Let’s Go On A Heritage Tree Hunt!

How well do you know the Singapore Botanic Gardens? Or about our Heritage Trees? Perhaps you may be familiar with the ancient Tembusu on the Garden’s open lawn above Swan Lake –the one with the long low limb that you used to play on as a kid?

If you still don’t know which one I’m referring to, just reach into your wallet for a Singapore five-dollar note and flip it over to see a beautiful rendering of the tree by Mr Eng Siak Loy.

Probably the most famous and most photographed tree in Singapore – the over-200-year-old Tembusu that is depicted on the back of Singapore’s five-dollar note. A fence has been installed to protect the root zone of the tree from trampling feet. The tree’s iconic 25 m-long limb is now being supported by a Dynamic Support System developed by ST Kinetics in collaboration with the Garden’s arboriculture team.

Did you know that apart from the five-dollar Tembusu, there are 43 other Heritage Trees in the Gardens? These are some of the oldest, largest and most remarkable trees that we know of, and each of them has a special story to tell. For example, the Jati Bukit, also known as Mountain Teak (in Malay, Jati means Teak and Bukit, Hill) near the Swan Lake gazebo.

Old photographs of the tree show it standing perfectly upright. Yet, if you were to visit the tree today, you would find that it has reclined almost 45 degrees towards the ground. As the tree gradually leaned, it produced long, sinuous limbs in the opposite direct to balance itself so that it does not topple over. Isn’t that clever?

Then and now – the Jati Bukit in 1968 and in 2014. The tree has gradually leaned more to one side over time while growing new limbs to support itself.

Tucked away in a less-frequented corner of the Gardens between the Ginger Garden and the National Orchid Garden, is the Petai tree. The Petai produces fat, garlicky 'stink-beans' that are commonly used in Malay cooking. Petai trees can grow to more than 40 m tall! So, if you have a Petai craving, you would have to learn to climb very tall trees in order to get the freshest beans.

An easier method would be to collect the fallen bean pods from under the tree after a thunderstorm – but please don’t take them from the Gardens, for our specimens are meant for everyone to appreciate and enjoy!

View from the top of the Petai Tree next to the National Orchid Garden. From up here, Singapore feels like a City In A Forest. Hanging to the right of the photo are young Petai pods.

Another often overlooked tree is the Penarahan Pianggu, also known as The Lonely Nutmeg. It got its name because trees in the nutmeg family tend to produce only male or female flowers, and this poor male tree has been flowering faithfully for decades without any females nearby to reciprocate!

Even though it is just a short walk from the Visitor Centre, it escapes the notice of many visitors because of its diminutive stature. It is quite a remarkable old tree, so do remember to look out for it when it is full bloom, as shown in the photo below. Pay this lonely tree a visit and keep it company, even if it is just for a short while.

The Penarahan Pianggu in flower. This old and rare Heritage Tree is often missed by visitors due to its diminutive stature.

These are just some of the Heritage Trees in the Botanic Gardens featured in our new book Tall Tales: Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Tree Trail Guide. This guide book will enhance your knowledge and appreciation of the trees through stories, photographs and paintings from historical and contemporary sources.

The locations of all the Heritage Trees and the recommended walking trails are marked out in the book, which makes it an invaluable guide for both the intrepid visitor and the armchair arborist. Get your copy for just $9.50 from the retail outlets in Singapore Botanic Gardens and all major bookstores today.

There are six Heritage Trees in this photograph. Can you spot them all? They are 1. Pulai Basong, 2. Chucher Atap, 3. Tekik, 4. Andiroba, 5. Kapur, 6. Tembusu. Find the answers in Tall Tales: Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Trees Trail Guide!

Text by Shee Zhi Qiang
Photo of Tembusu by Edmund Chia
1968 photo of Jati Bukit from Singapore Botanic Gardens archives
Current photo of Jati Bukit by Goh Gan Khing
Photo of view from Petai Tree by Goh Mia Chun
Photo of Penarahan Pianggu by Wong Tuan Wah
Photo with six Heritage Trees by Shee Zhi Qiang

Total Comments: 1

jailani 7/16/2014 12:09:50 PM

Sad to see some of these trees which were native to Singapore disappearing. Can the Npark consider re-introducing them so future generations could benefit. In addition, fruiting trees like Keranji, Chermai, Sentol, Binjai, Kundang, pauh, mangosteen are hard to see now.If planted and bearing fruit would for pay its upkeep. I dont mind buying a Binjai fruit from the Npark to make sambal for lunch. How bout it NPark?
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