17 April 2009

Mystery shore plant solved: Buas-buas!

Thanks to Bian Tan, I finally know that this bushy plant with pretty bunches of tiny flowers is Premna corymbosa.
One of its Malay names is Buas-buas. 'Buas' in Malay can mean fierce or wild. The plant seems harmless enough, so I'm not sure how its name came about. I've seen this plant on many of our wild shores, and last saw it at Pulau Hantu.

According to Corners, the species is "so variable that it is still undecided whether it does not consist of several species". The typical form is of those that grow on rocky and sandy coasts. The plant first starts as a climber or 'straggling shrub' eventually developing a 'stout stocky trunk' and a bushy crown to become a tree up to 5m tall.

It is also apparently known as Premna angustior, Premna integrifolia as well as Premna obtusifolia. Plants of the genus Premna have a 'rather foetid tissue' according to Corners. And indeed, the crushed plant does have an odd, rather unpleasant smell.
The leaves are leathery, light green and comes in various shapes. From spoon-shaped with rounded tips to almost heart-shaped with pointed tips.
The tiny white flowers appear on a many branched cluster that resembles a little white tree. 'Corymbus' means cluster or bunch of flowers. The tiny fruits are oval and black.
At Sungei Buloh, as I was photographing the flower, this insect jammed its colourful head into the blossom!

According to Burkill, the leaves are eaten as a vegetable and sometimes cooked with fish of "an objectionable flavour to mask their taste". The timber is not considered of high value, although small household items are sometimes made of it. Various parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine and one of the common names for this plant is 'Headache tree'. I'm not sure whether this means the plant gives us a headache or cures the headache.

Thanks for the id Bian!

Bian is conducting a workshop on our Pioneer Plants with the Leafmonkey Workshop on 8 May. So come for the workshop if you'd like to learn more about our plants from Bian!

  • Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
  • Corners, E. J. H., 1997. Wayside Trees of Malaya: in two volumes. Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
  • 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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