10 April 2010

Trees of Pulau Ubin - a talk by Ali Ibrahim

This morning, I attended a delightful talk by Ali Ibrahim about the trees of Pulau Ubin!
As usual, Ali's wonderful stories and humorous insights into our trees are an awesome learning experience!

Contrary to a common misconception, Pulau Ubin is not just full of Rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis), but has lots of interesting trees. Some are remnants of the original forest. Others are magnificent examples of trees planted by people.

Some Ubin trees are really outstanding in all senses of the word. Like this enormous Pulai tree (Alstonia angustiloba) which towers above the trees around it and is visible even from the bumboat as we approach Pulau Ubin. Like many of Ubin's tallest trees, this is fitted out with lightning protection. Some even contain monitoring devices to indicate how many times the trees have been struck by lightning.
Ali points out how the base of this tree is often heavily scraped. He believes this is done by the wild boar that roam the forests of Ubin. Possibly because the tree bark contains some substances that helps the animals deal with itches or parasites like ticks? Amazing!
Another humungous tree we see very soon upon landing at Pulau Ubin is the Tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica) growing right next to Pak Ali's shop. The seeds are used to make our local asam dishes. (This is of course where November and I had earlier tanked up on delicious home-made nasi lemak and mee siam for breakfast).
Among the giants are some that have been awarded Heritage Tree status. Like the ancient Perepat (Sonneratia alba) trees standing near House No. 1 at Chek Jawa. They are really huge!
Many of Ubin's large trees are really old. Ali shared quirky historical stories. Like this old print, for example.
Which is possibly of the Ficus stricta that still stands today. It is now a gianormous spreading tree with 21 trunks!
Some forest trees, however, are only known from old herbarium samples. Like this Diptrocarp.
I was delighted to learn that there are much larger specimens of the rare Collared fig tree (Ficus crassiramea)! I only knew of the little one growing near the jetty. This huge one is found further inland.
And this particular tree has a leprechaun! Ali made a bet with me that he could show it to me. Hmmm...a closer look suggests a naughty looking creature tucked in the trunk.
Another rare delight on Pulau Ubin is the Riang Riang (Ploiarium alternifolium). This tree is the name-sake of the Cicada Tree Eco-Place team who run wonderful nature programmes for kids.
Some of Ubin's trees provide edible fruits. This one is the Chng Teng tree. When soaked, the seeds puff up into the familiar ingredient in our favourite dessert.
The Belinjau tree provides the local cracker snack.
Some trees have yummy looking fruits, which may not necessarily be good to eat.
This is a really weird looking tree!
And I finally found out the identity of this tree that I have seen on Chek Jawa. Yay!
Ali also shared lots of tips to help identify trees. It is often challenging to identify tall trees because the canopy is so far away from the ground. Ali shares how some trees are identified by gently scraping a little bit of the bark.
I also learnt today that the Seashore nutmeg (Knema globularia) has sap that looks like blood. Wow!
A team of NParks staff and volunteers have been studying Ubin's trees and plants!
Ali has also been part of a team to map out the vegetation of Pulau Ubin!
Besides that, Ali also interviews knowledgeable residents to capture the history of the trees and plants of Pulau Ubin.
As always, it was a delight to learn from Ali! Alas, I failed to take a photo of him giving the talk. We look forward to one day learning from Ali in the field! That would be awesome!

This talk is part of NPark's series of talks for International Year of Biodiversity. The next talk is on our sponges by Lim Swee Cheng! Here's more details.


  1. Great find for the huge specimen of Ficus crassiramea. Congrats. Cicada tree can be found in rocky coastal habitats. There are also a few in St John's steep rocky slopes. As for Campylosperma, I didn't know there is a change in name. It's (or used to be) called Gomphia. See flowers of Gomphia serrata here (photo taken 2000):


    Just sharing! cheers : )

  2. Thanks Joe! As always, I learn so much from you!

  3. great recap of all the cool stories from Ali's wonderful talk! now im hardpressed to think of stories to blog about that won't be a copy and paste of yours haha :) thanks for the post!



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