War on weeds to prevent Batman plant from 'robin' Bukit Timah forest of natural vegetation

ST VIDEO: NG SOR LUAN
Bukit Timah residents came together to battle against the Zanzibar yam, which is threatening to suffocate the natural biodiversity of the forest.
Bukit Timah residents came together to battle against the Zanzibar yam, which is threatening to suffocate the natural biodiversity of the forest.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - More than 200 volunteers banded together to wage a war on the "Batman plant" in the Bukit Timah forest on Saturday morning (Nov 16).

From older couples in their 60s to primary school children, residents of Bukit Timah came together in an area along Rifle Range Road near Temasek Club to battle against Dioscorea sansibarensis, also known as the Zanzibar yam.

The invasive weed, commonly described as the Batman plant because its leaves have a bat-like shape that resembles the insignia of the comic book character, is threatening to suffocate the natural biodiversity of the forest.

Operation Dioscorea was organised by the Bukit Timah Citizens' Consultative Committee and the Friends of Bukit Timah Forest, a group comprising members of the nature community, recreational users, schools and nearby residents.

For two hours on Saturday, volunteers worked in teams of three to five people to dig up and pull out 900kg worth of the Batman plant, a herbaceous vine that has large starchy underground tubers and wide leaves that can smother other plants.

The weed is fast-growing and needs to be manually removed so that native plants are not damaged. Once it has established in an area, the forest has little chance of recovery without human intervention.

Its large tubers, which can grow to be as big as two footballs, make the vine difficult to uproot. Volunteers had to dig up the roots and manually pry the tubers from the ground so the weed would not grow back.

Volunteer Leck Lee Hong, 49, said that though the work was tough, it was fulfilling.

"It felt good to be able to help the forest and work together with other residents. There is a real sense of satisfaction gained from the work," said the senior IT manager.

The mother of five, who lives nearby, said she would be willing to return to the forest if another such project is organised, and would also encourage her children to join in.


Roots of the Zanzibar yam that the residents had to dig up and remove to prevent the plant from growing back. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Sim Ann, who joined volunteers in picking the weeds, said the work was "sweaty but therapeutic".

Ms Sim, adviser to Bukit Timah grassroots organisations, said: "The forest is ours to protect and it is under threat. We can't just send in bulldozers to clear the weeds. We wanted to mobilise the community, to learn about the forest and be involved in saving it."

Participants included parent-child teams from Raffles Girls' Primary School, students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and volunteers from Keppel Corporation, Blossom World, Kindred Community, and Kowloon Club.

 

Volunteer and entomologist Jo Lynn Teh, 33, said the project was a good chance for residents to play their part in protecting the environment.

"I believe we need to care for the biodiversity of our forest and this is something meaningful to give my time to. The motivation is really to do my small part in helping the environment."