Flora Singapura: New finds in GBB

Plants have always been an important part of a good day for me. When I run into plants, that means I’m wandering around outside; and when I’m wandering around outside, that means I’m discovering bits and pieces of the world rather than getting stuck in my own head.

My aunt over here loves taking walks, and I look forward to accompanying her whenever possible. We marvel over flowers, look out for monitor lizards, try to capture snapshots of the most colourful migratory birds passing overhead. There are some constants in our weekend options: the Botanical Gardens, MacRitchie Reservoir, Gardens by the Bay.

Today we were at the Gardens, and we ran into a fruit that we hadn’t seen before, even in two years of frequent visits. I realised then that I’d snapped so many photos of plants but hadn’t really taken much time to learn more about them, beyond the ones I was already somewhat familiar with.

It’s never too late to start taking notes, I guess, so here’s the first set of what I hope will be a long-running series.

This is the plant that set all this in motion:

It’s called Mahkota Dewa or God’s Crown. Apparently it’s indigenous to Indonesia, though it’s also found in many other countries across Asia. It can take around 12 months to start fruiting, which probably explains why we hadn’t seen these fruits before. In keeping with the usual rules of biological colouring (lol), the bright red fruit is toxic — especially the seeds.

Surprisingly, though, the plant also has medicinal uses. The fruit pulp can be dried and turned into a tea that helps control blood sugar, among other effects. The leaves and stems are also used as anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredients.

Later into our walk, another plant caught my eye:

These lovely flowers look like tiny origami specimens. They’re called glorybowers, or bleeding-hearts. They’re part of the genus Clerodendrum, which is quite far-reaching: member species are native across temperate and tropical regions, with most of them found in the tropics of Africa and southern Asia.

The most interesting fact about these plants (to me, anyway lol) is that, apparently, the leaves smell like popcorn and the flowers smell like peanut butter when crushed. So much so that apparently they’re known to a lot of people as “the peanut butter trees.” This might be explained partly by the fact that they’re part of the family Lamiacea, which includes other aromatic plants like lavender, basil, and mint.

Glorybowers grow as unruly shrubs, but apparently they can be “trained” (as, say, bonsai are “trained”) to stay small, pleasantly ornamental plants. This might just be the word-nerd in me looking for meaning where there is none, but the genus name comes from the Greek words kleros, meaning “chance” or “fate,” and dendron, meaning “tree.” A tree of fate, as it were, that can grow from an encroaching mess into something more beautiful, if tended with care.

Maybe it was fate to run into these plants today. And maybe, if I’m being optimistic, seeing them in such vibrant bloom is a sign of better days to come.