Four tree trails to explore

Singapore’s largest Madras Thorn (above), in Fort Canning Park.
Singapore’s largest Madras Thorn (above), in Fort Canning Park.PHOTO: ST FILE
The Sepetir (above) in Changi.
The Sepetir (above) in Changi. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD
The Perepat trees in Pulau Ubin.
The Perepat trees in Pulau Ubin. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

The new tree trail in the Civic District joins four other tree trails showcasing heritage trees

Next month, a tree trail will open in the Civic District, where much historical, architectural and cultural heritage is already preserved.

Among the highlights is an avenue of 22 heritage raintrees along Connaught Drive.

There are four other tree trails in Singapore - in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning Park, Changi and Pulau Ubin - created by the National Parks Board (NParks) in the last five years.

Mr Oh Cheow Sheng, NParks' director of streetscape, says the trails are created to encourage the public to appreciate the beauty of trees and to realise the important role they play in Singapore's cityscape.

"Apart from softening and beautifying our cityscape, they provide numerous environmental benefits. To a large extent, trees also improve our emotional well- being by helping us feel more connected to nature and the city we live in."

The Kapok tree (above) in the Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

Some of the trees featured in the Civic District Tree Trail watched over Singapore long before its independence from the British while others date from the 19th century.

Mr Oh adds that many of the trees in these trails have also been accorded a Heritage Tree status under the Singapore's Heritage Tree Scheme. A Heritage Tree is usually labelled or can be identified by a sign or storyboard built next to it.

The scheme is part of the park's efforts to promote the conservation of trees with botanical, social, cultural and historical values. There are 257 listed Heritage Trees. The Straits Times looks at some of the trees on the trails.

• For details on tree trails, go to, click on the "Gardens, Parks and Nature" tab and go to "Heritage Trees" under Walks and Tours.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

The most number of heritage trees - 60 - can be found here. On the 1.5km trail, you can see some of the more accessible heritage trees.

1 Penaga Laut (Calophyllum inophyllum)

Its most recognisable feature is its leathery leaves with slender veins. The oil from the tree's seeds can be used to heal some skin ailments.

The famed Tembusu tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

2 Kapok tree or White Silk-cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra)

This tree can be recognised by its bark which comes with thorns. Its seed pods, when mature, split to release hundreds of seeds that are attached to white, cottony floss. Kapok means floss in Malay.

The water-resistant floss is traditionally used in pillows and life jackets.

3 Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans)

This 30m-tall Tembusu is the iconic tree featured on the back of Singapore's $5 note. It is probably as old as the Gardens, which was established in 1859.

4 Saga or Red-bead tree (Adenanthera pavonina)

Its brilliant red seeds are often collected for ornamental purposes. The seeds were traditionally used in Middle East and South-east Asia as standard weights for measuring precious metals and jewellery.

5 Malayan Terminalia or Jelawi (Terminalia subspathulata)

At 47m, the tree is one of the tallest trees in the Gardens.

Fort Canning Park

This 2km Fort Trail features 25 trees in Fort Canning Park, an area of lush greenery and rich history. They were picked for their interesting features.

Blooms (above) from the Cannonball tree in Fort Canning Park. PHOTO: ST FILE

1 Cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis)

This tree is named after its large, round woody fruits that stick out from the trunk.

Before the fruits are formed, large yellow-red flowers grow from the trunk. This helps the tree to be pollinated by animals that cannot climb or fly high.

2 Paperbark tree, Gelam tree (Melaleuca cajuputi)

Its soft bark peels off like layers of paper and its durable timber can be used as firewood. Medicinal cajeput oil from the leaves is used in cough syrups and ointments for bruises.

Kampong Glam, Singapore's Malay-Arab quarter in the old days, is named after this tree.

3 Madras Thorn (Pithecellobium dulce)

This tree has a girth of 7.4m and is Singapore's largest Madras Thorn.

Its appearance is made even more impressive by the numerous bird's nest ferns and other epiphytes growing on its branches.

4 Flame of the Forest (Delonix regia)

This beautiful heritage tree is a native of the African nation of Madagascar.

It is named after the scarlet flowers that cover the entire crown when they are in full bloom.

The flowers then give way to long, flat pods that hang from the branches.

5 Petai (Parkia speciosa)

The flowers give way to long pods that hang from the tree in small bunches.

The beans, or petai, found in the pods are used in a local dish, sambal petai.

The beans are also known to help in treating depression, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and constipation.


The 1.5km trail has nine heritage trees nestled among lush greenery in Changi. Apart from their age, the trees stand out due to their size or rarity in Singapore.

1 Sepetir (Sindora wallichii)

This is probably the biggest Sepetir outside of the Botanic Gardens. It is said a tall and majestic Sepetir once stood as a landmark in this area. The British cut it down in 1942 during World War II after they discovered the Japanese used the tree as a marker to aim their guns.

2 Kelat Hitam (Syzygium syzygioides)

The Malay name means shining black and refers to the tree's berry- like fruits - they turn black on ripening. This tree has an interesting feature - a twisted trunk as a result of being exposed to wind from a certain direction for a prolonged period.

3 Damar Hitam Gajah (Shorea gibbosa)

This species has not been seen in other parts of Singapore. It belongs to a family of trees typical of the Asian tropical rainforest and can be identified by its cauliflower-like crowns and fruits which look like shuttlecocks with two to five wings.

4 Malayan Rengas (Gluta malayana)

Its timber is excellent for furniture, but is infrequently used because of the sap which causes skin blisters.

5 Strangling Fig (Ficus stricta)

Starting life in the canopy of a host tree, it sends aerial roots downwards, progressively surrounding or "strangling" the host's trunk until the latter eventually dies.

Pulau Ubin

This 3.5km trail has 12 tree species. It starts at the Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub near the jetty and ends at the jetty outside House No.1 (Chek Jawa Visitor Centre). Along the way, you will pass old rubber plantations and glimpse kampung life.

1 Candlenut, Buah keras (Aleurites moluccana)

This tree is easily recognised for its silvery-white appearance when new leaves and buds appear. Almost all parts of the tree can be used - the fruits, leaves, bark, sap, wood and roots are used for medicine, food, dyes and construction.

2 Durian (Durio zibethinus)

Durian trees can be recognised by their leaves with coppery undersides. Young trees begin to fruit around seven years of age and the fruit takes about three months to develop. Other fruit trees that can be found along the trail include jackfruit and banana.

3 Attap palm or Nipah palm (Nypa fruticans)

The Attap palm is one of the few palms that grow well in mangrove conditions. The translucent flesh inside the fruit is called attap chee, which is used in local desserts.

4 Common Pulai (Alstonia angustiloba)

This heritage tree (35m in height, 6.4m in girth) stands out among the canopy. Its lightweight timber is used to make packing boxes, while its latex is used to treat skin ailments.

5 Perepat (Sonneratia alba)

These two large trees on the furthest point of the mudflat are the only two mangrove trees in the Heritage Tree Register of Singapore.

To survive in the oxygen-poor mangrove mud, they have roots that stick out of the mud to help them breathe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Crowning glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe