RESPITE FROM THE HEAT: Visitors at one of the gardens’ lakes which is finally full after a few weeks of rain. The lakes had been only half-filled much of the time this year because of a hot spell. The effects of climate change are likely to put more stress on gardens around the world.
PRECIOUS PAPAYA: If you have enjoyed the fragrant flesh of this species of papaya, a cultivar developed in the Philippines, you may have Dr Nigel Taylor to thank. He had one of two specimens in Singapore, but one died. Seeds from the remaining one were used to grow new plants at the Botanic Gardens’ nursery.
NATIONAL FLOWER IN BLOOM: Gardeners have learnt that with a certain fertilisation regimen, they can get Singapore’s national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, to bloom throughout the year. The Botanic Gardens’ biggest cluster has 20,000 of the elegant orchids.
NO MONKEY BUSINESS: The monkey pot tree is so named because monkeys in South America are known to put their hands into the pot to reach the rich seeds. The trees were planted here in 1926 with saplings from Britain’s Kew Gardens. There are three such trees at the Botanic Gardens.
OUT OF AFRICA: One of a rare few baobab trees growing in Singapore – the tree is native to Africa and known for its unusually wide girth.
RICH IN HISTORY: Established in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is the oldest garden in the country, and rich in history. Dr Nigel Taylor (above) stands at two flights of brick steps built by Australian prisoners of war (POWs) during the Japanese occupation. As a sign of defiance, the POWs imprinted arrows on the bricks to indicate that they were detained by the authorities. Six former POWs visited the botanic gardens in 1995 to observe their work.
A TREE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Latex from the white gutta tree was popularly used for insulation of undersea communication cables in the late 19th century, paving the way for today’s fibre-optic networks. This tree is one of two that remain from a plantation installed by former Botanic Gardens director H.N. Ridley as a means of conserving the species, which had almost been wiped out by the latex trade.
THRIVING NUTMEG: Nutmeg was a major spice crop in Singapore in the 1840s before disease destroyed plantations in the 1860s. But three trees at the gardens, each over 100 years old, have thrived. In the 1800s, the area around Orchard Road was occupied by nutmeg, pepper and fruit orchards, giving rise to the road’s name.
OF BATS AND BEETLES: A bamboo grove (above, left) at the gardens is home to one of the world’s smallest bats. The elusive bamboo bat (above, right), weighing 5g to 9g, can be found resting within hollow bamboo stems during the day. It has a flattened skull that allows it to squeeze through openings bored by beetles. The gardens are a haven not just for plants, but also for wildlife such as junglefowl and clouded monitor lizards.
NEW LIFE FOR TEMBUSU TREE: Known as the tree on Singapore’s $5 note, this 30m-tall tembusu is probably over 150 years old. A crowd favourite, it was not doing well several years ago and was sagging and sporting dead branches. One reason was that people liked to sit on its long low branch and also walk all around it, compacting the soil over its roots like “somebody stepping on your toes all the time”, said Dr Taylor. So measures were taken to help it thrive again. It was fenced up and a new adjustable support system developed by ST Kinetics gave the low-lying branch space to move. In addition, while leaf litter was previously raked away, it is now left intact at the gardens as it has been recognised as a critical component of root and plant health. Decomposing leaf litter allows beneficial fungi to thrive, releases nutrients into the soil and keeps it moist.