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  Straits Times 9 Jul 07
Helping native plants bloom: School finds namesake tree
Keranji tree found after 6-month search; effort is part of CDC's goal of growing 100,000 native plants
By Michelle Neo

AFTER a six-month search for the Keranji tree last year, Kranji Secondary School finally found its roots. Nearly extinct here, the tree is believed to have lent its name to the school and the community around it.

Today, four such trees - imported from a nursery in Malaysia - stand tall in the premises of Kranji Secondary, which houses 640 native plants in total.

'The Keranji tree has become our unofficial school icon - our students and staff have come to adopt it as part of the school identity,' explained Madam Maureen Lee, 41, the school's principal.

For instance, students are taught core values using the tree's characteristics. Strong buttress roots symbolise the need to remain rooted to the the community while branching out, she explained.

Apart from being a part of the school identity, the Keranji tree has also been woven into the school curriculum. Students paint impressions of the tree and compose poems about it.

One of the students who helps to care for the school's garden is Helen Toh, 16. 'The Keranji tree has become like the mother of our school - I will come back even after I graduate to see how it has grown,' she quipped.

The effort by the school to cultivate the Keranji tree is part of a larger initiative, launched by the South West Community Development Council (CDC) last year, to grow 100,000 native plants within three years.

One year on, the response has been overwhelming.

The results of the initiative were announced yesterday by Dr Amy Khor, mayor of the South West District. So far, 40,000 native plants have taken root around the district - ahead of the CDC's initial target of 33,000 native plants a year.

The CDC initiative has three aims: to preserve a part of Singapore's national heritage; to build community bonds; and to fight degradation of the environment.

There are approximately 2,054 plant species native to Singapore, of which about 89 per cent are either extinct here, or are threatened by extinction.

According to Associate Professor Hugh Tan of the National University of Singapore's department of biological sciences, every single plant matters.

'Even though the same species may exist elsewhere, the plants found here may not be exactly the same, as they may have evolved over time in different locations,' he said.

Thus, many native plants have become unique to Singapore. Many places are even named after plants, he said.

Most of Singapore's forests were felled by the early 1900s. This resulted in many indigenous plants becoming extinct. Those that survived are mostly conserved in nature reserves, such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Another park - which features 220 different species of native plants - will add to the numbers. Launched yesterday, the Stagmont Park at Choa Chu Kang has been transformed into a 'conservation' site, equipped with wooden signs providing information about native plants.

While lauding the South West CDC's efforts as a 'very good start in the right direction', Prof Tan stressed that the plants should be propagated from local sources within the nature reserves to ensure that only 'uniquely Singaporean' plants are preserved.

What's in a name? Going back to our roots

A SWEET ADDITION: The Nipah Palm, or Attap, lends its name to Attap Valley Road and Jalan Nipah. Its unripe seed, or attap chee, is soaked in syrup before becoming an additive to ice kachang, a local dessert. A mangrove palm, it can be found in the swamps of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Pasir Ris Park's mangrove area, Pulau Ubin, and Pulau Tekong.

YEAR-ROUND BLOOMER: Jalan Sendudok derives its name from the free-flowering shrub, Sendudok. Although the flowers last only one to two days, the shrubs bloom throughout the year. The flowers are either purple or white. White flowers are less common, and are used by Chinese physicians for medicine. It is also known as the Singapore Rhododendron, and can be found in most of the forests of Singapore. However, it is not unique to Singapore, nor is it of the Rhododendron family.

BIG TREE, BIG DISTRICT: Tampines takes its name from the Tempinis tree, a tall forest tree valued for its timber. The long pendulous structure is actually a flowering shoot completely covered with numerous tiny white flowers. In 1995, then-Tampines GRC MP Yatiman Yusof announced a project to transplant Tempinis trees all over Tampines in a bid to make residents more aware of the history behind the name of the area.

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