13 April 2009

Blooming Saga tree on Berlayar

This morning, the Saga tree on Berlayar was in bloom! There's another Saga tree on Sentosa, just opposite Berlayar. I wonder if it's blooming too.

The Saga tree (Adenanthera pavonina) is much loved by small children who cannot resist their hard, bright red seeds.
The leaves have 2-6 pairs of side stalks, each with 9-15 pairs of leaflets. 'Pavo' means peacock and I do think the leaves are rather pretty. The tree sheds its leaves seasonally. According to Corners, in Singapore they shed their leaves every 6-8 months, with the leafless period being very short.
After the leaf-fall, flowers appear on long stalks from the ends of the new shoots. These are faintly scented like orange blossoms (ah, nose still out of order, so I couldn't tell what they smell like). The flowers opening gradually from the base upwards. The petals are cream-yellow turning dull orange.

The pods are curved and green, but don't coil until they begin to split whereupon they also turn blackish. The seeds are bright red, hard and heart-shaped.
According to Corners, the word 'Saga' has been traced to the Arabic for goldsmith. In India and Sri Lanka, the seeds of this tree have been used as units of weight for fine measures, of gold for instance. Burkill suggests the seeds of the tree were the basis of the very earliest of such systems. Corners remarks "What more delightful counters for the primitive and bloody mind than these hard, red, heart-shaped seeds?"

Are the seeds edible? Burkill says the raw seeds are considered intoxicants. There are records that in Java, the seeds are roasted, shelled and eaten with rice and said to taste like soyabeans. In India, the seeds are also used in medicine. And everywhere, the seeds are used to make necklaces.

According to Corners, they grow wild on rocky headlands and islets. They are also commonly planted as shade trees, although Burkill says they are "not ideal for the purpose, becoming untidy at the time of leaf-fall".

According to Burkill, the timber is used in some places for house-building and cabinet-making. The wood produces a red dye but is not widely used, although in India it is pounded into a powder and used to make caste-marks. The wood is also used in tonics whiile the leaves are used to treat rheumatism and gout.

As I walked back from the trip, on the manicured portion of the Berlayar extension to Labrador Park, I noticed bright pink flowers on the grass!Ah, how delightful to come across a planted Putat kampong (Barringtonia racemosa). It has pink puff-ball flowers hanging in a long spike.This tree was also planted at Chek Jawa and is listed as 'Critically Endangered' in the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.

Another rare plant that is planted in the park are the Sea Teak (Podocarpus polystachus). This tree is abundant on the natural cliffs of Sentosa.
This beautiful coastal forest tree with refreshingly bright green pointed leaves is a conifer. That is, it produces seeds but no flowers. Instead, it has reproductive structures called cones or strobili. The female trees produce a modified cone. The ripe seed is a swollen part of the stalk about 1cm long.
Male plants produce clusters of cream-coloured cones which shed whitish, powdery pollen. The scientific name refers to 'many (poly) ears of corn (stachys)' which is what the male cones resemble. This tree is also listed as 'Critically Endangered' in the Red List of threatened plants of Singapore.

Here's an older post I did about the plant on the wildfilms blog.

It's nice to see that these rare trees being planted in our coastal parks!

References
  • 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.
  • 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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