Sunday, December 30, 2012

A new Clover-leaf Desmodium in Singapore?

I’m back in Bidadari Cemetery to finish up taking photos of plants before the place is razed to become a HDB estate. Together with another enthusiastic lover of wildflowers, we went searching for macro subjects.


One of the oddities I found was this little herb. The leaves are clearly Desmodium triflorum but the flowers are white instead of purple!


The purple flower Desmodium triflorium grows just beside the white one on the same grass patch. I tried to see if they belong to the same individuals by tracing their creeping horizontal stems but they are apparently not.


This is another similar species, Desmodium heterophyllum but it has larger leaves and the flowers are also starkly different close-up. The white flower Desmodium however is similar to D. triflorium in every aspect. I wonder if it is a variety or an entirely new species yet to be recorded in Singapore? :x

Update: Was just updated that this might indeed be just a variety of Desmodium triflorium. Oh well..

Monday, December 24, 2012

My new website!

This took me 6 full months of hard work, from one who only knows how to read a few lines of html to designing an entire website from scratch. So here, I am proud to announce my new website: Urban Forest: An Identification Guide to the Flora of Singapore and Southeast Asia @


Join its FACEBOOK page to keep yourself updated about the latest species featured in this website!

A gratitude for the Botany Lab in NUS where I worked for the past 3 years. Almost everything in this website is from what I have absorbed and learnt from through the guidance and patience of my colleagues and boss.

Thanks also to Long and Ron for their advice on web design and pushing me to set a higher standard for myself. Some will probably squirm in terror if they see version 1 of my website. Haha~

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bidadari Trees

The now defunct Bidadari Cemetery consists of a big parcel of open space and a forested area. I love the former because the openness of the area with the carpet of greenery gives me an unspeakable sense of awe.


Many of the trees which stand individually have the space to grow to their full size without restriction. It is just amazing to appreciate their size and form, not to mention that they serve as excellent models for me to collect nice photographic memories of them.



An Acacia auriculiformis with a Ficus benjamina growing on it. The stray branch extending on the left reminded me of our iconic heritage tree (Fagraea fragrans) in the botanic gardens which had graced the back of our S$5 note.


Pithecellobium dulce. I have been looking for a nice lone specimen for awhile, and this is probably the best place to take a shot of it. The straggly branches make it a very identifiable species from afar.


The Indian Mango, Mangifera indica. This huge tree was fruiting profusely when I was there. The mangoes are rounded compared to the typical ovate ones. Probably one of the many cultivars of the species. The tree also hosts many species of epiphytes.


Tembusu trees (Fagraea fragrans) typical form is an architecture wonder. Its primary branches will branch into many upright spokes.


This Livistona rotundifolia palm (I think) is so tall that it is more than twice the height of the Angsana trees in the background! Beats me on why there is a need to grow so damn high, since there are zero competitors for sunlight in the surroundings.




I have seen many larger Ficus benjamina trees but this particular one captured my attention more than anyone else, probably because of its extensive drooping leaves.


Another of the same fig species (Ficus benjamina) but this time it comes in two. The two towering figs serves as a majestic gateway for the uncle with his two adorable dogs - Beacon and Dognut, as he lovingly told me earlier. The yellow leaves from the tree on the left is actually a mistletoe, Viscum ovalifolium.

And so, a tribute to the “heritage” trees of Bidadari, before they will be fell for residential development next year. I hope at least some will be conserved!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Whiskered Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

I have always wondered two things when I passed by two Wrightia religiosa shrubs in Punggol Park:

  1. Why couldn’t I find the seeds of the Wrightia so that I can take pictures of them when the fruit ripes?
  2. Why do I always see the female Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) on the shrub?

Today, the mystery is finally solved. Seems like both questions lingering in my mind are related.


The flowerpecker actually collects the fluffy seeds of the Wrightia religiosa! What the bird was perching on is actually one end of the split fruit. Most members of the family Apocynaceae splits and have wind dispersed fruits like this.


The bird was really very hardworking in collecting the seeds. In fact, it managed to clean up the seeds of the two opened fruits in its mouth! Having so much white hair sticking out at this angle made it looked as if it had grown a crazy length of moustache. Haha~


When I went home to process the images, I noticed that the bird was perching on a Malayan Mistletoe (Dendrophthoe pentandra) parasitising on the Wrightia in one of the pictures. Another on its right has already germinated. It is likely to be the dispersal agent for the mistletoe since I have read accounts of it feeding on the mistletoe’s fruits.

Unfortunately the offspring of these Wrightia are not so lucky. Looking at pictures of the flowerpecker’s nest, they will probably end up as the ingredients for a warm and cosy home for the bird’s chicks.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some city biodiversity in Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City is formerly known as Saigon prior to the Vietnam War which ended in 1975, but people still used the latter name frequently. This is a continuation of my previous post, showing some of the biodiversity which can be found here. The flora and fauna life listed here is certainly not exhaustive, as there are many which I did not feature here. It is just a matter of showing what I think are the more interesting ones in this post.


The city, just like Singapore is pretty abundant with mistletoes. Mistletoes are semi-parasitic plants that attached on its host tree and derive water and nutrients from it.


All of the mistletoes I saw seemed to be an unknown species of Dendrophthoe, which have yellow flowers. I was browsing through the Flora of Vietnam in the library the other day and I was unable to find a close identity. It doesn’t help that the book is in Vietnamese too…


Many of their cultivated tree species are also commonly planted in Singapore. An example is this Tanjong Tree, Mimusop elengi. I was trying to take a photo of the flowers when a bee decided to steal the limelight. :)


I must be quite ignorant because this is the first time I saw the Flame of the Forest tree (Delonix regia) fruiting with their large seed pods! I don’t think I have seen it in Singapore yet. But I guess they planted it more in this city then compared to Singapore, making it more obvious when the whole row of Delonix fruits.


This is one of the two larger parks which I visited near my hotel in District 1. It is a rather pleasant respite from the blazing sun. It is pretty quiet on a working day morning…


But during the weekends, many come for a jog or walk, and also play badminton and other sports.


At night, my friends brought me to another park to chit-chat. I was amazed to see it to be filled with people (mostly teenagers and young adults). They told me that it is always packed at night. What a big contrast with our parks here.


The next morning, I went to Tao Dan Park, beside the reunification palace. Two Ang Mohs were learning martial arts from a Vietnamese girl on the right. And I must say… they were pretty good at it!


Some of the trees are tagged. I doubt most park visitors were interested but it is definitely well appreciated by me.


I was rewarded with some interesting fauna life after lingering around the park looking up at the large trees. This is a Golden Tree Snake (Chrysopelea ornata; thanks Ivan for the ID). It slithered quickly into a hole on the tree when I saw it.


I initially thought that this was a baby Plantain Squirrel that is very common in Singapore till I realised that the strips was at the wrong side.


There are four distinct white stripes on its back (compared to two on the Plantain Squirrel’s belly). It looked similar to the Himalayan Striped Squirrel (Tamiops macclellandi) but I can’t be sure since the IUCN only put its range in Vietnam as North Vietnam only.


I find this street (Truong Dinh Street) which cuts through the park quite aesthetic because of the tall pillars of Dipterocarps (Dipterocarpus alatus) flanking the roadside.


To my Vietnamese friends, the spinning dipterocarp fruits are already a common sight for them. But they are much revered for students of biology in Singapore (at least that is what I feel) since these primary forest species are few and very much threatened in our remaining forests.

After visiting a few Southeast Asian countries, I am of the opinion that Singapore probably put in the most resources in urban greening; hence deserving of the title of “Garden City”. However, Ho Chi Minh City also hold a special place in me because of its giant Dipterocap trees which have probably been here for a century.

Till we meet again, Vietnam!

 Related posts:

1) Giant trees of Ho Chi Minh City
2) Tree climbers in Ho Chi Minh City

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tree climbers in Ho Chi Minh City

I was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for a holiday for the past week. It was an enjoyable trip during which I spent two mornings sitting in the park observing the people around. And the main highlight was definitely the gung-ho tree pruners.

I am not sure how the contractors in Singapore prune the trees in parks, but I am pretty certain that they do not do it like their Vietnamese counterparts!


Basically, these people use a rope system to physically hurl themselves up the tree, saw down the unwanted branches and climb down again. Of course, this is easier said then done (though it certainly does seemed like that it was a piece of cake for them).


Firstly, a rope was thrown up a branch and the end was secured to the pruner. An assistant will then hold on to this rope to help him climb up the trunk. The selected pruner, barefooted for better grip I guess, wrapped a thicker band of rope around the trunk, secured to his harness and started to ascend quickly.

Once up, a saw was delivered to him using a rope pulley system. Just prior to the pruning, the same rope used to pull him up was used to secure a large branch which needs to be removed. You can roughly see this knot on the branch in the picture below.


And so, the sawing starts…


The branch he was sawing was pretty large as you can see here. the secured rope was tugged by the ground men to pull it down once the branch was partly snapped from the sawing.


I decided to take a walk around the park at this time, and returned to the same spot about half and hour later. By then, the guy has already removed enough foliage to fill up a trunk.


And… he was up about 10 metres high… His only safety net is nothing more than a rope secured on the tree branch. If he fell, he will surely suffer a spine-snapping injury from the force of the rope holding him, just like when Bruce Wayne fell during his failed attempts in the dungeon prison climb to the surface in recent Batman movie.

Worse still, the entire branch could break under his weight.


Obviously, he is immune to the fear of heights and still diligently saw the next few branches, taking a few seconds of break once in awhile if the branch is too thick.


It is probably best to be just be the assistants and lend some morale support.

Keep a lookout for my next post of my encounters of the the flora and fauna of Ho Chi Minh City!

Related posts:

1) Giant trees of Ho Chi Minh City
2) Some city biodiversity in Saigon

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Champerai Trail on National Day

It has been more than 6 months since I last visited a forest in Singapore. This year has been an especially interesting one, since I have changed a few of the priorities of my life because of some chance events. Nevertheless, I am glad to say that my obsession with plants did not falter.

Since I have a bit of time to spare this morning, I decided to head down MacRitchie Reservoir for a walk around the Champerai Trail to familiarised myself back with its floral life.


I was in luck! The Bats Laurel, Prunus polystachya, was showing off its fluffy white flowers during national day.


The entire tree was flowering profusely as you can see.


In cahoots with the Bat’s Laurel, the Aidia densiflora also decided to show off its national pride by hanging out their bright and red berries. It was really quite a spectacle to behold when almost all of these individuals along the boardwalk decorated the landscape in these dots of red.


Not to be left behind, a few Clerodendrum laevifolium managed to display its black fruits flanked by its red starry sepals.


From my writing, I was in an obvious cheerful mood today. Three Pacific Swallows also shared my joy by whistling loudly and flying back and fro to a low lying branch.


There is a plant whose identity eluded me, for now. Looks like it did not managed to get its fruits ripen in time for this festive season though.

It is quite unfortunate that most of the visitors who venture to this nature reserve gave scant notice to the rich and beautiful flora life here. So if you happen to be one of them, open your eyes wide next time!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Feeding birds in Punggol Park

Ever since I bought my tele-zoom lens, I have been attempting to document photographic records of bird feeding records of plants. This was partially motivated by the BESG blog, as well as my previous job which emphasises on the importance of plants’ ecosystem services. For one, having a better knowledge of what plants certain guild of birds prefer helps a practitioner to decide on the species and diversity of plants to cultivate in order to attract a rich bird diversity.

This post is a continuation from my previous one introducing Punggol Park but with emphasis on bird feeding.


The Tea Tree (Melaleuca cajuputi), attracts a good abundance of nectar feeders, which includes bees, butterflies, the Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis; top left) and the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis; top right). I also managed to spot an Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus; bottom) poking into the flower buds, presumably attempting to extract some nectar too.


The Coral Tree (Erythrina species; left) and the Clitoria Tree (Clitoria fairchildiana, right) are two small trees that flower perpetually, therefore providing a good nectar source for the Olive-backed Sunbirds.


The most common mistletoe in Singapore, the Malayan Mistletoe (Dendrophthoe pentandra) is frequently visited by the Brown-throated Sunbird when it flowers.

Syzgium polyanthum-bird

The Salam Tree (Syzygium polyanthum), flowers and fruits profusely several times a year. Its cherry red fruits attract frugivores like the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier; top), Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea; bottom), and Pink-necked Green Pigeon in the park.


The Yellow-vented Bulbul also feed on many other plant materials here; like the fruits of the Sea Gutta (Planchonella obovata), and even the leaves of the Rain Tree (Albizia saman)!


The Pied Triller (Lalage nigra; top) and Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia; bottom) are two birds which often hang around the canopy of trees, hence they are more challenging for me to capture sharp photographs. However, I did observe quite clearly through the lens of my binoculars (supported by blurry images) that they will hop from twig to twig in search of caterpillars. The two pictures were taken from the Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistula), thus indicating that the caterpillars could be the larvae of the Lemon Emigrant butterfly which feed on its leaves and are very common in the park.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Flowerpecker eating Myrmecodia fruits

I was in Sarawak for the past week, and spent a few days in Kuching. One of the most interesting flora there was probably the epiphytic ant plant, Myrmecodia species, which can be found in reasonable abundance in the city. The species is likely to be M. tuberosa, which is also found in heath forest of the nearby Bako National Park. In Singapore, the species is already presumed extinct.

The ant plant have a swollen spiny base with many tunnels within that provided a protective nesting site for ants. In return, the waste left by the ants gave nourishment to the plant.

Scarlet-backed Sunbird with Myrmecodia fruit

I was taking photos of the plant growing on a Yellow Flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum) beside the road when I saw a tiny bird flying to and pecking on the plant. Initially, I thought that it was picking up the ants residing in the plant. But on closer inspection of my photographs back in the hotel, it was holding the plant’s yellow-orange fruit with a red dot at its tip. The red head gave the bird’s identity away as a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum).


You can vaguely spot tiny dots of white on the stem of the prior photograph. Those are the flowers, which can be seen here from another ant plant which have fallen.

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