10 April 2009

A special shore tree on Changi: Pongamia pinnata

Mempari (Pongamia pinnata) is a beautiful tree found on sandy beaches. According to Hsuan Keng, this tree was formerly common on the coast including Changi, Siglap, Jurong and Pulau Ubin. It is now listed as 'Endangered' in the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.What a delight it was to come across several of these trees on Changi beach today. I think they were planted as they were equally spaced apart from one another. Many campers had set up under the shade of these pretty trees.

The tree grows to 6-15m tall. The compound leaves appear in two rows, each heart-shaped leaflet is shiny, dark green and thinly leathery.
The flowers look like those of bean plants, and are lilac, appearing in bunches on a stalk. Tiny insects seem attracted to the flowers.The flowers turn into bunches of flat bean-like pods that are somewhat oval with a little beak at the tip. Each pod contains one seed. According to Giesen, the tree is found in non-swampy beaches and occasionally on the landward side of mangroves. According to Corners, it is found in sandy or rocky coasts of Malaya.

The leaves are fed to livestock. The bark is used to make string and rope. Although the seeds are poisonous, an oil extracted from them (called Pongamol or hongay oil) is used for lighting, to manufacture soap and candles, and in medicinal uses. The roots and seeds are used as a fish poison in Australia and Indonesia. Various parts of the trees are also used in traditional medicine. According to Tomlinson and Giesen, the tree is often planted as a shade tree along roads, but Corners says it is rarely planted in Malaya.Well, there sure were plenty of trees and palms on Changi today, providing shade for a huge number of visitors enjoying the sunny day out on the beach.

On the way to the beach, we made a little detour to check out the mangroves at Changi Creek.We realised there is now a lovely little walk next to the new bridge across the Creek. This gives a nice view of the intriguing mangroves in the Creek.
Among the encounters was this Bruguiera with a pale calyx. Is this just a pale Bruguiera gymnorrhiza? Or something sexier? Hmm...
We must come back another day to explore this mangrove. There's so much still to explore of our shores!

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tomlinson, P. B., 1986. The Botany of Mangroves Cambridge University Press. USA. 419 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.

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