14 December 2009

An Ubin stroll with fabulous trees

A glorious blue sky morning and we're off to Pulau Ubin.
The tide is REALLY high, so we have a closer look at the trees on this wild island.

Fortified by the obligatory stop at Pak Ali's shop for Ubin-only Sunday-only lontong, topped up with mee rebus and mee siam (also to die for), we head out for the Sensory Trail. Along the way I stopped by to have a closer look at the gorgeous Collared fig (Ficus crassiramea) which grows by the shore near the Ubin Information Kiosk (red roofed structure in the background).
It was figging! With lovely bright red figs against beautiful dark green leaves. According to the "Guide to Fabulous Figs of Singapore", it is considered an "extremely rare" fig tree. Aside from this one small tree on Pulau Ubin, there are only a few mature ones on Pulau Tekong. The figs ripen very slowly and may take half a year to ripen. Wow!
Another fig tree we came across on our little walk, was a gorgeous tall Common red stem-fig (Ficus variegata). The huge tree was encrusted in large yummy looking figs along its main branches. The tree is considered common and found on forest margins and our parks.
Another fruit-laden plant we came across were the Coffee trees (Coffea sp.) at the Trail! The branches were thick with beans in various colours, from the young green ones to yellow and ripe red ones. This immediately reminded me of the Toddycat or Common palm civet cat (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and the notorius 'Kopi Luwak' which is made from the coffee beans that have literally been processed by a civet cat. Looking at the tree, I can now also appreciate why the Sepulih (Fragrea racemosa) is sometimes called the False coffee plant.
The Sensory Trail is full of familiar plants such as the Papaya (Carica papaya). Today we saw both a Papa Papaya tree with lots of male flowers clustered on long stalks. And a Mama Papaya tree with a few flowers emerging from the central stem. Besides delicious fruits which can be eaten ripe and also used in cooking when unripe, the plant has lots of other uses. My mother wraps beef in papaya leaves to tenderise the meat. Indeed, the plant contains an enzyme called papain which is a component of powdered commercial meat tenderizers!
Another interesting tree is the Guava tree (Psidium guajava). The tree originally came from tropical America and is often planted in gardens for its fruits.
Another tree from tropical America that is commonly seen in our gardens is the Chiku (Manilkara zapota). The milky latex of the tree was tapped and known as Chicle or Chicle gum and is the base ingredient of chewing gum! We saw a lovely tree fruiting in one of the gardens on Ubin. We're not the only ones fond of the fruits. I once observed lots of Common fruit bats (Cynopterus brachyotis) feeding at a fruiting Chiku tree. The little bats were hardly bigger than the Chiku fruits and were gorging themselves silly.
Among the most intriguing tropical American plants found on Pulau Ubin must be the Chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao). And finally, I got to see the tiny delicate flowers of this tree. Only a few of these flowers eventually develop into enormous fruit capsules full of the beans that we so adore in our chocolate bars.
Of course there are lots of native plants along the way as well. I came across this rather dinghy looking tree with lots of little flowers. Is it a Misi or Sea gutta (Pouteria obovota)?
The Sensory Trail skirts a little patch of mangroves, which were looking resplendent the in sunshine. And I noticed a small little Tumu berau (Bruguiera sexangula)! This is considered the rarest of the Bruguiera and was probably replanted by NParks from the mother tree at Pulau Tekong that was discovered by Dr John Yong.
Although it hardly came up to waist height, it was already flowering quite profusely. The flowers of Tumu berau have brownish petals without tassels, and a rather yellow calyx (the plasticky toothed cap). Here's more on how to tell apart our Bruguiera species.
We also checked out the Gedabu (Sonneratia ovata) nearby. There are few of this 'Critically Endangered' trees so it's nice to see it had flowered!
On the way to Pulau Ubin, we noticed the barge with heavy cranes is still on the Changi shore. It looks like they are rebuilding the seawalls there.
The channel between the mainland and Pulau Ubin is a major shipping lane. We often see large ships going to or from the shipyards at Sembawang or the terminals at Pasir Gudang in Johor. Here's a very large container ship, with the flats of Pasir Ris in the background and the small sailing boats at Changi.
The little walk gave us a hearty appetite. Despite the huge breakfast, we had coconuts after the walk, then a delicious lunch of homecooked food. Good company and lots of catching up with many people I haven't seen for a while made for a great day out at Ubin!

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