11 July 2009

Rare mangroves and coastal plants of St. John's

The beautiful natural cliffs of St. John's are cloaked in all kinds of plants.
And today I saw three plants which are listed as 'Critically Endangered' on our Red List.

Some are on the rather less accessible western shore, which is dangerous to visit at high tide. As the water goes right up to the boulders (see where the boulders change colour? That's the high water mark.)
But it is here that the very rare Xylocarpus rumphii trees are most happy! With their feet on the boulders and occasionally splashed by the sea, few other trees can survive here.
I saw three of these special trees! The first one was very large and gnarly.
These mangrove trees don't have specialised breathing roots like their other mud-dwelling cousins. Instead, the roots seem to grip the boulders and rocks where they live. Although this tree seems old and battered, its leaves were fresh and green!
There were two smaller trees a little further down from this elderly matriach.
Here's the one in the middle. You can see the almost heart-shaped leaves and yellowish veins that is typical of this special tree.
And here's the last one in the line up. The bark of the young trees are smooth, while the old one had fissured bark. Unfortunately, none of the special trees were flowering or fruiting. And I also saw one large dead tree that looked like it might have been a Xylocarpus rhumphii.
The other specimens that I've seen of these trees are on the natural cliff-rocky shore of Sentosa. These trees seem to do best in such habitats, which now is no longer common on our shores.

A little further down, there was a Xylocarpus granatum aka the Mangrove cannon-ball tree, from its large round fruits. Here's a good chance to compare the two cousin trees. This more commonly seen tree has more oval leaves and peeling bark that results in a kind of camouflaged pattern on the tree trunk.
Here's more about Xylocarpus granatum and Xylocarpus moluccensis that we saw at Pulau Ubin.

On the western shore, scattered in clumps of seaweeds were propagules of mangrove trees! Probably some kind of Api api (Avicennia sp.).
High up on the cliffs I saw several Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) and they seemed to be blooming! Infamous for its purported aphrodisiac properties, this plant is threatened by over collection. Here's more about this fascinating plant that is also seen on Sentosa's natural cliffs.
What a lovely sight: a row of the rare and endangered Pink-eyed pong pong trees (Cerbera manghas) planted near the public areas of St. Johns.
You can have a seat under these shady trees and enjoy a sea view away from the city.
While our more commonly planted Yellow-eyed pong pong tree (Cerbera odollam) has a yellow centre, the much rarer Cerbera manghas has pretty pink eyes!
Here's more about this special tree that I learnt from Dr Jean Yong at Pulau Semakau.

There were other patches of mangroves on this island that I didn't get a chance to look at. Must come back here again soon!

St. John's is indeed a special place for rare plants!

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