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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010: We can live life with a little bit of dirt

Today is one special 'dirty' Earth Day for me. Through the invitation and support of a kind soul, I have the opportunity to put together a workshop called Toxic-Free Cleaning and have 30 enthusiastic listeners chanting 'Change We Can!'

We can change the way we clean in the knowledge that we can certainly live life with a little bit of dirt, have a lot less detergents and be a lot smarter and selective in using them, knowing them. That we are masters of detergents and not slaves.

Yes, today, we hold up high a common belief that we can be a little bit more dirty for a cleaner and safer earth. We can say no a lot louder to plastic and harmful chemicals.

And importantly, we also know we have options to choose safer alternatives. Look no further for valuable lessons than the collective wisdom and folk knowledge of our innovative grannies. We can make cheap and safe and natural cleaners from scratch right in the kitchen.

If only we go ask our elders how they managed housekeeping in the good old days without the modern 'you-must-have' detergents. I am sure you can extend the list that I have in my workshop and go beyond the used tea bags, baking soda, Epsom Salt, lemons and limes, vinegar and wood ash, lye powder (kansui) and a good rub of coconut oil or two.

Today we also celebrated trees in our backyard - the Coconut, the Acacia and the Tamarind trees. We make liquid soap with Acacia pods (above photo) and return the original shine to my much-tarnished copper trophy with a good rub of tamarind pulp. We make them without ever raising a degree from the stove.

Yes, today we give ourselves the power of Change. All we need is to give it a good shake here, a good rub there, and a healthy dose of innovation, imagination and fun making toxic-free cleaners. Change We Can... we certainly can! : )

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Precious relic of village life below Bukit Timah Hill

This must be one of the last (if not last) communal washing point left in Singapore today. It is located at the foothill of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in a quiet corner off old Senapang Road where a village once stood - a precious relic of village life in the past.

While most communal washing points in old Singapore came equipped with hand-pumps and underground wells, some like this rare one had free flowing water coming off dependable sources like surface drainage off abutting hills.

Senapang's communal washing point gets its constant supply of water from the stream in the adjacent Taban Valley.

Fortunately for us, the construction of a new condominium nearby did not encroached upon the communal washing point. Being part of an existing drainage system probably saved it.

I earnestly invite you to drop by here and marvel at the little bit of history we still have. Bring the children too. Perhaps, after a good hearty nature walk up the hill, we can take a moment rest and ponder over its crystal clear water and be inspired to reflect and discuss topical issues such as climate change, rising temperature, water depletion and pollution... issues that are akin to environment degradation, forest destruction and lost of natural habitats and sustainable water catchments.

If a nature walk should end this way, it is a way truly forward in hope.

Direction: Walk halfway up Hindhede Drive, turn right into a small open field where there is a trail lined with sawn logs. Follow it into the wooded area till you see the communal washing point. It should not take you more than 5 minutes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phoenix canariensis: Canary Island Date Palm

I like to introduce you this spectacular exotic palm, Phoenix canariensis (commonly called Canary Island Date Palm), planted along Sentosa's roadside. It has a massive trunk measuring 222cm girth, a size not readily associated with the lanky and wispy palm image in our mind.

It is fruiting at the moment.

The feathery fronds are long, narrow and tapering to a point.

The thin pulp is eatable but too little to consider as food except perhaps in famine.

You can find a few of this palm near Sentosa bus station in the vicinity of the Beach Station. Happy plant-hunting! : )

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The World of Rubiaceae and Pavetta wallichiana

Brilliantly white and elegantly erect, the flowers of the Pavetta wallichiana herald their presence against the shadows of the rain forest interior and, like little trumpets, serenading the greatness of its family Rubiaceae. Why? Well, for one, Rubiaceae is the biggest family of trees in Malaya and has members in such significant number and diversity in the understory that their presence and density is a measure of the intactness of the rain forest on a whole.

So, seeing Pavetta and other rubiaceous shrubs is good news. The forest has a healthy measure of composition indicative of minimal disturbance, or showing sign of regeneration, at the lower strata. In fact, in climax condition, the forest teems not only with rubiaceous trees and shrubs, but a whole kaleidoscope of fascinating herbs, climbers and epiphytes such as Hydnophytum formicarium, an ant plant. Rubiaceae happens to be the fifth largest family of flowering plants in the world too.

However, the fascination do not stop there at the grand level; Pavetta wallichiana gives us an insight into the microcosmic niche of bacterial association. This is what E.J.H. Corner described in the Wayside Trees of Malaya: "The species of this genus are interesting because there occur in the little oblong, dark green, thickened flecks or warts on the leaves nitrogen-fixing bacteria like those on the roots of leguminous plants and Casuarinas. As a consequence, Pavettas are said to give a rich manure and to be useful as a cover-crop under shady conditions".

Close-up of warts below.

The useful bacteria are pass into the seeds and into the next generation of plants and the association remains unbroken. (Photo of fruit below)

Such is the wonder of Rubiaceae and Pavetta wallichiana. : )