The Rain Tree (Samanea saman) is easily recognised by its massive umbrella-shaped, widely-spreading crown which can reach 20 to 30m across. It has small clusters of flowers that are pinkish or whitish and are slightly fragrant.
Its seed pods are thick, long, straight and fleshy inside. The pods ripen black and the seeds germinate readily into seedlings, sometimes while still inside the fruit. Its sweet fruit pulp is relished by cattle, goats, horses, pigs and even children in some countries. Epiphytes like ferns and orchids tend to perch on old Rain Trees.
The Rain Tree originates from Tropical America. It was introduced to Singapore in 1876, and by the mid-1900s, it was planted throughout the tropics. The leaves consist of leaflets which fold up in the evenings. This is why the Malays call it ‘Pukul Lima’, which means ‘5 o’clock’.
The Connaught Drive Rain Trees over the years
Tree planting was formalised in 1881 by the then Superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Nathaniel Cantley. Roadside greenery is now a main feature of the business and commercial districts in Singapore.
1887 – Several Rain Tree saplings were planted along Connaught Drive, then known as New Esplanade Road. This road was renamed Connaught Drive in 1907 to commemorate the visit of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught.
1915 – The Rain Trees along Connaught Drive were well established, creating a scenic view of the waterfront for all to enjoy.
1930 – The lush greenery of the Rain Trees framed the forefront of the stately colonial buildings on the other side of the Padang.
1955 – The umbrella-shaped crowns of the Rain Trees along Connaught Drive created a ‘green tunnel’ effect, enhancing the cityscape.
A total of 22 Rain Trees at Connaught Drive have been endorsed as Heritage Trees. This “Avenue of Heritage Trees” has the largest number of trees in a single avenue endorsed under the NParks’ Heritage Tree Scheme.
Some of these Heritage Rain Trees along Connaught Drive are estimated to have been planted in the mid-1880s, which would make them over 130 years old. They would have witnessed historic events in the Civic District including the declaration of independence for Singapore by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1963, and Singapore’s first National Day celebrations in 1966.
The Avenue of Heritage Trees underscores the rich history of the Civic District and how these majestic Rain Trees have matured over the course of time together with the growth of Singapore as a global city-state.