Wednesday, December 31, 2008


With its figs, or more correctly, synconia, almost covering the whole mid section of its main trunk, this Ficus fistulosa is having a very fruitful 2008 indeed.

An unknown legume from Malaysia lowland forest flowering from bare trunk.

Belimbang Hutan (which means jungle starfruit in Malay) or Baccaurea angulata in Latin. Actually, it is from family Euphorbiaceae while starfruit Averrhoa carambola is from Family Scarabaeoidea.

The colourful fruits brought more than a cheerful respite from the dull green of the jungle. It has a sour but juicy mesocarp which quenches the thirst of us thirsty hikers. It is only found in Borneo.

Cauliflory is the habit of many tropical trees to bear flowers and fruits on the main trunk rather than on lofty, leafy branches. It is an example of niche targetting in the natural world. While most other trees were competing to attract arboreal pollinators and seed dispersal agents high up in the canopy, these cauliflorous trees were offering fruits and nectar to bottom dwellers nearer to forest floors. Over the many years of evolution, the mass duplication of this design across trees from very diverse families, from both the New and Old World implies that this niche exploitation has, by and large, been quite successful.

More recently, in our human world, a similar strategy of our banks to offer fruits and nectar to bottom dwellers does not appear to be as rewarding....

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Copper Cheek

A copper-cheeked frog, Rana chalconata hiding behind leaves of a shrub during the day. This is a nocturnal forest frog and I had just woken it from slumber. It is a native of SE. Asia, from Thailand down to Borneo, Sumatra and Sulawaei.

Hey, 2008, or what's left of it, is the year of the frog, ....more here. Climate change, polluted waters and fungal infection has condemned many species of amphibians to the verge of extinction.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


A pecan plantation at Alabama. Carya illinoinensis, or Pecan is a large deciduous tree from southern part of North America which produce an edible nut that looked like an elongated rubber seed (has same pattern too). We could still find quite a bit of fresh nuts on the ground below one of the trees,which I cracked with a firm stomp and picked the meat out. Finding that the fresh meat tasted sweeter and more flavourful than those in the market, we returned to collect more .... until we were eventually chased away by the owner !

Friday, December 19, 2008


Giant sprinklers at Cleverdon Farm, which produces 4 types of ornamental grass. The sprinkler bars are mounted on giant wheels, each wheel being almost man's height.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

1 °C, Weeks Bay

On a chilly morning that reminded me of more of New York than Gulf Coast Alabama, I decided to take a drive to nearby Weeks Bay to take a look at the bog. I discovered this place just last night having aimlessly driven along Route 98 to check out the coast. It was too dark to see anything then, except for the sign that read "Pitcher Plant Bog".

The thermometer read 1 degree Celcius when I stepped out of the car.
The planks on the boardwalk was covered by glistening ice crystals and was really slippery. The bog was on both sides of the boardway but the recent cold spell had damaged most of the pitcher plants. We did manage to get a glimpse of a couple of the nice White-topped Pitcher plant, Saccacenia leucophylla. I believe this place will be magical in late spring or summer.
Bog habitat.

Fog rising from Fish River.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Armada in the puddle

A fleet of tadpoles, likley of a toad, lining up in their little ocean - a muddy puddle beside the forest track.

Its the monsoon season again, and puddles are everywhere !

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Glorious red

Borneo is famous for its variety of pitcher plants. Even the common Nepenthes ampullaria occurs in many forms, and the red ones are reputed to be found only here. Apparently we are looking at a tri-coloured form which I think is the most beautiful of all. Behind the slope where these plants are found lies floral carnage after a visit by bulldozers. This area is slated for development, and soon all will be gone.

.... the prospect of a twentyplus hour flight is already overpowering me....

Monday, November 17, 2008

Land planarian

A spade-headed flatworm from the limestone of Sarawak. Planarians are Asiatic in origin and they are voracious predators of slugs and snails.

Should have brought some home as a biocontrol for the snail problem....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tractor Millipede

I have seen this animal several times both in Borneo and West Malaysia, crawling over the fissures of tree bark. The wave-like mechanical movement of the limbs makes it look like a some kind of high-tech robotic Japanese toy.

Well, I finally found its name on internet, its called Barydesmus – a tractor millipede from SE Asia. Its a strict vegetarian and preferred to be left alone – thank you.

This particular one was found in a limestone outcrop in Western Sarawak.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ladder to heaven

A tropical liana from genus Bauhinia with exotic texture.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Another unknown Begonia from Sarawak

Growing on a steep slope at the edge of a black pepper plantation. Any ID suggestions welcome.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Alocasia reversa in situ

This plant, first described in Britian by N.E. Brown in 1890 from plants brought in by commercial collectors, was thought to be from the Phillippines. Actually, they are from SW Borneo, not widely distributed and confined to soils around limestone cliff. The name describes to the darker colouration of the mid rib and venations of the leaf, which in the Alocasias are typically paler than the colour of the leaf lamina.

Borneo is the home to many small and horticulturaly desirable Alocasia, many of them of restricted distributions, mostly at limestone or sandstone hills. Thanks to tissue culture, this plant and many others in the genus are now commonly available in commerce. And very cheaply too.

However, an often-heard complaint about Alocasias is that they can suddenly die on you. This has happened to me on several occasions too, but it seems to affect the potted plants only. Specimens planted on the ground usually are more long lived.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A good place to engage in deep thoughts

Stopping to take a break and cool off and at a stream teeming with shrimps and fishes. Somewhere at W. Sarawak towards Kalimantan.

Now, to be reticent and reflective.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dark River

On our way back, we stopped by a bridge to take some photos. The scene seems idyllic but this river is reputed to have crocodiles hiding in its murky water. And Borneo is famous for giant killer estaurine crocodiles.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A stream at Kalimantan border

The guide brought us to a jungle path through the jungle, thick with interesting undergrowths, with pebbled stream teaming with barbs and rasboras. It was one of the most pleasant jungle walk I ever did. We trodded along this pristine land blissfully with no sense of time .... kind of like a honeymoon....

Then a thunder clap brought us to our senses.

We had to make a hasty U-turn before reaching the destination - a tall waterfall – as an impending storm in the mountains threatened to submerge the jungle path and cut off our return route criss-crossing the stream.

Reluctant I may be, I had to tell myself always to listen to the local guide when one is in unfamiliar territory. Water accumulated high in the mountain can turn a benign stream like this into raging torrents very quickly. Some of my mates have had nasty experiences of evacuating their tents overnight while camping beside a small stream due to flash flood. Just last month, a couple of Singapore city sleekers ignored the advice of a guide and was caught in a flash flood at a waterfall. They were lucky, but the heroic guide was not.

Read more here

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My old web site

Just a little note....this is my old website that I had started around year 2000. There was no broadband then and the uploading took ages, especially for those pics intensive pages. Anyway it was a very inconvenient medium for constant uploading and I had aborted the project in 2003. Still, even now I think its a decent read for 30minutes or so.
East Asian Flora Web at Tripod


Monday, October 27, 2008

Huntleya wallisii

This is a tropical New world orchid related to Zygopetalums. It is a mid-size epiphyte with overlapping fan-shaped leaves designed to trap leaf debris for nourishment. This plant is not commonly grown here and to see the large waxy and gaudy bloom in Singapore is certainly a surprise. The flower last for more than 1 week and easily 2 weeks - unfortunately parent plants may weaken and die after blooming but it may send out a younger plant if it feels like it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Its called a heart

A brooding old tree in SBG was heavily festooned with epiphytes. Multiple strands of Dischidia nummularioides, a dimunitive relative of the Hoya common around this garden city, draped the trunk and dangled from the spreading branches.

One of them decided to tie the knot.

Later in the evening, I had dinner with a friend, who revealed he recently proposed to a Korean girl fifteen years younger than him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lipstick from Borneo

An unusual lipstick vine from Borneo, looks a bit like Aeschynanthus obconicus due to its widely flaring calyx but the leaves are decidedly smaller. This is a slow grower, unlike those A. javanicus type which swamp the whole area.

ID Suggestions welcome !

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hoya lamingtoniae

A mid-sized vine from the Oro Province in Papua New Guinea named after the wife of the then governor of Queensland. It had been labelled in the trade as PNG-4 for some time until the description was matched against a plant collected at foot of Mount Trafalgar and described in 1898 by botanist F.M. Bailey* . At that time, he mentioned that it was "one of the most beautiful of the genus and should be introduced into garden culture." In terms of robustness, ease of growth and size/ fullness of the umbel, it is certainly not a match for the more commonly encountered H. pubicalyx, which also has flaming red flowers but much thicker leaves and stems. Its charms lies in its relative rarity in the garden (snob appeal ?), less weedy growth and the 4-veined leaves.

* Queensland Agriculture Journal, V3, p156

Friday, October 17, 2008

At a flower market .....

this specimen of spectacular Bornean slipper orchid Paphiopedilum stonei was attracting a lot of attention. Many visitors passing by just have to stop and take a closer look at this curiously beautiful bloom. Unfortunately, the mantis, which was disturbed from its original perch, made the wrong choice of landing here and subjecting itself to unwanted scrutiny.
Changes can be risky. The very survival advantage nature bestowed upon the mantis when it rested amongst the curly young green leaves and branches suddenly became somewhat of a liability.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Blue Begonia of Borneo

Saw this iridescent blue Begonia growing in the shady limestone forest of Borneo, apparently still undescribed. This colour is not due to pigments but special chloroplasts called iridoplasts having fibrils arranged linearly, hence reflecting a narrow range of wavelength of light.

Limestone areas are rich in herbaceous flora like this, carving a niche for themselves away from more robust plants elsewhere. As a result, many of these herbs have very restricted distribution and are vulnerable to habitat destruction.

Added notes: This plant has only recently been described as Begonia kuchingensis Taiwania 62(2): 105, 2017. That's a full 9 years after we first saw it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Blue Family

Blue Friday. Stock market indexes drop like stone, Singapore's economy in recession and closer to home, retrenchment looms.

Head for the garden ....

While blue colouration in flowers is a relatively rare occurence in the natural world, the plant family Commelinaceae is credited with producing a good many species with varying hues and intensities of blue flowers, like the blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora), Trandescantias and the common weed Commelina communis, which has a most intensely blue bloom.

Perhaps commercial breeders seekinng for the blue rose should take a closer look at this family. Right now, it appears they are spicing genes from pansies, and the result is not exactly blue, ha !

While visiting my friend's massive garden, I spied upon this Cochliostema jacobianum, a giant in this family of mostly smallish plants. This is an epiphyte from the New World that grows like a Bromeliad, trapping nutrients between its stacked leaves. The flowers are more purplish though, but cluster is comparatively big. The whole plant is about 3 feet in diameter and in the wild, it can be so heavy it frequently caused the branches on which it sits to snap and tumble to the forest floor. Fortunately, it seems equally adapted to terrestrial life.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kaempferia marginata - don't step on it !

Kaempferia marginata is a deciduous ginger found in seasonally dry grassland of China (Yunnan), India, Myanmar and Thailand. It is closely related to K. galanga which is widely cultivated for spice and which shares the same growth habit, viz a pair of circular leaves lying flat out on the ground. This calls to mind some desert lily called Haemanthus from Africa and could be an adaptation to reduce water loss. It is often used in traditional medicine across the region to relieve toothache and gastric discomfort. The flower is very short lived, lasting less than half a day but during season new flower appears almost daily.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Its all bullsh...

Hey don't look at me I'm only a buffalo....but on behalf of the Bovine tribe I truly regret the poison milk incident...not that its our fault or anything but its sad that products from my cousins' udder could be causing you guys so much distress ....I mean we are proud of what we produce, we truly are, but we cannot forsee, let alone control, the chains of events after the milk leave the belly, you know...and to to think that members of your own kind would do this to yourself, man I'd feel betrayed too if I were you....and between you and me, why don't you just let your kids suck off from your own udder instead of taking from my cousins eh ..... you have plenty too I reckon ....

A conversation that did not take place off the East coast of Peninsula Malaysia.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Death at Calamus Avenue

A gruesome murder along the jungle trail....

Synopsis of crime : The accused is a species of Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus, that had infected a blow fly some days/weeks back. Slowly, its mycelial filaments had spread into the internal organs and suck the fly dry. But the depleted zombie fly must complete one last act before it was allowed to RIP . By not injesting the vital muscles for movement and manipulating the nervous system of its host, the fungus drove the fly to stagger towards the direction of bright light, in this case an elevated stem of a Rattan (Calamus sp), before pulling the final trigger, destroying the brain and locking its host eternally in a characteristic rigor mortis with limbs and wings outstretched. In this way, its fruiting body, which then sprout from the cadaver as shown in the photo, will be unhindered and free to release the spores at a high and exposed location to effect greatest distribution of its progeny.

Verdict: Guilty of murder and body snatching.

While many may be familiar with the expensive Chinese panacean Cordyceps sinensis, there are actually more than 400 species of this mostly tropical insect-eating fungi. This one is found in Catchment area in Singapore

Post note: The Cordyceps appear to be Ophiocordyceps dipterigena. I had initially thought that the host was a bee.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hoya sariae

This recently described, slow growing Hoya from the Philippines is not an easy grower for me, but its beautiful campanulate bloom is worth all the trouble. I am trying a few tricks to make it happy but it appears that new shoots still tend to dry up without warning.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monophyllaea at the Fairy Cave

Monophyllaea singularis growing at the mouth of Fairy Cave in Sarawak. Unlike the previous species, this is a large plant, the single oblong leaf reaching 90cm long. Another peculiar feature of this species is that the flowers grow as double rank along the leaf stalk, and may spread to the upper surface of leaf lamina down the mid-rib - you can roughly make out the undulations on the leaf stalk at the top photo, these are the flowers. Unfortunately I could not get a good closeup due to the fading light.

While locally common, throughout the world, this plant is only found in the limestones around the Bau area in Sarawak.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A small Monophyllaea

There are about thirty plus species of Monophyllaea, or "one-leaf" as it is known in some places. This is a Gesneriad (from African violet family) which has only a single large leaf derived from a cotyledon, the other leaf has been suppressed from growth. The plant is usually found in limestone, with the exception of 2 species, and they usually have large leaves at least 20 cm long.

However at a wet granite rock in West Malaysia, I found this curious species, flowering when it was very small (about 5 cm long). The only species found on non-limestone in this part of the world is M. horsfieldii, according to B. L. Burtt (1978). Could this be a new species or just an aberrant M. horsfieldii ?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


...but thats OK.

Life is too short to be perfect in everything.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

remembering Nic ....

for a friend who had to die when she was at her most vibrant ....

Departed 28Aug08 at an accident overseas, only 26....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Variations of Nepenthes albomarginata

Usually considered an intermediate-growing species (ie needs cool growing condition), we were surprised to find this pitcher plant growing on white sand under the shade of shrubs in extremely hot lowland kerangas forest in Sarawak. The more common form in cultivation comes from highlands, a famous one being the Cameron Highland form from Peninsula Malaysia. This is rather unfortunately, of the plain green form.

A much more beautiful variety, supposedly found only in Gunung Mulu, is dark purple or black. I saw this on sale in a Singapore nursery just a few days ago, but the price was rather cut-throat.
Whatever the forms, this distinctive species has a pale ring around its lid made up of white fine hairs. It uses this to attract its prey - termites. The critters would chew on the hair and some would inevitably drop into the slippery death trap.
Shooting the smokey pitchers against a grey concrete background create a moody monotone effect with just a tinge of green colour showing. Without spending a cent, I had acquired 30 or so images to look at whenever I please and was contented to put the plant back on its rack.

Prudence in the age of recession.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Curious parasite - Aeginetia indica

Beside a swampy trail just under the shade of tall lallang, we found this interesting holoparasite which grow on roots of grasses (Cyperales and Graminales). This relative of the broomrape is found throghout East Asia.

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