Heritage Trees at Duxton and Spottiswoode Park

As part of the Singapore Heritage Festival 2014, numerous tours were organised for the public to visit all kinds of sights throughout Singapore, from age-old clans and historic neighbourhoods, to offshore islands and national parks. Besides tours, there were also activities to cater to other varied interests such as tea appreciation, Chinese opera, and outdoor spice garden cooking. It was incredible, and the response must have been overwhelming for many of the activities were fully subscribed. One of the tours was a walk through Duxton Plain Park and Spottiswoode Park to get acquainted with our Heritage Trees [1], and that’s one of the tours we still managed to get ourselves into! But it was no less enjoyable even though it was our third or fourth choice of the activities we wanted to participate in.

Anyone can follow this same trail, and the parks alone are so full of character they are worth a stroll on their own right anyway. Walking through the parks gives me a sense of tradition and timelessness, and yet also of growth and of being part of something bigger. For there are pockets of old buildings and old trades which still managed to hold fast in our ever-modernizing society, and yet they run alongside gleaming and towering blocks of high-rises, and play host to young families pushing strollers. And just another street away there are modern office blocks, swanky restaurants, and cars and people hustling along. Before New York City had The Highline, we had Duxton Plain Park, which is also a park converted from a disused railway track [2].

Our guides for the morning were staff from the National Parks Board (NParks) and a couple of volunteers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), all of whom who did an excellent job sharing their knowledge and interest in trees and in landscaping with us.

The walk inspired me to try my hand (literally) at drawing [3]! So I’ve tried to draw a map of the trail and some of the trees and leaves. The trees that we were introduced to are numbered accordingly on the map. Not all the trees are on the Heritage Tree register, the ones which are designated Heritage Trees have signboards next to them if you’re on the trail and are indicated below.

Map of Heritage Trees trail

Map of Heritage Trees trail

1. “Bodhi” tree, Ficus religiosa (Designated Heritage Tree)

This tree is sacred to Buddhists and is usually found on Buddhist temple grounds. Its leaves have a distinctive heart-shape. It is also known as 菩提树 in Mandarin.

Bodhi Tree

Bodhi Tree

2. Broad-leafed mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla

As the name suggests, this tree is used to make furniture. The trunk has a scaly bark and the tree has distinctive fruit pods that point towards the sky, hence it also known as 向天果 (“heaven-facing fruit”). The seeds have large, flat wings, while the leaves are made up of sickle-shaped leaflets.

Broad Leafed Mahogany

Broad Leafed Mahogany

3. Senegal mahogany, Khaya senegalensis

A close relation of the broad-leafed mahogany, this tree also has compound leaves and good timber.

Senegal Mahogany

Senegal Mahogany

4. Indian rubber tree, Ficus elastica (Designated Heritage Tree)

The latex of this tree can also be used to make rubber, but of an inferior quality compared to the commercially grown para rubber tree (which we often see in plantations in Malaysia). Coming from the fig family (as you can tell from the scientific name), the trunk is made up of aerial roots which have grown downwards. The tree pollinates via a particular species of wasp which crawl inside the “fruit” to lay eggs. Technically the inside of the “fruit” contains the flowers, hence in Mandarin it is known as 无花果 (“no flower fruit”).

Indian Rubber Tree

Indian Rubber Tree

5. “Octopus” or “Umbrella” tree, Schefflera actinophylla

Native to Australia, its flowers grow in spikes at the top of the tree, which remind me of the bunga manggar decorations used in Malay weddings.

Octopus Tree

Octopus Tree

6. Tembusu, Fagraea fragrans

Native to Singapore, this is the species printed on the back of the Singapore $5 bill (that particular tree can be found in the Singapore Botanic Gardens). Its flowers give off a strong fragrance in the evening, and the bark is deeply fissured even in young trees such as the one below.

Tembusu Tree

Tembusu Tree

7. Common Pulai, Alstonia angustiloba

This tree grows in a tiers like a pagoda when young but loses the shape as it matures. Its flowers grow in clusters that also exude a sweet fragrance.

8. Sea Almond, Terminalia catappa

This is my favorite tree as I like its elegant and tidy appearance. It also grows in tiers like a  pagoda, and there are many along East Coast Park with weird and wonderful buttress roots. Similar to the Sea Almond is the Madagascar Almond except that its leaves are smaller.

Sea Almond Leaf

Sea Almond Leaf

View from Spottiswoode Park with Sea Almond trees in the background

View from Spottiswoode Park with Sea Almond trees in the background

9. Rain Tree, Samanea saman (Designated Heritage Tree)

A dignified giant, it’s so-named because the leaflets close up when it’s about to rain. Also known as the “5 o’clock” tree in Malay because the leaves close up before sunset. Yes, sunset used to be at 5 o’clock when Singapore was on a different timezone! We didn’t always follow this timezone of GMT+8 that we have now [4]. The bark is flaky and scaly.

Rain Tree

Rain Tree

10. Binjai, Mangifera caesia (Designated Heritage Tree)

Belonging to the family of mangoes, the fruit of this tree has a lovely, sweet fragrance and can be used in cooking.

Binjai Tree

Binjai Tree

 

References and Recommended Reading

[1]  Lots of information, as well as regularly conducted free tours are available on NParks website:

Heritage Tree register

NParks nature tours and walks

NParks Know 10 Trees – Guide to Heritage Trees in Singapore

[2]  Two blogs with excellent information and research into Duxton Plain Park:

Remembering Singapore

The Long and Winding Road

[3] If my drawings offend, please forgive me. My last art class was in Sec 2. I picked up pencil, pen, and paper for the first time in umpteen years and followed these websites to learn how to draw trees (one of the darn hardest things to draw in this world!):

Foliage tutorial on WetCanvas forum

How to Draw Trees Quickly and Easily

[4] Explanation of why Singapore has the time zone it has:

Why is Singapore in the “Wrong” Time Zone?

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