17 January 2010

A rare mangrove tree: Mentigi (Pemphis acidula)

Listed as Critically Endangered in our Red List of threatened plants of Singapore, the elusive Mentigi is on my list of mangrove plants to see.
How delightful then, to finally see this special plant on our long trek on a mainland shore yesterday.

It was a rather small, boring looking bush, amidst other common coastal and mangrove plants. On a badly littered shore.
Corners describes it as having 'tiny grey silky leaves' with gnarled twisted branches and narrowly fissured flaky bark. It has small flowers with delicate white petals.
Corners says it 'is abundant where it grows' but is a 'very local tree' in Malaya's rocky and sandy coasts. It likes to grow on the detritus of small granite boulders and broken coral as well as exposed rocks in full sun just above the tide level but in reach of the spray. Corners says there 'used to be some wild plants at Changi in Singapore'. According to Hsuan Keng, it grows often partially submerged in the sea at high tide and was found on Changi and St. John's Island. According to Tomlinson, it is found 'in rocky foreshores and more exposed mangrove associations'.

Apparently the Mentigi at Changi had been washed away some years earlier. Angie wrote this article about its passing in the Nature News newsletter of the Nature Society (Singapore):

Farewell Pemphis
Story and photo: Angie Ng
From Nature News Jan-Feb 2007 (PDF)
Newsletter of the Nature Society (Singapore)

A storm has toppled the familiar Pemphis acidula (Lythraceae) bush at the Changi spit in early November 2006. To those of us whose eyes inevitably fall fondly on this heritage plant when we board the bumboat to Ubin, this is indeed a tremendous loss!
For years, this lonely coastal bush had patiently waited to be accorded heritage status. Now it seems to have suffered the same fate as the Hopea sangal. Curiously, both fell during the Clean and Green month of November, though not in the same year!

The short, weak stump may yet survive — a few shoots have sprung up from its still buried roots. Some compost from the nearby trees has been strewn over the stump, now protected by a makeshift barrier of wooden pegs. Someone has also cut its old trunk into three and planted them near the stump.

The good news is that Dr Jean Yong from the NIE has been propagating Pemphis acidula for reforestation projects in the mangrove and coastal areas.

And Dr John Yong as usual, had a hand in trying to save this special tree and replant it in our other mangroves. Here's a story in the Nature Watch magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore).

The Solitary Last Tree at Changi
by Jean Yong in The Struggle for Survival on Nature Watch, a magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)

Mentigi (Pemphis acidula)
The very last Mentigi tree in Singapore grows at the Changi Point Beach Park. It is a four-metre-tall tree with small leaves and white flowers. Sadly, I could not find any young plants growing naturally under the tree and so I collected some seeds and germinated them under the usual laboratory conditions. It was a joy to see some of the seeds germinating in the petri-dishes after several weeks. When these seedlings were about 30 cm tall, they were planted along the banks of Sungei Api Api.

Mentigi is now also found on Pulau Biola, where several large trees grow like giant bonsai with gnarled trunks, twisting among the natural cliffs and rocky shore. I've not managed to see the plant at St. John's or Pasir Ris. Must take a closer look the next time I am at these shores.

How lovely it would be to see more of this beautiful plant on our shores. Perhaps at Chek Jawa? Wow!


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


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