Singapore's grand old dames: A guide on heritage trees

RAIN TREE: Some of these 22 rain trees in Connaught Drive were planted around the mid-1880s, which would make them over 130 years old. This means they would have witnessed key historic events in the Civic District.
RAIN TREE: Some of these 22 rain trees in Connaught Drive were planted around the mid-1880s, which would make them over 130 years old. This means they would have witnessed key historic events in the Civic District. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

There are 266 heritage trees here that serve as important green landmarks, says NParks

Giants have always lived among us and in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a meranti melantai was already dwarfing all when Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819.

This species was once common in the forests that used to cover Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore.

Listed as a heritage tree, it is one of 266 that serve as important green landmarks, according to the National Parks Board (NParks), which administers the Heritage Tree Scheme.

To qualify for the status, a tree's girth, or trunk circumference, must measure more than 5m. It is also judged on its botanical, historical, social and aesthetic values.

How the trees are cared for depends on their location, species, age, and condition, said Mr Ng Cheow Kheng, NParks' group director of horticulture and community gardening.

Some of the measures include installing lightning conductors on taller trees to protect them, and applying leaf litter or compost to the roots to encourage healthy root growth, he added.

Heritage trees in the Singapore Botanic Gardens are generally older and are inspected once every six months. Those outside of the Gardens are checked every 12 months.

The tamalan in Fort Canning Park and the rain trees in Connaught Drive were last inspected within the past one year, while the Meranti Melantai, pulai basong, and tembusu in the Singapore Botanic Gardens were checked last month.

Judged to be among the oldest heritage trees here, these four trees, together with the 22 rain trees, were assessed to be healthy.

MERANTI MELANTAI (Shorea macroptera) tree at Singapore Botanic Gardens


Estimated to be more than 200 years old, this tree is part of the original vegetation in the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Rain Forest. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

This tree is estimated to be more than 200 years old.

It is part of the original vegetation in the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Rain Forest, one of the oldest remnants of primary rainforests in Singapore.



PULAI BASONG: Before the Swan Lake and Symphony Lake were contructed in the Gardens, a freshwater swap forest existed along the western edge early in the 19th century, likely the original home of the pulai basong, which is more than 160 years old. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

PULAI BASONG (Alstonia pneumatophora) tree at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Early in the 19th century, before the Swan Lake and Symphony Lake were constructed, a freshwater swamp forest existed along the western edge of the Gardens.

This habitat was likely the original home of the pulai basong.

This tree, also part of the original vegetation in the Gardens, is likely to be older than the park at more than 160 years old.

It is a native species that is critically endangered in the wild in Singapore.

TEMBUSU (Cyrtophyllum fragrans) tree at Singapore Botanic Gardens


Estimated to be more than 170 years old, the tembusu tree is iconic for its lower lateral branch and is featured on the back of the Singapore $5 note. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

This iconic tree, estimated to be more than 170 years old, is featured on the back of the Singapore $5 note.

It has a unique lower lateral branch, which makes it easily recognisable.


RAIN TREE (Samanea saman) in Connaught Drive


Some of these 22 rain trees in Connaught Drive were planted around the mid-1880s, which would make them over 130 years old. This means they would have witnessed key historic events in the Civic District. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

A total of 22 rain trees in Connaught Drive are heritage trees. NParks estimates that some of them were planted in the mid-1880s, which would make them more than 130 years old.

This means they would have witnessed historic events in the Civic District, including the declaration of Independence for Singapore by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1963.


TAMALAN (Dalbergia oliveri) tree at Fort Canning Park


This tree once stood guard over the tombstones of the former Christian cemetery in Fort Canning Green. It is around 80 years old. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

The only tamalan heritage tree in Singapore is estimated to be 80 years old.

It once stood guard over the tombstones of the former Christian cemetery in Fort Canning Green and is a prominent landmark of Fort Canning Park.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore's grand old dames'. Print Edition | Subscribe