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.