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.]

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