Get to know these 9 well-known Heritage Trees

This story was first published on Nov 27, 2015 and updated on Sept 20, 2016

SINGAPORE - A heritage tree over 60 years old crashed through five apartments at Pearl Bank Apartments in Outram on Sept 11, shattering windows and damaging some units. 

The towering Purple Millettia tree, which stood at a height of 32m, was listed as a heritage tree. 

Since 2001, more than 200 trees have been accorded heritage tree status by a dedicated panel currently led by National Parks Board's (NParks) deputy CEO Leong Chee Chiew.

The Heritage Tree Scheme, which is open to the public, advocates the conservation of mature trees and includes initiatives such as installing lightning conductors to protect them.

In order to qualify for the status, a tree's girth (trunk circumference) must measure more than 5m. It is also judged on its botanical, historical, social and aesthetic values.

Here are interesting facts about nine well-known Heritage Trees - from the iconic Tembusu and Angsana to the historically significant Flame of the Forest.

1. Purple Millettia (Callerya atropurpurea)


Mr Nigel Taylor, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, hugs the Purple Millettia tree. PHOTO: ST FILE

Where to find it: Planted mainly along roadsides in Singapore. There are only two Purple Millettia listed as heritage trees in Singapore.

What's special about it: It is a large evergreen tree with a thick umbrella-shaped or round crown. 

Vital stats: The tree is native to the South-east Asian region and can grow up to 40m in height. It has hard, brown and leathery pods that measure about 10cm by 6cm in size. Each pod contains one to two seeds. 

Did you know: NParks dedicated the second heritage tree, located behind Swan Lake in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, to Singapore Press Holdings in 2014. The 35m tree was planted in 1889 as a sapling, and has been described as having a dense, dome-like crown with dark glossy leaves and reddish-purple flowers. 


The Purple Millettia that fell on Pearl Bank Apartments was standing at Pearl's Hill City Park before the apartment block was completed in 1976. 

The other heritage tree, standing at a height of 32m, fell on Pearl Bank Apartments in Chinatown on Sept 11. It was estimated to be more than 60 years old when assessed in 2008. 

2. Tembusu (Fagraea frangrans)


The iconic Tembusu tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: ST FILE

Where to find it: Commonly planted in parks and along roads as it thrives even on very poor soils. Ten have been designated Heritage Trees - including two in St John's Island and one in Sentosa - but by far the most famous one can be found at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

What's special about it: Two flowering seasons in May and October, during which its creamy white flowers open at sunset and give off a strong fragrance. Its fruits are tiny red berries that are extremely bitter and take more than three months to mature.

Vital stats: Native to Singapore, the evergreen tree can reach heights of up to 40m. It can live more than 100 years.


A group of friends posing for a photo after climbing onto the Tembusu tree's low-lying branch. PHOTO: ST FILE

Did you know: The Tembusu in the Botanic Gardens, with its low-lying branches, is said to be at least 200 years old, older than even the 156-year-old gardens. It is featured on the green $5 bill. Tembusu wood is commonly used to make chopping boards.


The $5 banknote with the Tembusu tree printed on the back. PHOTO: STATUTES.AGC.GOV.SG

3. Flame of the Forest (Delonix regia)


A Flame of the Forest tree in bloom at Fort Canning Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

Where to find it: Mainly parks and open spaces instead of roads (due to the frequent shedding of its leaves) and concentrated at Fort Canning Park and Beach Road. A single Heritage Tree is located at Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital in Serangoon Road.

What's special about it: A semi-deciduous tree introduced to Singapore as early as 1840, it sheds its leaves irregularly and got its name for the scarlet flowers that adorn the tree's entire umbrella-shaped crown when in full bloom. After a leaf drop, it can remain entirely bare for several months.


The scarlet flowers of the Flame of the Forest. PHOTO: NPARKS

Vital stats: This medium to large-sized tree can grow up to 20m tall, and its broad bipinnate leaves range from 20cm to 60cm in length.

Did you know: The Heritage Tree, planted by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Dec 14, 1963, is the oldest surviving tree planted by the late Mr Lee. A local book publishing firm, famous for its True Singapore Ghost Stories series, is named after the tree.


The Flame of The Forest tree planted by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Dec 14, 1963. PHOTO: MY PAPER

4. Saga (Adenanthera pavonina)


A Saga tree in a housing estate. PHOTO: NPARKS

Where to find it: Planted in some parks, but also in large numbers in Sentosa and the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The sole Heritage Tree can be found at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, near the Lady On A Hammock sculpture.

What's special about it: A perennial favourite among children who enjoy picking its bright red seeds housed in distinctive curved fruit pods. It is deciduous and its large, spreading crown is suitable for providing shade in large gardens.


Saga seeds, also known as love seeds, in their pods on the Saga tree. PHOTO: NPARKS

Vital stats: Able to grow up to 20m in height, its long leaves (10-40cm) drop every six to eight months in Singapore. The fruit pods vary between 15cm and 20cm in length.

Did you know: Known for its uniform weight (4 seeds make up 1g), the scarlet seed was widely used as a measure for silver and gold in the past. The seeds are inedible and are sometimes used to make necklaces. There is a Google map that lists all the Saga trees in Singapore.


Saga seeds are known for their uniform weight. PHOTO: ST FILE

5. Angsana (Pterocarpus indicus)


An Angsana tree at Tiong Bahru Examinations Centre that the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew planted on June 6, 1976. PHOTO: MY PAPER

Where to find it: Roadsides, particularly along Orchard Road, and in most HDB estates. There are 11 Angsana Heritage Trees, with two in Sentosa and the majority scattered around the Bukit Merah and central regions.

What's special about it: The deciduous tree is recognisable by its drooping, dome-shaped crown and has fairly fragrant yellow flowers that bloom for a single day. They then rain down the next morning, creating bright yellow carpets on the ground.


Yellow flowers falling from Angsana trees as a passer-by walks on what appears to be a yellow carpet. PHOTO: ST FILE

Vital stats: It is able to grow up to 40m tall. An Angsana Heritage Tree said to be more than 60 years old can be found near Woodleigh Park along Serangoon Road. It is supposedly one of the largest roadside trees in Singapore with a girth of 7.7m recorded last year.

Did you know: It is the national tree in the Philippines, where it is known as Narra. Many mature Angsana trees were wiped out in Singapore in the 1990s when they fell victim to a fungal disease, known as Angsana Wilt. In response, NParks' horticulturists propagated Angsana trees that were genetically resistant to the disease.


Angsana trees along Orchard Road on May 19, 1984. PHOTO: ST FILE

6. Tempinis (Streblus elongatus)


A Tempinis tree in the Tampines estate. PHOTO: MYCOMMUNITY.ORG.SG

Where to find it: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Pulau Ubin, Tampines housing estate, St John's Island. Two have been named as Heritage Trees - one near Changi Beach Club, the other in St John's Island.

What's so special about it: The tree's ripe fruit are sweet and are consumed by birds, monkeys and squirrels. Timber from this hardwood tree was once prized for its use in making boats and furniture.

Vital stats: The evergreen tree, native to Singapore, grows up to 12m but can reach 30m in a forest. Streblus elongatus, which means crooked and elongated, refers to its long hanging catkins (flower clusters) that can grow up to 20cm long.

Did you know: Tampines, which used to be a forested area populated by the tree, is named after it. In 1995, then-Tampines GRC MP Yatiman Yusof started a project to transplant the tree all over Tampines so as to help residents become more aware of the history behind the name of the area.


Tampines residents planting trees, including the Tempinis species. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

7. Kapok (Ceiba pentandra)


The Kapok tree at the Toa Payoh North flyover. PHOTO: NPARKS/FACEBOOK

Where to find it: Several parks around Singapore, including Fort Canning, Sembawang, East Coast and Seletar Reservoir. Eight of them are Heritage Trees and one is uniquely situated along Braddell Road at the Toa Payoh North flyover.

What's special about it: The tree's trunk is usually covered in thorns, and its stiff upper branches - arranged in a tiered fashion - can resemble a pagoda. It is best known for its fruit, which are large hanging pods that split when ripe to release a white cotton fibre used to stuff life jackets, mattresses and pillows.


The white cotton fibre from the fruit of the Kapok tree. PHOTO: NPARKS/FACEBOOK

Vital stats: This fast-growing tree can reach a height of 50m and has a long lifespan of over 100 years.

Did you know: Considered to be the national tree of Puerto Rico, a north-east municipality in the country is named after its scientific name, Ceiba. The first Kapok in Singapore was planted in 1933 by Eric Holttum, a former director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.


The thorns on the branch of a Kapok tree at Gardens by the Bay. PHOTO: ST FILE

8. Rain Tree (Samanea saman)


A massive Rain Tree with its distinctive umbrella-shaped crown. PHOTO: ST FILE

Where to find it: In urban areas throughout Singapore, although two gazetted heritage roads, Arcadia Road and Mandai Road, are lined with them. So far, 15 Rain Trees have been gazetted as Heritage Trees, with most of them concentrated in the central area.

What's special about it: There is a variant sporting yellow mature trees that has been planted in Singapore since the 1950s. The tree's crown is covered in clusters of pink-white flowers when in bloom, and its leaves fold up in anticipation of rainy weather - thus its name.


The pink-white flowers of the Rain Tree. PHOTO: NPARKS

Vital stats: This deciduous tree can grow up to 30m tall and has a very wide umbrella-shaped crown that can extend for as long as 30m. It is the most commonly planted tree in Singapore due to the superior shade it provides, with an estimated 26,000 in existence.

Did you know: In Malay, it is known as the Pukul Lima (five o'clock tree) as the leaves would also close just before sunset. The sunset hour in Singapore used to be at around 5pm until the Singapore Standard Time was created in 1982.

9. Binjai (Mangifera caesia)


A Binjai tree (centre) near Spottiswoode Park Road. PHOTO: NPARKS

Where to find it: Listed as critically endangered, this native species has three Heritage Trees - along Spottiswoode Park Road, in Binjai Park and at Jalan Naung near Hougang.

What's special about it: A columnar trunk holds up the tree's dense and dome-shaped crown. It is a member of the mango family and its brown, potato-like fruit, sourish-sweet in taste, is used in sambal chilli and rojak.


The fruit of the Binjai tree, which is said to be fleshy and tastes sourish-sweet. PHOTO: NPARKS/FACEBOOK

Vital stats: Between 50 and 250 mature Binjai trees are said to exist in Singapore. The tree can reach a height of 30m.

Did you know: Several locations have been inspired by the tree, which includes Binjai Park, Binjai Hill, Binjai Walk, and Binjai Rise in Bukit Timah. Jalan Binjai, a small street off Haig Road, was also similarly influenced.