22 March 2009

Kalak Kambing at Kranji

This mangrove climber is listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore! Wow!I didn't know that, of course, until I got home and checked my references. At the time, I was just intrigued as it's my first time seeing this strange vine.

Finlaysonia obovata called 'Kalak kambing' by the locals was, according to Hsuan Keng, found in mangroves and tidal river banks including at Kranji and Geylang. According to Giesen, it is found in mangroves and on borders of tidal creeks and fishponds. And indeed, I saw it draped across mangrove trees along the Kranji Canal.

Apparently, in Java it flowers comparatively rarely. So I must have been very lucky to see it blooming!The fleshy bright green leaves (5-10cm) are arranged opposite one another. The darker leaves in the photo belong to the Avicennia alba tree that it was draped upon.

Here's a closer look at the furry little flowers.
The flowers are small (about 1cm), arranged in a branched inflorescence and described as yellow green, purplish in the centre. The vine was far from the river bank edge so I couldn't get a closer shot. According to Giesen, the flowers have a noxious smell. Unfortunately, the only noxious smell I got was from the falling tide in the canal.
It was actually the fruits that caught my attention! They are green, ribbed (8-10cm) and form in a pair. It was described as resembling the horns of a buffalo. 'Kambing' means goat in Malay, but I failed to find out what 'Kalak' means. Perhaps horns? The bark is described as pale, warty and papery. It is said that a white latex oozes out of all broken surfaces.

This slender, woody climber can grow up to 5m long, scrambling over mangrove trees. It is found from the Bay of Bengal to the Moluccas. In Southeast Asia recorded in Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia (Moluccas, Java, Bali, South Sulawesi). It is considered generally uncommon, but were they occur, can be common.

According to Burkill, the leaves are eaten in salads in the Moluccas, but "apparently this use does not extend to Malaya".


  • Kalak kambing (Finlaysonia obovata) Ng, Peter K. L. & N. Sivasothi, 1999. A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I (Plant Diversity). Singapore Science Centre. 168 pp.
  • Giesen, Wim and Stephan Wulffraat, Max Zieren and Liesbeth Scholten. 2006. Mangrove Guidebook for Southeast Asia (PDF online downloadable). RAP publication 2006/07 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok.
  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Davison, G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
  • Burkill, I. H., 1993. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. 3rd printing. Publication Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-1240; volume 2: 1241-2444.

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