Beautiful blue fruits of the Lasianthus shrub

Lasianthus attenuatus RUBIACEAE from Macritchie

Lasianthus attenuatus RUBIACEAE

Picture taken by Lim Cheng Puay, Sunday 20 Oct 2013

This is a shrub found in Macritchie.  It belongs to the coffee family Rubiaceae which has opposite leaves and interpetiolar stipules on either side of the stem.  The striking metallic blue fruit is a drupe (a fruit that is fleshy and surrounding a pit or stone which has a hard shell with a seed inside) and is crowned by the calyx which shows that the ovary is inferior.

It’s challenging to identify plants from a tropical rainforest as diverse as that found in Macritchie but knowing family characteristics can help narrow down the identity. Its a pity we don’t know the forests we have better as they are much more diverse than many forests elsewhere.  But the diversity can be overwhelming and limit our understanding if we do not try to get to know it better.

More pictures and info from the websites below:  (Flora of Singapore) (Flora of China) (Wiki page on Rainforest plants from Wheaton College, Norton MA.)


Northeast monsoon 2011

The monsoon this December in Singapore has been quite pleasant and nicely marked the year’s passage.  But I am sure some have suffered the relentless downpour on certain days that are described as monsoon surges.






The info below taken from the FAQ site

Singapore has two main seasons, the Northeast Monsoon (December to March) and the Southwest Monsoon season (May to September), separated by two relatively shorter inter-monsoon periods. Although there are no distinct wet or dry periods, the mean monthly rainfall shows drier weather conditions from May to July and wetter conditions in the months from November to January. . February is also a relatively dry month. The beginning and end of the monsoons are usually not very well-defined. Hence, from year to year, there could be slight delay in the beginning or end of a monsoon period. This probably accounts for the monthly rainfall anomaly experienced from year to year.


Sumatras are line of thunderstorms which usually occur during the Southwest Monsoon season from May to October each year. These squalls develop at night over Sumatra or the Malacca Straits and move east towards Singapore and the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia during the pre-dawn and early morning. They are often characterised by sudden onset of strong gusty surface winds and heavy rain lasting from 1 to 2 hours as they move across the island. Maximum gusts of up to 50 knots have been recorded during the passage of a Sumatra squall.

This below is from the Monsoon update page from the

Northeast Monsoon

(Updated on 27 December 2011)

Northeast Monsoon conditions have set in over the region since mid-November 2011.  The Northeast Monsoon season typically starts with a wet phase (December to January) followed by a dry phase (February to early March). During the wet phase, the Northeast Monsoon season is characterized by short duration thundery showers in the afternoon and early evening, and about two to four episodes of monsoon surges. Monsoon surges refer to the steady strengthening of northeasterly winds blowing from the South China Sea. These monsoon surges usually bring periods of prolonged widespread moderate to heavy rain lasting two to five days, occasionally windy conditions and cooler temperatures. During the dry phase, generally drier and windy conditions can be expected.

Based on long-term statistics from our climate station, December is the wettest month of the year (287.4 mm), followed by November (255.9 mm) and January (241.3 mm) respectively. The mean daily minimum temperature is lowest for January (23.3 deg Celsius), followed by December (23.5 deg Celsius) and February (23.6 deg Celsius).

The monsoon surge which has been affecting the region for the past several days has eased.  Windy conditions and passing showers in the afternoon are forecast for the next two days.  Short duration thundery showers in the afternoon can be expected for the rest of the week.

Sungei Buloh 18th Anniversary Walk 2011

Today a couple of us organized by Otterman took 109 participants around Sungei Buloh as part of our yearly celebration of the opening of Sungei Buloh in 1993. I have been doing this Sungei Buloh walk ever since I was a teaching assistant at NUS.  And now as a teacher, I bring students every now and then to the wetlands reserve.  I never get bored of it and every time I promise myself to sit and be more mindful of the migratory birds every december when I am free and when they are around.  Sungei Buloh at this time of the year is extremely pleasant and cool; no mozzies along the boardwalks and bird hides so there really is no excuse not to be there.  And it costs a $1 entry fee on weekends and public holidays for adults, 50cts for kids.

Anyway, the guides today are pretty well trained for this as most of us either have been teaching assistants bringing year one NUS students around this walk or have been trained by Siva or done this many times over.  Each year Siva issues the invites for us to guide but I missed last year as I was at Resorts World Sentosa with my family on a “staycation”; well no more RWS for me until the dolphins are set free so I this year I made sure I freed up the 1st week of december to guide (I sorely regretted my stay at RWS last year and missed out on the Sungei Buloh Anniversary Walk as a result).



That’s the Otterman doing a pre-walk briefing and handing out our registration slips and handouts to participants


Every guide is is on the ball as Siva barks orders in the Sungei Buloh visitor centre.



This handout apparently was done by Ria in 2003.  The back of it has a map drawn in a similar exuberant style.

The walk is centered around the visitor centre, bird hide (Station 1) and the mangrove boardwalk.  We all hope to see the Crocodile and Otters but really the highlight of Sungei Buloh at this time of the year are the migratory birds.  It’s always amazing to contemplate that these birds are overwintering and have flown from the northern hemisphere (as far as Siberia) to feed on the Sungei Buloh wetlands or use it as an important stopover before the fly further down under to Australia AND New Zealand


Before the September-March migratory season, a few resident birds are seen on the mudflats but by December, Sg Buloh mudflats teem with waders with names like Whimbrels, Redshanks, Sandpipers etc.  They aren’t that difficult to identify if you have a guidebook, binoculars and some patience.  This is the part where I encourage everyone (including myself) to spend some quiet time at the hide to observe and get to know the waders and some of the adaptations they have (different length bills) to reach different levels of mud for their food.  The scenery plus birds is sure to calm your soul.



That is Marcus (facing you), the youngest of the guides and most energetic of us; what a way to get people excited about the wildlife we have.



It was a pleasure to have ex-students in the crowd; they haven’t changed a bit – more mature but still crazy about nature.


I wonder what Oi Yee, our other energetic guide is pointing to over the sluice gates?



A contemplative guide, Cheng Puay –  he was pretty excited about seeing the croc surface.



2 of the triplets in the family I was guiding, looking for fish, anemones and mudskippers.  Most of the time I was really talking about what could be eaten or not…  It is a great way to introduce biodiversity of the mangroves as most of the things in the mangroves can provides a service to us.

I love pickled tree-climbing crabs in Thai papaya salads.  I had them in Bangkok once and they beat some of the sashimi I have tried.



That’s Marcus gesticulating nature.


That’s Bruguiera gymnorrhiza adding to the festive spirit.


Lighter moments towards the end of the walk.



The date of the Anniversary also happens to be Otterman’s birthday so we either get cake or this time a very satisfying Punjabi meal.

Pinanga vs Nenga. Gems in our forests


This is Pinanga malaiana.  Shown here are the fruits which are arranged in two vertical rows on opposite sides of each bright red fruiting branch.DSC08405

And this palm below is Nenga pumila var pachystachya.  Shown here are the fruits which are spirally arranged along each pale colored fruiting branch.



Both are lovely understorey palms that are native to Singapore’s forests (which by the way are fragments that are in dire need of conservation).




Avaaz – Save the saddest dolpins

Now the campaign to save the dolphins has gone global and by reputable group Avaaz at Save the saddest dolphin online petition. What a nice phenomenon and finally I feel the dolphins might have a chance of being free and perhaps we have a chance to redeem ourselves here in Singapore. I really admire the efforts by ACRES in their “Save the Saddest Dolphins” campaign.

What was RWS thinking? Anway, how can they use excuse that the dolphins can be used for “Interactive SPA” to heal the sick and disabled children. (I have no doubt dolphins make anyone feel better but it would be so wrong if the dolphins are captive). If RWS is really sincere about this, they should donate their earnings to hospitals, hospices and other organizations who are in a better position than an integrated resort whose main expertise is food, entertainment – namely gambling, to do these things.

If you want to know how many people are signing up go look at the window on the “recent signers highlighted in the screen capture below at their website for

A salak palm, once thought to be lost to Singapore…


This is Salacca affinis. It was thought to be extinct but I accidentally stumbled onto it while taking pictures of rattans. This local salak is a relative of the scaly buah salak that is eaten.

This salak is a palm of the peat swamps and has fronds that tower above our heads. At Nee Soon Swamp Forest, there is a cousin of this palm called Eleiodoxa conferta and looks much like it that dominates the wet swampy understorey. It was this other species that really caught my eye with its beautiful spines. See this picture.

Eleiodoxa conferta

This species can form a stand in the swamp and so it was really fortunate that I stumbled onto the salak. It was one among the many other Eleiodoxa palms in the swamp. The differences between the two are not apparent at first but the key thing is the arrangement of the lamina (leaf blades) of the fronds. Eleiodoxa has a flat frond due to the arrangment of the leaflets (so basically the leafs look like that of a coconut tree). Salacca affinis has a frond with clumped leaflets are regular intervals and the leaflets at each clump fan out. The spines also can be used to differentiate the two immediately. Eleiodoxa has those strikingly beautiful spines arranged like a comb around the leaf stalk.

Nee Soon Swamp is precious – things are still being discovered/rediscovered in this highly threatened habitat by the plant and animal research groups in NUS and NParks.

More details over here – Rediscovery in Singapore of Salacca affinis Griff. (Arecaceae). Nature in Singapore, 4: 123–126. [ PDF , 300 KB]

Accessible from volume 4 of Nature in Singapore:

A very small forest, the central catchment area is…

Last week I presented some of my students’ work at the 8th Flora Malesiana conference. It was on the gene flow of some species of native plants in Singapore (which included Rhopaloblaste singaporensis) and also a short highlight on palm distribution projects that I am starting with my current JC students. The gene flow work was from Shufen’s excellent work for her Honours thesis.

In preparation for one of the slides to show where the individuals of Rhopaloblaste singaporensis was collected (with permits from NParks) for the DNA sampling, I realised how small our Central Catchment Nature Reserve is. This area would include Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Macritchie reservoir, Pierce reservoir and Nee Soon Swamp forest.


I used Google Earth to measure the width of the Catchment area and what I got was a little over 5km at some points…. And then it dawned on me also that we could easily walk round Macritchie in 1.5 hours.

So that was one of those epiphanies I got in preparation for that talk and it lingers.

When I brought 2 of my students to map the distribution of palms in Macritchie, they told me their friends had asked them “why work on the forest palms when there are so many palm species in the urban landscape, along the wayside and in the gardens”… Well, it didn’t take too long, as we began to map and identify the forest species, before they realised that the forest species are special, threatened and misunderstood.