous clouds had gathered rapidly overhead. Not wanting to be caught in a storm within the forest, I decided to abandon my explore for the day. But not wanting to waste my long bus trip down from home, I thought I could make speed surveying the trees I know on the hillock before the rain hit the ground. So climbed I did, and ran straight into the tree - in quick time - serendipitously.

I realized pretty soon after why it had eluded me so far - the tree was completely entombed within an imposing fortress of tall hedging. If not for my habitual leechwood-stop... the weather a-fouling... the desperate quick-silver in trying to have some meaningful work done with precious little time on hand... and of course, a healthy dose of curiosity to investigate... it would have eluded me still.

To the non-discerning crowd, it may not come readily to think of the present immaculate MacRitchie Reservoir Park as a forested area decades ago. There are indeed a fair number of mature forest trees that had survived past development of the park. They remain as living signposts of the former forest there.

The need to know them presently comes at an urgent time when soon the summit will see the development of a new restaurant in place of the nice old canteen we are so familiar with. For this, I hope to document and map these trees soon with some civic-minded tree-lovers. Here again is another scope for what I call folk conservation.

Good friend Shawn in the foreground of Shorea acuminata atop hillock


Drooping branchlets

Earth-pointing leaves

Fallen leaves and stipules

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Aralidium pinnatifidum is NOT 'nationally extinct'

Aralidium pinnatifidum is NOT 'Nationally Extinct'. It should not be.

I am surprised the newly revised Red Data Book (2nd edition, 2008) still listing it as such.

Quite a few of these rare small trees are to be found barely inches away from the boardwalk at MacRitchie Nature Trail. Historically, they were only reported through collections from Bukit Timah and Jurong. Leaves are lobed as shown below but they can be entire too. The entire-leafed trees are also found at the boardwalk.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Family Gathering

I find myself in the field again today. Like so many times before it's like home. And it's the best home to be, this field of openness. The sky for the roof, the billowy clouds for my head and the breeze of familiar green giving thoughts quiet pools for reflections in the forest. And when it rains, you feel so alive.

Today I am with friends again, brothers and sisters that they be. A spider I bow to speak, a tree I raise my brow to in adoration... and then from on high descends a bird of rainbow light brightening a branch above. Funny how it seems that we are so complete: a spider, me, a tree and a bird. We are family; family in the depth of time and space; a moment in time as a family gathers around a spot of earth away from the artificial world.

A solitary ant-like spider the size of a 10c coin.

Ternstroemia penangiana flower.

Aborted female flower.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo.