Our Streetside Companions

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They provide much needed shade on our sunny days, but also help to mitigate pollution and generate clean air for us. Most of all, our streetside trees form the backbone to our reputation as a City in a Garden. 

They are such familiar companions, but how much do you know about the many types of trees that line our streets? Learn more about eight common streetside trees here.

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Rain Tree

While it may be one of the most well-known trees in Singapore, the Rain Tree (Samanea saman) is actually originally from tropical America. It is believed to have been introduced to other parts of the world, including Singapore, in the 19th century by colonial officials. It is a common sight along many of our streets especially expressways. Look up to its branches the next time you pass a Rain Tree – it typically hosts epiphytes such as Pigeon Orchids, Bird’s Nest Fern and Stag’s Horn Ferns.

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Photo credit: Tee Swee Ping

Angsana

A native of India and Southeast Asia, the Angsana (Pterocarpus indicus) was planted extensively along our streets during the 1960s and 1970s. This was partly because of its dense, dome-shaped crown with drooping branches which provided much needed shade for pedestrians in the Singapore sun. The tree grows quickly and can reach up to 40 m in height. However in the late 1980s and 1990s, many of the Angsana trees were affected by a fungal disease. As a result, the number of Angsana trees was reduced across the island.

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Yellow Flame

With its bright yellow blossoms, the Yellow Flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum) often adds colours to our city during flowering season. This tree grows quickly reaching between 15 and 20 m in height and is a familiar tree for many in our green spaces and by our roads. The Yellow Flame occurs naturally in Southeast Asia, China and tropical Australia.

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Senegal Mahogany

With a straight, robust and cylindrical trunk, and buttresses at its base, the Senegal Mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) grows quickly, reaching up to heights of 30 m and a girth of 1 to 2 m. Its wood can be used to make furniture, particularly cabinets! This big tree is a native of tropical West Africa.

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Tembusu

This is a true blue “Singaporean”! A native of our island and the surrounding region, the Tembusu (Fagraea fragans) is a large evergreen tree that can reach between 35 to 40 m in height. With its distinctive deeply fissured bark, the Tembusu has become a common feature on our streets. While it is considered a slow-growing tree, it can thrive even in the poorly aerated clay soil that covers much of Singapore. Look for its branches that commonly grow horizontally initially then make a 90-degree “turn” towards the skies when they reach the edge of the canopy.

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Sea Apple


The Sea Apple (Syzygium grande) is also known as Jambu Laut in Malay. It is tolerant to salt, growing naturally along the coast in Singapore, Malaysia and in other countries in Southeast Asia. It grows up to 25 to 30 m and has been a familiar tree along our streets since the 1900s. It is believed to be relatively resistant to fire and hence served as a natural fire-break.

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Saga


The Saga (Adenanthera pavonina) is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 m tall. Originally from other parts of tropical Asia, it was introduced to Singapore a long time ago. In fact, in earlier days, plantation owners grew the Saga as a shade tree around their rubber, coffee and cloves plantations. The tree is probably best recognised by its bright red seeds – gold and silver traders even used them as weights during their business dealings.

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Sea Almond

A large coastal and salt-tolerant tree that can grow up to 25 m in height, the Sea Almond or Ketapang (Terminalia catappa) occurs naturally on the seashores of tropical Asia and Austalasia. It has long spreading branches that grow in tiers, creating a pagoda-shaped crown. It also has buttressed roots, and its huge leaves turn red and yellow before they fall, creating the impression of autumn in Singapore!

Why are Trees Important to us?

 

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Trees actually provide us with many environmental, social and economic benefits. Here are six reasons why we should continue to plant and care for the trees in our City in a Garden.

1) Trees improve our urban environment

Trees reduce ambient temperatures in our city and are known to improve air and water quality. Trees also reduce the strain on our stormwater drainage network by capturing some of the falling rain with their leaves and increasing the capacity of soil to absorb rainwater.

2) Trees help fight climate change

Trees reduce greenhouse gases when they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as wood.

3) Trees increase urban biodiversity

Trees mitigate the loss of biodiversity that usually occurs during urbanisation. They provide habitats for certain groups of native wildlife and their large branches support native climbers, ferns and orchids. Trees also form green corridors for native wildlife to move from one area to another.

4) Trees enhance community well-being

Trees bring people together, in urban parks and gardens, to bond and enjoy recreational activities. Studies have also shown that exposure to greenery improves the attention and cognitive functions of students whereas office workers benefit from enjoying a green view as it can help boost effectiveness and satisfaction at work.

5) Trees benefit our health

Humans are inclined to seek connections with nature and other living things. Trees and green spaces benefit our physical and mental health.

6) Trees aid our economy

Studies have shown that commercial locations with trees experience better retail volume and the presence of trees can increase property value. By lowering ambient temperatures, trees also help businesses save on air conditioning bills.

Learning more

Interested in learning more about trees that make up our urban forest? Check out trees.sg, our online map which shows the locations of over 500,000 trees, features interesting bites of information on unique tree species, and even lets you show some love to your favourite tree by leaving it a treemail and giving it a hug!

Get up close and personal with some of the trees on our island by going on a walking or cycling trail in our parks, gardens and park connectors. Besides admiring the trees, you can also potentially spot biodiversity. Lean more about going on a DIY walk.

Mature trees are part of the natural heritage of Singapore, serving as important green landmarks in our City in a Garden. These trees help us identify with and stay rooted to the place we call home. The Heritage Tree Scheme, started in 2001, advocates the conservation of Singapore’s mature trees. Learn more about how you can nominate a tree for this scheme.


Text edited by Felix Siew
 
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