Paya Lebar banyan tree 'lives on'

Mr Wild is one of the Lendlease staff caring for the saplings, which have been nurtured from stem cuttings taken from the original iconic tree (above). His daughter Eleni, 11, and son Joseph, five, are also helping to care for the sapling.
Mr Wild is one of the Lendlease staff caring for the saplings, which have been nurtured from stem cuttings taken from the original iconic tree (above). His daughter Eleni, 11, and son Joseph, five, are also helping to care for the sapling.PHOTOS: LENDLEASE
Mr Wild is one of the Lendlease staff caring for the saplings, which have been nurtured from stem cuttings taken from the original iconic tree (above). His daughter Eleni, 11, and son Joseph, five, are also helping to care for the sapling.
Mr Wild is one of the Lendlease staff caring for the saplings, which have been nurtured from stem cuttings taken from the original iconic tree. His daughter Eleni, 11, and son Joseph, five, are also helping to care for the sapling.PHOTOS: LENDLEASE

Saplings nurtured from tree that had to make way for development

When Mr Eric Wong, 60, was growing up in Geylang Serai, a lone banyan tree in a field served as a local landmark. "That field was a playground for young people then. If you wanted to play football with friends, you could just meet near the tree," said Mr Wong, now chairman of the Geylang Serai Citizens' Consultative Committee.

Decades later, the tree stood 15m high, with a spreading crown about 20m across. But late last year, it made way for a new development near Paya Lebar MRT station.

Yet, developer Lendlease is helping the tree live on - in a way. Stem cuttings taken from it have been nurtured into saplings and will be given to local organisations such as schools or community clubs.

"We want the saplings to continue being part of Paya Lebar," said Mr Simon Wild, Lendlease's head of sustainability for Asia, who came up with the idea of propagating the tree. The best sapling will also be planted in the 3.9ha development site near the train station.

The tree's majestic size and local prominence - "It's used a lot for shade, especially on weekends" - prompted the idea, said Mr Wild.

TOO BIG, TOO OLD TO MOVE

We wanted to preserve the bloodline of the tree, which was too big and too old to survive any changes on site.

MR SIMON WILD, Lendlease's head of sustainability for Asia.

"We wanted to preserve the bloodline of the tree, which was too big and too old to survive any changes on site."

The site is for the upcoming Paya Lebar Quarter, a mixed retail, commercial and residential project.

As part of the tender conditions, an existing canal had to be widened - but the tree was in the way. The team looked at changing the canal's path or relocating the tree, but neither would ensure its survival, added Mr Wild.

As banyan trees are common here, the National Parks Board was not consulted in the decision to take saplings for propagation. Lendlease did apply to NParks and other government authorities for permission to remove the tree, as is standard.

The saplings will be distributed around 2018. Until then, Lendlease staff - including Mr Wild - are helping to care for some of them.

Lendlease senior development manager and bonsai enthusiast Turner Canning is aiming to turn his sapling into a bonsai banyan.

"Creating a variant of the traditional outdoor banyan tree may influence others to bring 'manageable' trees into their homes and small gardens," he said.

Mr Wong called the effort "a good gesture on Lendlease's part".

"If we (grassroots organisations) receive a sapling, we will definitely find a place to grow it," he added.


Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 25, 2016, with the headline 'Paya Lebar banyan tree 'lives on''. Print Edition | Subscribe