The Nutmeg (Orchard) Tree
Have you seen this seemingly out of place nutmeg sculpture in front of Ion Orchard and wondered: “What is it doing here? Orchard is a shopping district lined with trees, why are there art pieces over here.”
Nutmeg & Mace (Kumari Nahappan (b.1953), Malaysia-Singapore
We are here to answer that question, as we move on with our many part series on towns, places and streets named after trees. Nestled in the heart of Singapore, Orchard is a 2.5km stretch of road that was named after the nutmeg and fruit orchards that once lined these streets, forming the core of our nation’s spice plantations.
The Nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) has a monopodial growth habit, which means it grows from a single stem/ leader. Having a relatively upright form, it usually grows up to a maximum 10m in height and is a popular choice for a spice garden or a fragrant garden due to its link to Singapore’s past. However, horticulturists need to be aware that it only begins fruiting after around 7-8 years from the point of sowing.
A sturdy, symmetrically shaped tree
While these traits may seem to make it an easy tree to manage in a plantation, it is a dioecious plant, which means individual trees bear either male or female flowers but never both on the same tree. This poses a challenge for plantation owners, who need to determine the right male to female tree ratio, but it is only possible to differentiate their sex after the trees begin to flower.
Commercially, it is grown for its fruits,which were worth as much as gold during the burgeoning spice trade of the British colonial era. The seeds of nutmeg are actually a source for 2 different spices: nutmeg powder and mace.
Note the size of the seed compared to the comparatively little aril
Nutmeg powder has a distinctive aromatic taste that leans on the warm side, and is produced by grinding the seeds of the nutmeg fruit. Heavily used in baked goods and indian dishes, it is sometimes replaced by mace when a milder, more delicate taste profile is desired. Mace refers to the reddish brown aril that covers the seed, and costs significantly higher than nutmeg powder due to its comparatively lower yield per nutmeg fruit harvested.
There is just 1 nutmeg heritage tree located in Singapore, and it can be found right behind Block 50 of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
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