Wednesday, 13 July 2011

cecropia pachystachya

I chanced upon this magnificent tree along the green corridor over the weekend. Whilst trawling through the internet for its ID, I stumbled upon this paper​/bulletin2010/2010nis199-2​09.pdf published by the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS. According to the authors, there are 2 known species of Cecropias in Singapore; the more common Cecropia pachystachya and and less common Cecropia peltata. To give you an idea of their distribution in Singapore, the former is quite commonly found around the North-western part of the island. The latter has 2 known populations, both around Tyersall area.

There are about 61 species of Cecropia and they are generally small to medium-sized trees with few branches and with a candelabrum-like branching system. They have very large palmate and peltate leaves. They are generally considered pioneer trees which grow rapidly and thrive on disturbed areas such as areas razed by forest fires or open areas which are cleared for pasture. For this reason, they are considered invasive. They usually have succulent fruits which are sought after by many animals especially birds. Certain species like the Cecropia peltata are widely used in traditional medicine and every part of the plant is used to treat a diversity of ailments. Most species have a symbiotic relationship with ants which live in their hollow trunk. The ants in turn defend against attackers including creeping plants.

Propagation is usually through seed dispersal. However, I noticed little plantlets growing along the trunk and decided to pick a few to see if they can be rooted. I think they make a wild and exotic addition to any garden.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

new facebook page for 'journey through paradise'

This blog now has a Facebook Page . Check it out and press like to get regular updates. The purpose behind this FB page is not just to accompany the blog, but it serves as a more interactive platform to engage fellow plant and garden enthusiasts through comments, photo posting, sharing of tips etc.

Monday, 4 July 2011

going native

I am loving native plants at the moment. There is something distinctive about the look and feel of native plants in Singapore which I feel adds interest to any garden. Australia has an all out campaign to promote the cultivation and planting of native plants for conservation and environmental reasons. Whilst Singapore does not perhaps have the same dire reasons for such a campaign, I feel that the introduction, cultivation and planting of native plants into our gardens, pavement and wayside areas has many advantages.

A plant species qualifies as native if it has occurred naturally in a place over a very long time, and was not introduced or cultivated from other places. Because of this, they are naturally adapted to Singapore’s equatorial climate and will thrive well without unnecessary fuss and attention. The growth of such plants also contributes towards conservation, not only of Singapore natural heritage but also towards conserving rare or endangered species of plants which have been threatened by urbanisation and the invasive impact of exotic or alien species. Over and above that, native plants also attract native fauna like birds, butterflies and even animals such as the palm civet cat.

There are over 2000 native plant species recorded in Singapore. Out of this, some 81% have gone extinct or have become endangered. Only 19% can still be found commonly occurring in the wild.

So far, i’ve tried to plant as many native plants into the new garden as possible, either acquiring them through nurseries or through cuttings or seeds picked from the wild during some of my field trips. To-date, my collection are as follows:-

1. Tembusu (Fagraea fragans)
2. Paper Bark Tree (Melaleuca cajaputi)
3. Simpoh Ayer (Dillenia suffroticosa)
4. Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum)
5. Rose Myrtle (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa)
6. Rattleweed (Crotalaria retusa)
7. Stitled Simpoh (Dillenia grandifolia)
8. Cratoxylum cochinchinense

NParks has published an article about growing native plants in their newsletter My Green Space . Check it out!

Passiflora foetida

During my many field trips especially to areas which were formerly inhabited by villagers, I would often be on a look-out for the ‘lost’ plants of Singapore. These plants are ‘lost’ in the sense that they were either once common either as a native or cultivated plant but for some reason or other such as rapid development and urbanisation gone missing, extinct or have become endangered. Many of these plants cannot be found in our nursery trade, but most of which can be identified through various resources. Some of these plants have been mentioned and included in previous posts and I will continue to post updates every time I come across something ‘new’.

On Saturday, I was rewarded with another ‘new’ find. The ‘lost’ plant I had found was the Passiflora foetida (common names include Love-in-a-Mist, Stinking Passionflower or wild water lemon). This species was sighted before on the mainland by several people but the one I found was on Lazarus Island. The flowers of this species is very atypically Passiflora-like”, with the exception that they are much smaller (size of a 50 cent coin and somewhat waxy). However the main distinguishing factor is the fruit which is no more than 2 to 3cm in diameter is encased with leafy sepals. When ripe, the fruit turns yellow and the seeds are small and black and embedded in a juicy pulp.

The plant is allegedly protocarnivorous as the leafy sepals which encase the fruit are known to produce sticky, dew-like secretions containing digestive enzymes which help to trap insects. Whether it gains nourishment from its prey is uncertain.

It is called a Stinking Passionflower because the leaves produce an unpleasant odour when crushed. When ripe, the fruit is eaten as it is while the young leaves and plant tips are often used in tea or as medicine to relieve sleeping problems.

This species which is indigenous to the Amazon probably found its way to Singapore through cultivation as the fruit and leaves are edible. Whilst its status today is that of a weed, it is reportedly a useful weed as it is sometimes used as a ground cover at plantations. It also has an important ecological role as the young leaves and shoots are an important food source for Leopard Lacewings (Cethosa cyane) and Tawny Coaster (Acrarea terpiscore).

Friday, 1 July 2011

creating paradise from scratch

I thought it would be interesting to showcase the transformation of the garden from nothing to something. The whole process has taken me more than a month, mainly because I am only able to tend to the garden on weekends. Although most of the planting has been carried out, the garden is still very much work in progress because there are still some empty pockets plus it takes times before the plants to establish and “grow out”. Anyway, part of the fun of gardening is to add new plants from time to time, so one shouldn’t be too eager to fill it up.

The process started from the removal and replacement of the soil in the entire garden. Adhering to the advice of garden experts, I replaced about 1ft deep of soil throughout the entire garden. Mr Lee (from World Farm) who has been providing me with invaluable assistance and advice organised the transportation of levelling soil. In all, the garden needed about 7 ten tonne truckloads of levelling soil. I also ordered 5 jumbo bags of good quality mixed soil from Mr Lee and this was to be used when planting the larger trees and plants. Once the soil works were completed, the next stage was to transport all my plants from the old place. It’s amazing how I managed to pack everything into the old place, because it took all of 5 truck-loads to ship everything across. However, things were a little disorganised and chaotic at the point of dis-embarkation which resulted in plants being strewn all over the garden in a haphazard fashion. This increased my stress levels considerably as I had to work out where some of the more “precious” ones were located. I started to consolidate the plants into various locations based on 2 considerations; species and light/heat requirements. The ones which were more heat and light sensitive such as ferns, orchids, some costuses and alpinias had to be kept under a make-shift shade cloth area. The rest were pretty much at the mercy of the sun, especially at noon.

The next stage was the sourcing and buying of trees and other plants. I got my supply from World Farm in the end with much help from my friend Guan who works there. World Farm has been very helpful to the point where they would even deliver plants which I order through email even without me having to pay for them first. When choosing the trees, the 3 keywords I had in mind were “jungle”, “native”, biodiversity”. Essentially, I wanted to create a somewhat natural jungle paradise with a good mix palm trees, native plants, gingers, bromeliads, ferns and my all time favourite, costuses. To-date, I have more than 40 costus species and hybrids and plan on increasing this collection. I love costuses because they have lush foliage, possess beautiful spiralling forms, are extremely hardy and dead easy to maintain and cultivate. Plus, they are still relatively new as a landscape plant with only C. Woodsonii, C. Green Mountain, C. Osae and C. Curvibracteatus being used mostly.

I also wanted to go native not just because they are attractive and promote and encourage bio-diversity but also because a lot of them are under threat or are endangered due to rapid development and urbanisation. Plants like the Dillenia suffroticosa provide both shelter and food to a whole host of animals and birds. They are also a good ‘filler” for the garden and are quick and easy to grow. Other native plants and trees include the Tembusu (Fagrea fragrans), various ferns, the Singapore Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum), Dillenia grandiflora and these 2 young native trees which I have not managed to ID yet. These two, along with the Singapore Rhododendron were found growing in the garden before construction, so I decided to save them. I also uprooted a white form of the Singapore Rhododendron but sadly, it did not survive.

The last keyword is biodiversity. I wanted a garden which promoted and supported biodiversity. To this end, I grew plants which encourage would attract butterflies, nectar-loving birds, changeable lizards and various other insects, birds and mammals.

In terms of structure, the idea I had in mind was to create layers or different sections in the long garden; from modern and minimalist to general flowering shrubs followed a bromeliad section and a section for shade-loving plants such as licuala grandis, tree ferns and various gingers. The last section is the back garden where the tall trees and palms can be found, along with the majority of the costus, rare and exotic heliconias, calatheas, musas and much more. There are also 2 other sections located within the back garden; a section for fruit trees, herbs and vegetables and the other is a giant cage-like structure to house all my hanging plants like tillandsias and hoyas, as well as orchids and a nursery for young plants which I intend to cultivate.

Given that i’m a one-man show, progress will naturally be somewhat slow and I suppose the garden will perpetually be work-in-progress. But I think that is what gardening is all about and that’s what I enjoy about it.