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  Straits Times 16 Jun 07
Many fine Tembusu trees
Letter from Chen Sen Lenn

Straits Times 9 Jun 07
For the love of the tembusu
Letter from Shawn K. Y. Lum

AMID the many stories that are run in The Straits Times every day, many are rather sobering and some are downright tragic.

I would like to point out to readers something that many of us might have overlooked, an event that can perhaps alleviate - at least momentarily - some of the less upbeat news we read about, or give our daily routine a lift.

I refer to the annual flowering of our tembusu trees, a spectacle that is, in my estimation, beautiful beyond imagination.

Tembusus (Fagraea fragrans) are majestic wayside trees that have their origins in the forests of South-east Asia. They are not uncommon in our secondary forests and, for some reason, these trees do exceptionally well in Singapore.

A tembusu in its full glory is something not to be missed. And it is a sight that words fail to adequately describe.

At this time of the year, the trees, often more than 30m tall, are completely covered in fragrant cream-coloured blossoms. Think 'Christmas tree festooned with lights and decorations', and the mental image still cannot approach the real thing.

The flowering has been going on for about a fortnight now, but is still going strong.

Readers can see them in places like Bishan Park, or at their magnificent best at the Botanic Gardens and the Tanglin district. In the evenings the perfume of the tembusu flowers, with their hint of vanilla, is worth seeking out.

The fragrance is aimed at pollinators more than it is people, of course, but that shouldn't prevent us from enjoying it.

The late E. J. H. Corner, assistant director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1929 to 1945, wrote in his seminal book on wayside trees: 'If it were asked what trees were distinctive of Singapore, we would point to the Tembusu trees of Tanglin for specimens as fine cannot be found on any part of the mainland'.

In an informal public poll conducted at Parco Bugis Junction several years ago by The Nature Society (Singapore) at its Bugis Junction-supported Nature Day event, the tembusu easily out-polled its competitors to win the 'people's choice' for a potential national tree.

Despite a strong field that included the ubiquitous Rain Tree, the graceful Pulai, the fascinating Sea Fig or that flagship of Bukit Timah, the Seraya, the tembusu was far and away the most popular choice.

A tembusu graces Singapore currency as well. The $5 note features a tembusu of Heritage Tree status growing in the Botanic Gardens.

The tembusu has even served as a metaphor for state-civil society relations. In an oft-quoted speech given in 1998, Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh likened the tembusu to the role the post-1990 Singapore Government played with respect to civil society.

Like the tembusu, Prof Koh noted, the Government was deep-rooted, strong and protective, but that it also permitted other plants (that is, civil society) to flourish in its vicinity.

Whether they be used for landscaping purposes, as nectar sources for nocturnal pollinators, as bat food or as sociological metaphors, tembusus are a miracle of nature that we have the privilege of living among and enjoying more than anyone living anywhere else in the world.

On a related note, might it be possible for The Straits Times to feature a small weekly or fortnightly 'What's in bloom?' section? It would help to make more of us aware of the wondrous plant life around us, and add to the already celebrated Garden City cachet for which we are known.

Plant lovers would, no doubt, relish an opportunity to share with fellow readers the joys of tropical flowers, and this would be timely in the run-up to the opening of the Gardens by the Bay.

Tembusus are a miracle of nature that we have the privilege of living among and enjoying more than anyone living anywhere else in the world

Straits Times 16 Jun 07
Many fine Tembusu trees
Letter from Chen Sen Lenn

I REFER to the letter from Shawn K. Y. Lum (For The Love Of The Tembusu, Life!, June 9) in celebration of the Tembusu tree (above).

Apparently, the 'bough of a tree' does not apply to the Tembusu as all its elegant branches seem to reach for the sky, snaking vertically up. The tiny leaves on its branches add gentleness to its size. The ribbed bark, dark and carved with mysterious lines, stands in contrast to the green and light green leaves.

If you are looking for fine Tembusu specimens, check out two in the middle of Paterson Hill, within the road divider itself. The larger of them is huge and tall, but has apparently lost its crowning glory. As both trees are much darker in appearance than usual, I suspect they could be as old as 100 years.

Over in nearby River Valley Road, near Yong An Park, there are several others. Another particularly fine specimen can be found in the Keppel Club greens along Telok Blangah Road. This tree looks old and its age could rival that of the featured tree in the Istana.

There are also several younger trees stretching all the way to the end of the course, towards Labrador Park. All their white and off-white flowers now shimmer in the sun.

On an ending note, one most magnificent and impressive tree can be found in Sentosa near the Merlion. It is a giant Mahogany tree which will dwarf any Tembusu.

Related articles on Trees in Singapore
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