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Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Since 1998 with origins from OneList.

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Tue 14 Dec 2004

Learning About Plants in Singapore, ver 1.0

Category : articles

This was originally a response to a query about plants by N. Sivasothi on the Nature Singapore, mailing list on 13 December 2004. Timothy Pwee added a book list the next day. The article and list will subsequently be updated on this page.

Resources online

For a list of guidebooks and resources on the web, see the Habitatnews links.

Joseph Lai has various photos up on the web that he is building up as a companion guide to Wayside Trees of Malaya. They are listed alphabetically by genera here.


I have a list of my nature related books here. The list is unsorted still; but search for the word "plant". Singapore Polytechnic used to have a lovely categorised list but they revised their webpage and I can't find it anymore.

Get the Science Centre guidebooks; only $5.20 a title; great value for money! Titles include Wayside Trees, Wildflowers, Bukit Timah forest, Boatanic Gardens Jungle, Ferns, the ecosystem titles, Growing Native Plants, Carnivorous Plants, Toxic Plants, Threatened Plants, and soon Figs (akan datang). Several are online and listed on the Habitatnews links page but you still need a book in hand.

Staring out with Wayside Trees

I was lucky - I started out late, when I was at the university. But I was lucky to be taught by Prof Wee Yeow Chin's - he had a series of first year introductory plants lectures. It was a startling eye-opener! Such courses or the time spent on them no longer exist so I am glad I was at the right place at what was then still the right time.

Besides my notes, I used Wee Yeow Chin's Singapore Science Centre Guide to Common Wayside Trees and also his title on Ferns and Fern Allies.

I looked for obvious examples of plants listed in the guidebooks, ignoring the ambiguous-looking ones until I became more experienced later. Wayside trees and ferns provided an easy foundation as each bus or mrt ride becomes a field trip!

From a foundation of wayside trees, ferns and some secondary forest plants, I started learning about forest plants and about the relationships between plants, such as families. I used the guide to Bukit Timah and the copy of Botanic Gardens Jungle in the Science Library (it was then out of print). I also looked through Ivan Polunin's books that listed plants by habitats.

Later I also started using the guides for plants in Malaysia and Sabah - colourful pictures were and are still important to me! This later stretched to Southeast Asian titles.

There are many more local titles for forest, ornamental and wayside trees these days. One example is NParks' 1,001 garden plants in Singapore or Chua Ee Kiam's book, "Ours To Protect."

Learning by drawing

I had realised the note-taking we all did when starting out had helped tremendously. In my drawings (ugly as they were) I amplified features that I used to identify plants with; this was critical in recognising the plant again later whether by memory or by reference to the drawing. For some trees, I even wrote down the exact location so I could come back for a second look one day.

During mangrove courses, I usually ask participants to make drawings of Sea Hibiscus, a very common plant everyone thinks they recognise easily. When they made their first drawing, experienced guides too were surprised at the degree of detail they had completely missed, just as I had earlier myself!

Field Trips and Guided Walks

The Singapore Botanic Gradens, Fort Canning and many parks label their plants quite comprehensively so you can learn new plants and confirm suspicions. It is amazing how a seemingly obscure looking plant I see one day turns up everywhere subsequently!

Join guided walks at for example Botanic Gardens, Bukit Timah, and Lower Peirce; there are free guided walks almost every week, see Wild Singapore. Sign up for reminders here.

The Nature Society (Singapore) has a plant group and conducts a few public events and some specialised sessions. You might consider joining them at some point if you find yourself strongly drawn to plants.

Reccomended books

Timothy Pwee added a book list on 14th December 2004. This list will be updated and maintained, as will this article on Habitatnews at this page - Learning about Plants in Singapore.

Posted at 5:47AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news