Tree Planting Day in Singapore: 5 things about the 51-year-old tradition

1,500 residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC and Radin Mas SMC joins Former Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and other ministers at the annual Tree Planting Day. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 
1,500 residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC and Radin Mas SMC joins Former Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and other ministers at the annual Tree Planting Day. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM 
Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a tree during his tour of the Serangoon Garden constituency in 1963. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew planting a tree during his tour of the Serangoon Garden constituency in 1963. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - On Nov 2, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew planted a sea teak tree in Bukit Merah View, marking the 51st year of a tradition he started. The usual shovelling was swopped for a more snazzy launch, and the tree was watered by sprinkers activated with the pressing of a plastic sphere. More than 1,000 residents turned up at the event held in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar constituency.

1. About this year's tree

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Mr Lee has planted more than 60 trees over the years, and this year, it was a tree that has become increasingly rare. According to nature website Wildsingapore, the sea teak tree is mainly found on sandy beaches where it is found in groups at the high water mark. Currently, it can be found on the natural cliffs of Sentosa.

2. Why plant a tree?

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Mr Lee envisioned that a clean and green Singapore would carry a competitive advantage. He started the tree-planting campaign by planting a mempat tree in Farrer Circus in June 1963.

"After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore," he wrote in his 2000 memoir, From Third World to First.

3. Why November?

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The first Tree Planting Day in Singapore was held on Nov 7, 1971. Then-acting prime minister Goh Keng Swee launched the event by planting a rain tree on the summit of Mount Faber. Mr Lee said in his book that Tree Planting Day was set at the beginning of the rainy season in November to minimise watering.

4. Who plants trees?

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Each town council holds tree-planting day activities with its own Members of Parliament. There are also parks where foreign VIPs get to plant trees. Families even adopt trees for their children as gifts or wedding presents. And we do not only plant trees here. President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, planted a pink silk tree in Australia in June this year. They planted it at The Central Valley, home to ceremonial trees planted by significant dignitaries and leaders, according to the National Arboretum Canberra.

5. You can plant a tree too

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In 2007, a Plant-A-Tree programme was started by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the Garden City Fund. According to a media release on the National Parks Board website, the programme was started in response to tree planting requests from the public to the SEC. The programme enables individuals to plant one or more trees at designated parks or nature reserves on the last Sunday of each month or on special days like the World Environment Day or Earth Day.

Sources: Wildsingapore, National Arboretum Canberra, The Straits Times

jalmsab@sph.com.sg