Tuesday, 28 December 2010

SecretGarden @ Penang

A trip to the northern island of Penang, Malaysia usually ends up in heritage sightseeing or food hunting.  There are actually other Penang’s best that not many are aware of. 

Penang Botanic Gardens, established in 1884, the first botanic gardens in Malaysia, is a place not to be missed.  So are the Penang Hill, Penang National Park, Spice Garden, Tropical Fruit Farm, Butterfly Farm etc.

It was very unfortunate for me as I didn’t had the chance to visit Penang Hill.  The funicular train was not yet operational.   However I managed to ride the road tram at Penang Botanic Gardens, briefly though, no thanks to the unpredictable tropical rain.   I visited the Butterfly Farm at Teluk Bahang too, but in a hasten manner.   

Yet, I did encountered some plants at places least expected.

At Fort Cornwallis, Captain Sir Francis Light’s statue stood high by a Areca catechu, locally known as pokok pinang, the betel nut palm, of which the island gets its name.  

Also at Fort Cornwallis, a tiny purple peanut-like legume shyly grows at a corner.  I had yet learn its real name.
( Ongzi 2014 :  oh ! it''s Desmondium triflorum )

On a wooden crossing, a Ficus religosa quietly encroaching its roots.  

Then, at the Clan Jetties, I spotted a pot of malnutrition Catharanthus roseus.   Yet, the greens still capable of portraying a great contrast to the grayish wooden plank.

The locals selling nutmeg oil fronting their homes, also displaying some Myristica fragrans’ seeds.

Finally, at Penang Botanic Gardens, before it rains, I snapped a few photos of the infamous cannonball trees, Couroupita guianensis.  They were still in flowering stage, no cannonball-fruit sighted.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Rare Fruits of MAHA 2010

Averrhoa bilimbi – Belimbing Buluh
Family : Oxalidaceae
Origin : Moluccas
Uses : eaten fresh ; condiment ; pickled

Carissa carandas – Asam Renda, Kerenda, Kalakai
Family : Apocynaceae
Origin : India
Uses : pickles ; folk medicine for anaemia.

Cynometra cauliflora – Namu-namu, Buah Katak Puru
Family : Fabaceae
Origin : Malesia
Uses : eaten fresh

Diospyros digyna – Black Sapote
Family : Ebenaceae
Origin : Central America
Uses : eaten fresh ; unripe fruit as fish poison.

Diospyros discolour – Buah Mentega
Family : Ebenaceae
Origin : Philippines
Uses : n.a.

Ficus ariculata - Ara
Family : Moraceae
Origin : India
Uses : eaten fresh ; dried. 

Flacourtia jangomas – Rukam Manis
Family : Salicaceae
Origin : India
Uses : eaten fresh ; jam ; folk medicine.

Garcinia prainiana Cherapu
Family : Clusiaceae
Origin : n.a.
Uses : eaten fresh

Garcinia atrroviridis – Asam Gelugur
Family : Clusiaceae
Origin : Malesia
Uses : spice

Inga edulis – Ice-Cream Bean
Family : Fabaceae
Origin : South America
Uses : n.a.

Myristica fragrans – Buah Pala, Nutmeg
Family : Myristicaceae
Origin : Moluccas
Uses : Spice ; Juiced ; Dried.

Phyllanthus emblica  - Buah Melaka, Indian Gooseberry, Aamla
Family : Phyllanthaceae
Origin : n.a.
Uses : Eaten fresh ; cooked ; pickled ; folk medicine

Pouteria caimito – Abiu
Family : Sapotaceae
Origin : South America
Uses : eaten fresh ; folk medicine for cough, fever, diarrhea, bronchitis etc

Pouteria campechiana  - Canistel
Family : Sapotaceae
Origin : Central America
Uses : eaten fresh.

Rollinia deliciosa - Biriba
Family :  Annonaceae
Origin : South America
Uses : eaten fresh

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Star : Protecting Native Flora and Fauna

Tuesday November 23, 2010

Protecting native flora and fauna


Botanists are mapping the health of our native plants and the results so far are grim.

THE Shorea kuantanensis is no more. All that remains of it is a couple of faded, dried leaves and buds, taped to a piece of cardboard and stored in one of thousands of boxes filling the shelves of the vast Kepong Herbarium at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM).

We will never know how high the tree grows. Or the shade of green of its leaves. Or the colour of its blooms. We can only guess how its seedlings look like. The species was lost to science and mankind after the only area where it grew, the Bukit Goh forest reserve near Kuantan, Pahang, was cleared and planted over with oil palm.

Three other Peninsular Malaysia plants share the same fate as S. kuantanensis. The fern Oreogrammitis crispatula has not been seen in Bukit Larut, Perak, since 1952. Its cousin, Oreogrammitis kunstleri, was last collected from Gunung Ledang, Johor, in 1880. The Begonia eromischa disappeared after its forest home in Penang was turned into a farm.

If we don’t start protecting our native flora, all that remains in future may well be just pressed specimens in herbariums. - LOW LAY PHON / The Star

Now, we only know all these four plants from pressed specimens in the herbarium. With over half of Peninsular Malaysia’s original forests now replaced by townships, industrial sites, farms and estates, our wild native flora has certainly taken a beating.

The latest stock-take of our plant kingdom shows just how bad things are: of the 580 species and subspecies looked at so far, almost half face some degree of threat. The results are merely scratching the surface. With over 7,700 species left to study, more grim news might come.

The data is the culmination of the first five years of project Safeguarding the Plant Diversity of Peninsular Malaysia, undertaken by FRIM to update knowledge on our flora. It is our most ambitious project on plant biodiversity to date, and marks our first attempt to document, in detail, how our plants are faring in the wild.

“Previous work had only looked at the description and distribution of species. This project goes one step further to include their conservation status (such as whether the species is endangered),” says botanist Dr Saw Leng Guan, who heads the project. Saw is director of the Tropical Forest Biodiversity Centre at FRIM.

The effort is much needed as there are gaps in our understanding of native plants. Although Peninsular Malaysia has a long history of botanical collection, with naturalists and botanists gathering and documenting plant specimens since the 1800s, much of the information has not been updated for years.

Lost forever: All that’s left of Shorea kuantanensis is the pressed specimens (the page on extreme right) being held by botanist Dr Saw Leng Guan. Now considered extinct, the tree species is known from only the Bukit Goh forest reserve near Kuantan, an area that has been cultivated with oil palm.
Our earliest floristic account was the six-volume The Flora Of The Malay Peninsula by Henry Ridley, published between 1922 and 1925. Over the years, attempts to revise the knowledge have been scattered, limited or confined to plant families of economic importance (such as timber trees) or of personal interest to scientists (such as ferns, orchids and begonias). As such, we have plant groups, such as lianas, which have not been reviewed since Ridley’s time.

The FRIM project has so far resulted in three publications, with more to come: two volumes of Flora Of Peninsular Malaysia (one on seed plants and one on ferns and leucophytes) and one volume of the Malaysian Plant Red List (on dipterocarp trees). The Flora Of Peninsular Malaysia compilations contain the most up-to-date information on 580 species, covering taxonomic descriptions, botanical drawings, distributions, ecology, and conservation status.

The updated information will provide baseline information that is essential for the management and conservation of Peninsular Malaysia’s botanical treasure trove. Aside from the four extinct species, FRIM researchers documented 262 species (45.2%) as threatened, out of which 79 are critically endangered, 88 are endangered and 95, vulnerable. They found that restricted and declining distribution, due to loss of natural habitats, is the greatest threat to plants. A reduction in population size and small numbers of mature individuals are the other causes.

Aside from vetting herbarium specimens, FRIM researchers have gone on the ground to collect and document plants under the Safeguarding the Plant Diversity of Peninsular Malaysia project.

The Malaysian Plant Red List is a brief version of the Flora as its focus is on the conservation status of plants. The first volume focuses on dipterocarpaceae, an important timber group and the dominant family in lowland forests. Aside from the extinct S. kuantanensis, the Red List revealed 15 dipterocarps to be critically endangered and 35, endangered. Of the critically endangered species, six are peninsula endemics.

“Dipterocarps are the skeleton of the forest from where other plants grow. They form the canopy of the forest and if removed, other plantlife will be affected. By doing this (the Red List), we will know the response of the forest to threats,” says Saw.

Plant scrutiny

To revise the scientific knowledge on our plants, the researchers start by first vetting the 300,000 dried specimens – some dating back 100 years, and the oldest one is dated 1819! – in the Kepong Herbarium. From there, the distributions of the species are plotted on a map and then collated with the extent of forest cover; this narrows down the range of plants in our present day.

If the habitat of a species is gone, that species is likely to be gone, too. From there, the researchers determine the level of threat faced by the species, whether critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, based on the criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Cross-referencing is done with collections and information from herbariums in Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and the Netherlands, as well as with agencies such as the Forestry Department.

“It is impossible to go to the ground to look for all the plants as this will take too long. But for some 40 highly endangered plants, including the rare ones and those feared to be extinct, we went out to the field to do population counts,” says Saw.

In their pursuit to document local flora, the researchers found both good and bad news. One good news is the discovery of Dryobalanops beccarii in Peninsular Malaysia. The plant was previously found only in Borneo. The bad news is that one population of the critically endangered Vatica yeechongii in Setul forest reserve in Negri Sembilan has been wiped out by building construction. The only other population of the species, described only in 2002, in Sungai Lalang forest reserve in Selangor, is safe – but it has all of 10 trees.

“We have lost much of our forests, so the range of distribution for most species has declined. That’s why we have such a high number of threatened species,” explains Saw.

Malaysia has 15,000 plants species; Peninsular Malaysia hosts 8,300 species while Sabah and Sarawak, 12,000.

Saw estimates that revising all of the species found in the peninsula will take at least 20 years. The Flora Of Peninsular Malaysia features two series to cover all our plants. Series I, on Ferns and Lycophytes, will have another four to five volumes. Series II is on Seed Plants and 20 volumes are expected. Future publications of the Malaysian Plant Red List will be on begonias and palms.

To accomplish all this, funds are sorely needed. The initial RM7mil provided by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry covered only the first phase from 2005 to 2010. Saw says funding for botanical inventories usually comes up short despite the importance of such research. “By identifying what species are threatened, we can then do something about it. Very often, we act in ignorance. People do not have the right information to make the right decisions. The key is generating the data to give the right information.”

He cites the example of Hopea subalata or merawan kanching, an endemic that grows only in Kanching forest reserve in Selayang, Selangor. When FRIM botanists heard that a new road, the Rawang bypass, would cut through the only known site where the trees grow, they immediately appealed to the Forestry Department and the state government. The road was subsequently realigned.

In a similar case, the Forestry Department set aside 63ha within Jerangau forest reserve in Terengganu as a “genetic resource area”, protecting it from loggers, after the critically endangered Dipterocarpus sarawakensis (keruing layang) was found there. This may well be the last population of the species in Peninsular Malaysia as the other population in Sungai Dadong could no longer be located.

Yet another positive conservation example is that of the critically endangered Dipterocarpus semivestitus (keruing padi). Historical records show that the species grows only in two places: central Kalimantan and Perak. The species was feared to be all but lost as the sites in Perak, in the freshwater swamps of Parit, Sungai Rotan and Sungai Tinggi, have been taken over by tin mining.

In 2006, a FRIM researcher found D. semivestitus in a patch of freshwater swamp in the Universiti Teknologi Mara campus in Seri Iskandar, Perak. Unfortunately, the site was to be cleared for new buildings.
After consultation, the university authorities agreed to make changes to their expansion plans. Although some trees were sacrificed, 53 stands remain. FRIM is working with the university to preserve the swamp as the trees survive on fluctuations of the water table.

“This is likely the last population of D. semivestitus in the world as the central Kalimantan population is most likely gone as the area has been planted with oil palm. So it is fortunate that the university was responsive to our suggestions,” says Saw.

But there is also bad news. The limestone hill where the endangered begonia Senyumia minutiflora grows is earmarked for quarrying by YTL Cement. The hyper-endemic species is restricted to the two adjacent limestone hills of Gunung Senyum and Gunung Jebak Puyuh in Pahang. Only 60 plants have been seen so far. Saw says several letters appealing for conservation of the plant drew no response from YTL and the state government.

Protection plan

To best protect threatened plants, Saw says we need to pinpoint important plant areas (IPAs), which are sites rich in plant diversity and endemic species, and protect them. IPAs for dipterocarps and palms include the Kledang Saiong Range in Perak, north-west Negri Sembilan-East Selangor, Terengganu, as well as central and east Johor.

It is high time the Government provided legal protection for our plants. Right now, plants are not shielded under any legislation. Only those that happen to grow in protected areas such as state or national parks or wildlife reserves, are safeguarded.

“Critically endangered species should be listed in an Act and automatically protected. With such a legal instrument, if an endangered species is found, the land owner or developer will be required by law to protect it. Now, protection is just based on goodwill.”

We also need to move into spe-cies recovery and restoration of the most threatened species. Conser-vation actions include monitoring the populations to determine their health; developing conservation measures to remove the threats; initiating protection and recovery programmes; and initiating ex-situ conservation programmes to aid recovery (such as artificial breeding and genetic conservation).

“The Government has to take more serious action to protect our species. Once a plant is extinct, it’s gone forever. There’s no going back,” stresses Saw.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Expedition to Klang Gates Quartz Ridge

Klang Gates Quartz Ridge is the home to 5 endemic plant species :
Eulalia milsumi, Aleisanthia rupestris, Ilex praetermissa, Borreria pilulifera, and Henckelia primulina.


This is Aleisanthia rupestris. 
The flower seems yet to fully bloom, later in the day perhaps.

This elegant tree dominates the top of the ridge.
This pine-look tree even have needle-like leaves,
if not of its tiny white flowers, I would have mistakenly them as a pine or a pine-allied.
Its a Baeckea frutescens

These pink flowered trees grow abundantly at the top.
Nice, isn't it ?

a lone ferm struggling on a rock

a Poaceae spikelets

a tiny Arachis sp. / Zornia sp. ???

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Alstonia angustiloba - Pulai

Alstonia angustiloba Miq. ( synonym : Alstonia angustiloba var.glabra Koord. & Valeton., Alstonia calophylla Miq., Alstonia iwahigensis Elmer, Paladelpha angustiloba ( Miq.) Pichon ) is a species of evergreen tree in the Apocynacee family originated from S.E.Asia.  It is commonly called common pulai, pulai bukit, pulai lilin, pulantan bubur, pantung,  tombailik, gite, hanju latung, etc.

The name ‘Alstonia’ was named by Robert Brown in 1811, after Charles Alston (1685-1760), a Professor of botany at Edinburgh from 1716-1760.  ‘angustiloba’ means small lobes.

A fat-growing, medium-seized tree capable to reach up to 45m in height.  At full size, develop fluted buttresses.  Often split into two or more upright stems.  Outer bark brown , rough.  White latex in trunk and leaves when cut.  
Leaves are simple whorled.  Leaf oblong, tip obtuse to acute,  Petiole 10-20mm long.
Flower hermaphroditic.  Inflorescence terminal, flower white, tubular.  Usually 2 umbels above each other.
Fruits long thin follicles, seeds with tufts of hair at both ends, dispersed by wind.

The trees are often deciduous at irregular intervals.  
They do not flower at every leaf-change, but only after marked periods of dry weather.  Pollination is by insects.

Propagation is by seeds. Germination of fresh seed is nearly 100%.  Cleft grafting and inverted T-grafting also have been found to be successful.


Food : The latex provides a good quality chewing gum. 

Timber : The wood yield a good quality pulp for paper production.   It is used for pencil, matches, crates, patternmaking, corestock, plywood, carving and mouldings.  In Ceylon, coffins are made of this light wood. 

Landscape : It is also used in landscape as ornamental tree.  

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Hemerocallis flava - 金针/ 萱草/Daylily

Hemerocallis fluva( 金针/ 萱草/ daylily )
Synonym : Hemerocallis citrina
Order : Asparagales | Family : Hemerocallidaceae

The name Hemerocallis derives from Greek words μέρα (hēmera) "day" and καλός (kalos) "beautiful". 

The flower is strictly day-opening.  Opening in the morning and closing in the evening of the same day.

It is native to Asia, from the Caucasus  through the Himalaya to China, Japan and southearstern Russia.  4 varieties may be recognized in China : kwanso, aurantiaca, fluva and angustifolia.

H. fluva is originally a diploid plant.  Most hybrids are tetrapoids.  However, the kwanso variety is a tripoid.  Tripoids and tetrapoids plants cannot seed, they reproduces only by stolons and division.

In the United States and Canada, H. fluva and H fluva longituba has become an invasive species.

The flowers are edible and are used in Chinese cuisine and medicine.  They are sold either fresh or dried.

see also :

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Trapa bicornis @ Mid-Autumn Festival

菱角 The water caltrop is the seed of an annual aquatic plant, Trapa bicornis of the family Lythraceae. The generic name Trapa is derived from the Latin word for “thistle”.


The water caltrop’s submerged stem reaches 12 – 15 ft in length, anchored into the mud.

It has 2 types of leaves : finely divided feather-like submerged leaves borne along the length of the stem ; and undivided floating leaves borne in a rosette at the water surface. The floating leaves have saw-tooth edges and are avoid or triangular in shape, 2 – 3 cm long.

4-petalled white flowers form in early summer and are insect pollinated.

Fruit is a nut, barbed spines. Seeds can remain viable for up to 12 years.

Economic Importance

Native to warm temperate of Eurasia and Africa, it has been cultivated in China and India for at least 3,000 years. The seeds, which after boiled are consumed as snack or medicine.

It was introduced to North America around 1874, escaped cultivation and become an invasive species in Florida, North Carolina, and Washington.

In Australia, it is declared a noxious weed in the state of New South Wales.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Jewels of Klang Gates Quartz Ridge

Klang Gates Quartz Ridge ( KGQR ) is the longest quartz ridge in the world spanning 14km and soars to 380m at its highest point.   It is also the single largest pure dyke in the world

Survey indicated at least 265 plant species thrive at its surrounding and at the ridge what botanist called an island habitat of which 5 are endemic.  Isolated, vegetation at the ridge top differs from those of surrounding areas.  

 A tree with needle-like leaves grow abundantly at the rocky mountain top.   Found only in Peninsular Malaya and Sumatra, the tree can also be found on sandy coasts.

The grass-looking Eulalia milsumi  ( Poaceae ) is a rare plant that grows only on the ridge and nowhere else in the world.

Other endemics plants are small woody shrub, Aleisanthia rupestris ( Rubiaceae ), the small tree Ilex praetermissa ( Aquifoliaceae ), the wiry herb Borreria pilulifera ( Rubiaceae ), and the ground herb Henckelia primulina ( Gesneriaceae ).

A National Parks & Wildlife Department survey carried out in 1985 found the tracks of  5 serows ( kambing gurun - Naemorhedus sumatraensis ), but it’s anyone guess how many are still around today.

The proposed KL Outer Ring Road ( KLORR ) from Selayang to Cheras, cutting though KGQR, Selangor State Park, the forest reserves of Hulu Gombak, Ampang and Hulu Langat, will surely disturb the unique ecosystem. 

Sign the Petition to Stop the KLORR.

Copied from :
1. Malaysian Nature Society – Selangor Greenbook.

My Reference :
1 Tan Cheng Li, Plants in Peril, the star online, 4 May 2010.
2. Wong K.M., et al, 2008, Ecological Aspects of Endemic Plant Population on Klang Gates Quartz Ridge, a Habitat Island in Peninsular Malaysia, Biodivers Conserv (2010) 19:435-447.
3. Journal of the Federated Malay States Museums, Vol II, 1909, pg249.
4. http://www.wwf.org..my/

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Plant Growth : Nutrients

Essential elements
Carbon ( C ) , Hydrogen ( H ) ,& Oxygen ( O).

Essential elements ( Arnon and Stout, 1939) :
-        A plant must be unable to complete its life cycle in the absence of the mineral element.
-        The function of the element must not be replaceable by another mineral element.
-        The element must be directly involved in plant metabolism.

Macronutrients ( 大量元素):
Nitrogen(  N ) , Phosphorus( P ) , Potassium( K )
Secondary : Calcium( Ca ) , Magnesium( Mg ) ,&  Sulfur( S ).         

Macronutrients are consumed in large quantities.  They are present in plant tissue in quantities from 0.2% - 4%.

Micronutrients ( 量元素 ) ( Trace elements ) :
Chlorine ( Cl ) , Iron ( Fe ) , Manganese ( Mn ) , Boron ( B ) , Zinc ( Zn ) , Copper ( Cu ) , Molybdenum ( Mo ) & Nickel ( Ni ).  

Micronutrients are present in plant tissue in small quantities.

Beneficial Elements :
Silicone ( Si ) ,&  Cobalt ( Co ).   

Beneficial elements are those that  :
-        can compensate for toxic effects of other elements or
-        may replace mineral nutrients in some other less specific function e.g. the maintenance of osmotic pressure.

The omission of beneficial nutrients in commercial production could mean that plants are not being grown to their optimum genetic potential but are merely produced at a subsistence level.

The beneficial elements have not been deemed essential for all plants but may be essential for some.

e.g. Cobalt is essential for nitrogen fixation in legumes. It may also inhibit ethylene formation ( Samimy, 1978 ) and extend the life of cut roses ( Venkatarayappa et al., 1980 ).

e.g. Silicon is deposited in cell walls, has been found to improve heat and drought tolerance and increase resistance to insects and fungal infections. Silicon can help compensate for toxic levels of manganese, iron, phosphorus and aluminum as well as zinc deficiency.