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Official Magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore)
  Seeding a Dream
Main article | Five threatened coastal plants once common on our shores

Plant a robust tree see ... and one day you may well have a forest. Jean W H Yong shares his dream of active replanting and saving the last of Singapore's coastal trees.

Once upon a time there was no need for humans to plant seeds of forest or mangrove trees: Mother Nature's hand-maidens—the wind, the tide, the birds, the insects and the animals—all played their part in dispersing seeds. But in recent times forests have been cut down so ruthlessly that Nature has no chance whatsoever of re-growth and re-generation.

Species, both animal and plant, are dying far more rapidly than they can ever be replaced by natural means. But biologist Jean Yong has a dream, and that dream is to plant tree seeds that will one day grow into stands of trees and, who knows, if Man can be kept at bay, then those stands of trees will eventually become a forest.

Jean, a PhD student in biology in the Australian National University in Canberra, has already taken this dream one firm step to reality. He has planted some tree seeds in the soils of Singapore. It all began when Jean (who is a Singaporean) walked along our beaches and noted that whereas most of Singapore's natural coastal vegetation have been destroyed by development, yet pockets of surprisingly good mangrove and seashore vegetation remain. This is what Jean observed and he reports for Nature Watch.

"Stands of hardy mangrove are strung out along Sungei Buloh, Pasir Ris Park and St. John's island; seashore vegetation is lush on the northern sandy coast of Pulau Ubin and on the west coast of Pulau Semakau. More natural seashore greenery was found on the rocky shores and cliffs of places like the south-west coast of St. John's island and even tiny Southern island, Pulau Jong".

That was when Jean began to daydream (remember, Einstein's Theory of Relativity was 'born' when this genius daydreamed while sitting atop a hill)... The re-planting dream takes form... In Jean's mind's eye he saw Singapore's coastal vegetation restored to the pristine conditions still found in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, he saw "rocky coastline dotted with the magnificent Malayan fern palms (cycads); towering mangrove trees laden with the lush growth of epiphytes (orchids, hoyas and ferns) and the peculiar baboon's head, an ant plant".

Then, he saw trees on the seashore playing host to mistletoes. And birds abound in Jean's picture for the mistletoes provided a valuable source of food for many feathered creatures. His mind wandered inland and found joy in seeing crinum lilies blooming everywhere in the thick undergrowth.

But Jean returned from his dream very quickly and reports in Nature Watch, "this dream will not be fulfilled unless we start an active programme of replanting right now!" If only other daydreamers act on their dreams as Jean has, for thanks to his efforts, active replanting of endangered coastal species along the Sungei Api Api in Pasir Ris—especially the upper reaches of this river—has already begun. And there will be more. The biologist says that "of the three main coastal vegetation types found on Singapore's shores, the species that occur on our sandy shores may be most amenable to replanting efforts because there now exists a large number of parks, waterfronts and beaches which can serve as potential habitats for the re-establishment of these species all around the island".

This would be most desirable, not only because these trees are native to our land but because "many of the local seashore species are attractive and free flowering". An example are the showy red flowers of Lumnitzera littorea and the head-turning white flowers of Lumnitzera racemosa. Even the spiny seashore pandan with its attractive orange fruits can find its way into the occasional odd corner.

"Did you know too that many of our common wayside trees such as the angsana and the flamboyant yellow flame are actually native beach trees!" So ensuring that these native seashore species continue to be replanted in our manicured parks is a good way to conserve our native flora and also fauna—as there would be fauna attracted to these natives.

Help threatened tree saplings survive!
Play your part

It is hard enough for trees to survive in our concrete and increasingly polluted environment, so one can imagine how much tender loving care must be given to delicate saplings - even though these were once hardy natives!

Here's what we suggest the authorities can do, but you should also play your part.

The Authorities can
Protect saplings—not with concrete boxes or by spraying weedkillers (toxic to woods and humans)—but with some simple barriers (like a bamboo fence).

Put up sign boards to notify people and interest them about the trees.

Brief sweepers and cleaners about saving precious seeds.

Erect warning signs—camping and barbecues should not be sited top near saplings or oven trees.

Grass cutters must be briefed to take special care around sapling trees.
The Individual's Part
Yes, go up to seedlings to admire/photograph but take care not to trample on any struggling seedlings.

Do not camp, play or have a barbecue near these young trees.

Joggers, look where you run. Joggers have unknowingly trampled on teh propagules of the endangered Bruguiera.

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Mangroves of
St. John's Island

Photo by J Yong

Baboon's Head
Hydnophytum formicarum

An epiphyte found on
mangrove trees in
Pulau Sibu, Johor
Photo by J Yong

Spiny Seashore Pandan
Pandanus odoratissimus

Tree habit and fruits
Photo by J Yong

White flowers of
Lumnitzera racemosa
Photo by J Yong

Red flowers of
Lumnitzera littorea
A potential plant for our beach
and mangrove parkland
Photo by Alan Ernst

Crinum lilies
Crinum asiaticum

in an undisturbed mangrove
of Pulau Tinggi, Johor
Photo by J Yong

Grassland along the
banks of Sungei Api Api.
Why not allow 'back mangrove'
plants, like mangrove trumpet
tree Dolichandrone spathacea
or crinum lilies, to grow naturally instead of maintaining a
'manicured' patch of grass.
We can save money on grass
cutting and conserve our
priceless natural heritage.
Photo by J Yong

Saplings on granite breakwater
on St. John's Island.
Good or bad thing?

Will the authorities order the
removal of the saplings or
allow them to flourish,
appreciating the added
protection the mangrove
saplings will give to the
artificial breakwater in the future. Photo by J Yong

Growing up among litter
Young Bruguiera parviflora
plants on the east bank
of Sungei Api Api
Photo by J Yong
© Nature Society Singapore