The majority of trees along our roads, parks and HDB estates branch out in a relatively consistent way due to the common pruning methods, height clearance and the like. But what about those old, large trees growing elsewhere?
Nestled at a cosy corner of Portsdown Road, away from the glitz of Mediacorp and the glamour of OneNorth buildings, lies Wessex Estate, one of the few places left in Singapore with black and white colonial-style houses. Built as accommodation for British Army service members during their service here, there were a total of 12 bungalows and 26 flats constructed, all of which still stand today. As befitting on an old estate, the trees found within here are large and majestic, having had the opportunity to age gracefully over many years. In this article, we will talk about the Malayan Banyan (Ficus microcarpa) trees and Rain Trees (Samanea saman) that pepper the roadsides and plain fields here.
The Malayan Banyan is a strangler fig, which falls under the category of hemiepiphytes. Hemiepiphytes start off as regular epiphytes, growing harmlessly on its host tree until its roots extend and latch into the ground. From here, the plant (the strangler fig in particular) begins to grow and wrap itself around its host tree, “strangling” it by girdling or blocking out all available sunlight from the host plant for itself and causing the host tree’s eventual death.
Westbourne Road Woking Road
There were 3 large, sprawling Malayan Banyan trees spotted as we explored the estate: one along Westbourne Road, one on the green fields beside Woking Road and the final one near a junction somewhere within. The Malayan Banyan trees along Westbourne Road and Woking Road are in the advanced stages of overtaking the host tree, with the host tree barely showing any signs of life left. Both were over 25 m in height, with the one on the field left mostly untouched, showing off its natural spreading habit.
Around Wessex Estate
The specimen near the unnamed junction was a curious one; whilst the Malayan Banyan had firmly rooted itself on top of a huge Rain Tree, the host tree was observed to be thriving, its crown extending across the entire length of the road and full of vigour. The Malayan Banyan conversely, was observed to have a sparse crown and displayed poor vigour. Perhaps this Rain Tree decided to fight back!
A row of Rain Trees
Further into the estate, rows of magnificent Rain Trees can be found lining its narrow streets, branching high and wide into the sky. Unlike their counterparts along main roads, these Rain Trees have not been allowed (through human intervention) to branch wider than commonly seen elsewhere, resulting in a shape/ silhouette that is not easily recognizable. This was likely brought on by a different tree management programme, which focused on clearance from the roads and houses.
These trees lack their distinctive “umbrella” shape as a result, though it can also be argued that the umbrella shape of Rain Trees in Singapore is a managed effect, with many pruning cuts to meet site restrictions and height clearance requirements. In the wild, these trees have a much more symmetrically shaped crown, with branching that begins lower and a canopy that is much bushier compared to our local counterparts.
Natural growth form of a Rain Tree
This brief article is but a snapshot of the many mature trees in Wessex Estate. If you’re finding a colonial-themed area with unique specimens of everyday trees, this is the place for you to go exploring!
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