Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cratoxylum arborescens: Giant of Lower Peirce Trail

You may not have taken notice of its lofty canopy and long ascending branches as you walk under smaller trees shading the Cyathea section of the Lower Peirce Trail...

but its solitary trunk near the boardwalk would have stopped you in your path with its imposing size and height.

Its fissured bark is as deeply arresting as the meandering stream that trickles past its shadow below, and if you would allow it... into the very recesses of an endearing memory.

Geronggang or Cratoxylum arborescens can grow to a giddy height of 50m on dry land or peat swamp forest. At almost 30m tall and a meter diameter, our ancient giant stands out easily as the largest tree along the boardwalk at Lower Peirce Trail today. The tree, however, remains a confounding mystery for visitors. There is no educational plaque or label to its honour.

Yet, verily, the expressive branches above never fail to shower hints of its identity with leaves green and yellow like calling cards for those native souls who want to befriend a native tree of home but stops affront - clueless - with neither flowers nor fruits nor seeds to hold, to see, to examine.

For these are truly hard to find... tiny scarlet petals and small cryptic-brown capsules with persistent sepals and ever smaller winged seeds... they fall from the great heights and scatter asunder like stardust into the cosmic zone of the forest floor... lost into its myriad cracks, layers and darkness.

To find them would take the pace of a snail, the eyes of a crested serpent eagle, and a mind that can only be human: one who would dedicate time and energy scouring not for food gains or rest as forest animals instinctively do but for something keenly epistemological - knowledge and truth.

And as luck would have it, a little scarlet bud sit prim and proper on the ball of my finger after one inconspicuous hour inching up and down the boardwalk beneath the tree.

Two capsules later and a 4m tall sapling nearby complete the joy of my inconsequential botanical life. There is hope.

My mind happily gravitates towards Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR) not far away. I am again reminded that here in Peirce lies a hinterland of contiguous mature-secondary forest linking and giving BTNR its resiliency against the backdrop of forest fragmentation. It is literally a sea of green lapping at its eastern foot.

In return, Peirce takes seeds of regeneration from BTNR through bats, birds and wind, and share essential pollinators for its successional right to becoming a primary forest again one day. Peirce in proximity to BTNR is such a potent showcase of regrowth, and the presence of the very rare Geronggang [red arrow below] adds poignancy to this potential.

Footnote: I have also found to date a Geronggang on the western part of Peirce [blue arrow above] which touches base with BTNR, and another in the forest of Mandai.