Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book: The Beautiful Tree - by James Tooley

I enjoyed and learned so much reading this heartwarming book by James Tooley that I felt it necessary to have you read it too and discover for yourself the miracle of how poor parents, poor entrepreneurs (of low cost private schools) and poor communities across the developing world are helping themselves educate their children in the best possible way forward. And as James Tooley will tell you, much much more can be done to help the poor help themselves.

James Tooley discusses his book The Beautiful Tree on ABC News at CATO Institute website.

See James Tooley's own website on his book.

See documentary Victoria's Chance and hear poor parents speak of education.

Learn more about how you can help at Geneva Global (Performance Philanthropy)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mistletoe Taxillus chinensis in Singapore

I think it was not long ago that Dr John Yong first recorded this species of mistletoe in Singapore but to its whereabouts I do not know. Today, however, I am pleasantly surprised to encounter one living specimen parasitic on a Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii) - a small tree about 5m tall.

This beautiful mistletoe is flowering and young fruits abound at the moment. Called by its TCM medicinal name Guang Ji Sheng, its natural distribution ranges from Southern China, through to Indo-China, Malay Peninsular to the Philippines.

Here below is a series of photos showing the various characters of the mistletoe. More info can be gotten from the Flora of China website here.

Flower: Greenish-brown, scurfy hairy; anthers 4 red; stigma red; corolla lobes 4.

Leaves: elliptic, brittle, 3 to 4cm long, edge wavy; young leaves golden brown, scurfy hairy.

Haustoria: slender, snaking; host stem seemingly swollen locally when infected.

Fruit: round to cylindrical; surface wrinkled.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Book: A Selection of Plants for Greening of Waterways and Waterbodies in the Tropics

Generous: it's the word that stands out for me in describing this wholesome book. It is like the life-giving rain that falls down on us here in the tropics - loads of it and no holding back. The completeness to which related subjects are treated seamlessly in this book underscore the genuine effort of the main author (Bio-chemist Dr Jean W.H. Yong) and his research team to tell all there is to know and understand by bringing out the essential sciences - chemistry, biology, ecology, environmental science and engineering - in a simple crystal-clear language that any layman can wade through without trepidation. In fact, this book should bring you knee and chest deep in intimacy with the living system of water bodies.

So, go buy this book and dive in. Nature has and still is giving us so much good stuff (some stuff we only give names to not so long ago, such as bio- or phyto-remediation) that you ought to be grateful for. It is the stuff of Life we need to understand and to cherish.

Footnote: The scope of this book is truly one hard act to be replaced. Many beautiful drawings and diagrams accompany the text. Plants are sufficiently represented and photographed, but like any compendium, it is never exhaustive. Here below is the beautiful Water Balsam or Marsh Henna - Hydrocera triflora. It is a naturalized aquatic plant of Singapore rarely found today.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dillenia excelsa var. tomentella: A new phenotype arising

Perhaps I ought to qualify my sub-title with a question mark, but I decided not to. I am quite willing to bet on my belief that a real significant change is indeed happening to this one tree - yes, this particular wild Simpoh tree in the rain forest of MacRitchie.

By all account - the leaf, flower, fruit, and tree structure - the tree is Dillenia excelsa var. tomentella; all, that is, but for one dramatic difference - it is flowering without petals. It ought to have but it has not. Never have I come across a tree of this species behaving apetalously.

In the course of my investigation, I visit the tree ten times within two consecutive weeks at different period of the day hoping to sight a flower with petals intact or fallen on the ground, but none whatsoever. Then, on the tenth day, after a much exhaustive search, I managed to find one on the forest floor.

This singularly detached petal, however, is abnormally small and hardly matching the documented size to say the least. It is even smaller that the sepals produced by the tree. For good measure, I opened up the few mature flower buds I could find but found no petals within any one of them. [Detailed photos below]

So, change is afoot though not a complete one. I do believe a new phenotype is arising but not quite there yet. As to what caused such a response from the tree, I do not know. Mutation? Effects of the environment or climate? A geneticist, a chemist or a climate scientist can tell us more. This tree certainly presents itself an opportune subject for scientific studies outside the confines of classical taxonomy, e.g. ecology and climate science.

The important test is, of course, sustainability of this new apetalous character. I would like to confirm it and also prove the viability of the seeds if any. The coming flowering seasons should hold the key.

Relative size of flower; sepals 5, white with tinge of pink, fleshy and waxy.

Buds and open flowers: no yellow petals in sight.

Some mature buds found.

Buds opened for investigation: no petals found.

Result of a 10-day search: one abnormally small petal found.

Leaf elliptic, densely hairy beneath; leaf blade 8 to 10 inches long; margin entire.

Leaf stalk densely hairy; 2 to 3 inches long.

Leaf stalk deeply grooved above.

Bole straight; bark smooth; buttress roots none.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Athyrium accedens: New Record of Fern for Singapore

I am pleased to present you today a new record for Singapore - Athyrium accedens (Family: Woodsiaceae). I have found a small population of this fern in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

The late Prof. R. E. Holttum described it as a fern of shady mountain stream-sides, found in Malaya only on the Main Range and Taiping Hills. The specimens that I discovered were also near a stream. They are about a meter in height - simply pinnate, tufted and erect, and producing plantlets (asexually) on the rachis besides the usual spores (for sexual reproduction).

Some major characteristics below:

Pinnae (leaflets) - up to 15 per frond (leaf)

Each plantlet arising from the pinna (leaflet) axil.

This mature plantlet is ready to drop off and grow on its own.

Size and shape of pinna: tipped and broad; margin crenate or shallowly lobed.

Sori linear, forming the characteristic V-shaped arrangement.

Close-ups of sori (group or arrangement of spore cases / sporangia).

Stipe (stalk /stem) green, covered with minute and spiky protuberances.

Close-up of the protuberances: each one is actually a remnant stalk that has held a scale (thin membranous hair).

The rachis (branch extending from stipe bearing pinnae / leaflets) is grooved above.

Footnote: A New Record is a species already known to science but not known to occur previously in a certain botanical area in question. Now that Athyrium accedens has been found occurring in its natural state here, it can be added to the flora of Singapore as a native species. So in total, we have now 11 species of Athyrium in Singapore.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chek Jawa, 2 June 2010: Timeless Embrace

Faith is the bird that feels the light
and sings when the dawn is still dark... (Tagore, Whisperings)

The world speaks to me in pictures
my soul answers in music... (Tagore, Whisperings)

Sometimes I feel like a
free in its flight,
but constantly aware
of looking for a place to rest;
searching for food to fill
the hunger within. And in my
freedom of movement, like the
we both are creatures of needs.
They must be fulfilled...

(Walter Rinder, Sometimes I feel like a bird)

It is only with the
that one

can see rightly;
what is essential
is invisible to the eye... (Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince)

Chek Jawa, may you be free forever.

All is well and swell; no oil slick at lagoon and sandbars.

Footnote: These 2 Great-billed Herons (above 3 photos) are often seen feeding at low tide in Chek Jawa. Today I saw them curling their necks in embrace. They stopped and embraced 4 times while walking together in the lagoon. Then they flew apart to resume feeding.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Chek Jawa, 31 May 2010: Post Oil Spill Report

I am very happy to bring you good tide-dings! Chek Jawa looks no worse for wear. She looks great! [Above photo is the same oil-filled beach published in the newspapers!]

I believe the impact had been quite minimal and the stupendous effort by MPA and Nparks had been enormously successful. The speedy deployment and coordination of the clean-up of Chek Jawa was carried out so admirably. Both agencies should deserve our utmost praise and admiration. So too are our intrepid volunteers who responded so expediently to put on boots, gloves and shovel to the oil slick at the earliest hour of the spill. Bravo!

Chek Jawa... as usual... bring out the very best in everyone. Singaporeans... be proud.

It is a good time to thank and appreciate the many (I think 100) foreign workers deployed at Chek Jawa clean-up. Their service and contribution to our society is so so invaluable.

Photos below: Chek Jawa looking good and pristine as ever. When you look at the pure white sand and the unstained rocks and roots of mangrove trees... and the clear water at the shore... you can easily imagine Chek Jawa smiling at all of us! : )

Friday, May 21, 2010

Buchanania sessifolia: The Other Sparrow's Mango

The Sparrow's Mango (Buchanania arborescens) or Otak Udang (meaning "prawn's brain") is a tree of the rocky coastline. Some of these trees can still be found in Changi Village along the coastal boardwalk at Fairy Point. It is the tiniest 'mango' one could ever imagine; a fruit would sit perfectly on the ball of your last finger.

The early Malays who lived as they did intimately with the rain forest, recognized quite accurately the relatedness of plants in their midst and instinctively assigned vernacular names which today we know reflect natural groups now put systematically into genera and families of modern-day plant classification. This is some mean feat and profoundly so by the fact we know now that Mango Family Anacardiaceae is most abundantly represented in South-east Asia. With some 250 species out of 600 worldwide found here, South-east Asia should rightfully be crowned 'Mango Kingdom'. In the rain forest where they are found, many are awesomely tall giants. They have tiny flowers which are disproportionately nectariferous; E. J. H. Corner aptly described them as 'honey-sweet'.

So there are Otak Udang trees of the coastlines, and yes, there are also Otak Udang Tajam trees of inland forests. For this International Day of Biodiversity 2010, I have chosen to share this little known tree with all my nature-loving friends out there who are fervently documenting life in the intertidal plain and in the rain forest of Singapore. The unfamiliar Otak Udang Tajam (Buchanania sessifolia) - like so many plants rare and vulnerable - is ours to protect and conserve.

Today is a day we should remind ourselves not to be complacent even if there are sufficient cause to celebrate our extent biodiversity. The danger of habitat fragmentation or destruction is ever-present and every concern individual needs to be vigilant.

[Photo above: green fruits of B. sessifolia; ripening red.]

Underside view; on close-up examination, minute hairs can be found on the midrib.

Pointy leaf-tips.

Swollen red leaf-stalk.

[Footnote: Sometimes, B. sessifolia is written as B. sessilifolia.]