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Pulau Ubin Stories

Stories, old and new, about Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Jelutong Namesake

One of the main rivers of Ubin is the Jelutong River. From the Jetty towards the west of the island, the first river that one would cross is the Jelutong River. Previously, we have mentioned the coconut stall by the Jelutong Bridge that spans the river. It is indeed a rather well known river on Ubin but have you ever wondered what Jelutong was named after?

Observing fishes in the Jelutong River by the sluice gates at Jelutong Bridge. Photo by November Tan.

I have always known vaguely that Jelutong is the name of a tree found in this region but I have never seen the tree until last month. In fact, this specimen of the Jelutong Tree (Dyera costulata) was just across the Straits of Johor at the Changi Tree Conservation area. In fact, during the launch of the Heritage Tree Register, we were given a tour of the heritage trees in Changi where these last few remaining stands of giant dipterocarps are the only survivors of the Lowland Dipterocarp Rain Forests that had once extended from the interiors right up to the shores. (Read more)

Encountering the Jelutong Tree in the Changi Heritage Tree trail. Photo by November Tan.

The Jelutong tree is found in Peninsular Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, and Borneo. According to the USDA, Jelutong "may reach a height of 200 ft, with straight and cylindrical boles free from buttresses to lengths of 90 ft; trunk diameters up to 8 ft".

It is a species found in primary forests but has been reorded to regenerate readily in logged-over forest. It is popular for its latex and for timber, but much of the species is also lost due to conversion of lowland forests to agriculture. This was true also for Singapore as the primary forest at Changi was first cleared for rubber plantations before the British further cleared it for their army base around 1923. (Read more)

While IUCN list the tree as being of a Low Risk category, meaning that it is not endangered, the species has been reported to be threatened in Peninsular Malaysia! Such risk was already recognised 60 years ago. In fact, Jelutong is subject to a log export ban in Peninsular Malaysia, and special permission has been required to cut the tree in Thailand. (Source: UNEP Global Tree Campaign)

The Pulai Tree on Pulau Ubin, standing at 35m tall! Photo by November Tan.

If you have visited Changi recently, you would have noticed marker tags (above; 2nd photo) that not only identify the heritage trees but also tells you more about the tree. In fact, some of these trees species can also be found on Ubin, such as the Pulai tree (above; 3rd photo) which is the tallest tree on Ubin. Try to spot the pagoda-like tree on the bumboat on your way to the island. You can also visit the tree at Chek Jawa or look at one upclose amongst the heritage trees of Changi!


T C Quah said...

at least 2 places in Malaysia are named Jelutong. The first is a suburb of Georgtown, Penang, where I grew up. The other is a kampong in Johor.

11:51 AM  
November said...

There is actually a road called Jelutong on mainland Singapore too :)

It does seems like a very popular name eh? :) Thanks for sharing!

1:11 AM  
gekko said...

It is interesting that Jelutong has never been recorded by botanists like Ridley ... it must have been quite a prominent or common species to have a river named afetr it. One possibility is that the species was wiped out before the earliest surveys were carried out. Another is that locals had confused it with the rather similar-looking Pulai, which also produces latex, albeit of a different quality.

In addition, Jelutong is also one of the names given to the Banded Leaf Monkey, although this has not been recorded from Ubin. But again, there were no early surveys carried out on Ubin's wildlife.

So is Sg Jelutong named after a tree or a monkey? I guess we can only speculate.

8:26 PM  
November said...

Wow thank you for your input gekko. considering I feel a close affinity to the banded leaf monkey, this come as very interesting news ;)

I do know that the street name Jelutong on mainland Singapore was named after the tree as suggested by the University of Malaya(?) academics to the Municipal Comissioners at the time.

But regarding ubin, I think chances are it could be the tree. But like you said, I agree that we can only speculate. Does anybody know how the BLMonkey became associated with Jelutong? Could it that the tree came before the monkey? :P If that's the case then the tree species would be the mother of all Jelutongs :P

12:35 AM  
November said...

Must clarify that I just double checked and the Jelutong Road on mainland Singapore has already been expunged, meaning it no longer existed because it has been removed or renamed. :)

5:52 PM  

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