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Jun 26, 2010

"Tembusu Heritage Tree" of Singapore

Excerpt from Shawn K. Y. Lum's letter (Straits Times, June 9, 2007 "For The Love Of The Tembusu") in celebration of the Tembusu tree.

[Tembusus (Fagraea fragrans) are majestic wayside trees that have their origins in the forests of South-east Asia. They are not uncommon in our secondary forests and, for some reason, these trees do exceptionally well in Singapore.

Apparently, the 'bough of a tree' does not apply to the Tembusu as all its elegant branches seem to reach for the sky, snaking vertically up. The tiny leaves on its branches add gentleness to its size. The ribbed bark, dark and carved with mysterious lines, stands in contrast to the green and light green leaves.

If you are looking for fine Tembusu specimens...the larger of them is huge and tall, but has apparently lost its crowning glory. As both trees are much darker in appearance than usual, I suspect they could be as old as 100 years].

A row of younger Tembusu trees at the Botanic Gardens.

The "Tembusu Heritage Tree" is not an ordinary Tembusu tree. It is our Singapore heritage tree at Botanic Gardens!

Wei and Dad below the "Tembusu Heritage Tree". Many generations of Singaporeans have looked up at this Tembusu at the Botanic Gardens and grown-up at a place called home...

[A Tembusu graces Singapore currency as well. The $5 note features a Tembusu of Heritage Tree status growing in the Botanic Gardens].

[The tembusu has even served as a metaphor for state-civil society relations. In an oft-quoted speech given in 1998, Ambassador-at-Large Professor Tommy Koh likened the Tembusu to the role the post-1990 Singapore Government played with respect to civil society].

[Like the Tembusu, Professor Koh noted, the Government was deep-rooted, strong and protective, but that it also permitted other plants (that is, civil society) to flourish in its vicinity].

Professor Koh had also contributed an article on "The Trees of Singapore" to the "Chicken Soup for the Singapore Soul: Stories to Inspire and Uplift the Hearts of Singaporeans". An excerpt below:

Most Singaporeans have little knowledge about the trees that surround them and taken them for granted. I once asked an artist friend who often included trees in his paintings, what sort of trees they were. He confessed that he did not know. On another occasion, I was asked to sum up a conference on civil society in Singapore. A sudden inspiration led me to pick three trees to represent the colonial era, the Lee Kuan Yew era and the Goh Chok Tong era, respectively. I said that the colonial era was like a royal palm tree - tall, aloof, with a small canopy. Civil society thrived during the colonial era because the colonial government did not provide for many of the needs of the community. The Lee Kuan Yew era was like a banyan tree - a strong and much revered tree with a huge canopy. During the Lee Kuan Yew era, civil society shrank because the government took over many of the services that used to be provided by the civil society. The Goh Chok Tong era was like a tembusu tree, a magnificicent tree with a canopy, smaller than that of the banyan tree. Senior Minister Goh had wanted to expand the space for the civil society. Later, I heard from an editor at The Straits Times that the reporter covering the conference had no idea what the three trees looked like and had to go to the Singapore Botanic Gardens to find out.

...My favourite tree in the whole of Singapore is a tembusu tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It stands on a grassy field, near the revolving globe and overlooking the Swan Lake. It must be quite old because I have been a friend of this tree since I was a child. What is unique about this tree is that it has an artistic branch, which is about waist high and which grows parallel to the ground. Children love to climb on the branch and sit on it. This tree has been featured on one of our postage stamps. It is one of our 'heritage trees'. I love this tree and have a photograph of it in my bedroom.

Do you have a favourite tree?

Tommy Koh
Another article about trees in Singapore as an analogy by Professor Tommy Koh:

...I once described the Lee Kuan Yew era as the era of the banyan tree. Because the banyan tree has a large canopy, it did not leave much room for civil society to grow. I have described the Goh Chok Tong era as the era of the tembusu tree. Because the tembusu tree has a smaller canopy than the banyan tree, civil society has fared better during the Goh years and Singaporeans have enjoyed a large intellectual space. I have not yet decided which of our trees best represent the Lee Hsien Loong era. The tree I am looking for must be as strong and as deep rooted as the banyan tree and the tembusu tree, but it should have an even smaller canopy so that our civil society will continue to grow and Singaporeans will enjoy an even greater intellectual space. Singapore is, as the Prime Minister has said, a city of possibilities.

Source: "Impression of the Goh Chok Tong years in Singapore"
Preface by Tommy Koh, Chairman
Institute of Policy Studes
The recognition of the Tembusu heritage tree at Botanic Gardens will never miss it.

The lowest branch of the tree bough was so close to the ground without climbing on it.

The location of Tembusu Heritage Tree is located 0.1 kilometre from Sundial Garden, Botanic Gardens. Tembusu Heritage Tree is located 0.1 kilometre from Botanic Garden Trail. Tembusu Heritage Tree is located 0.2 kilometre from Swan Lake. Tembusu Heritage Tree is located 0.2 kilometre from Old Saga Tree, Botanic Gardens. Tembusu Heritage Tree is located 0.2 kilometre from Botanic Gardens bandstand.

Wei and Dad with a closed-up photo below the "Tembusu Heritage Tree". Wei's first visit to this same tree on 21 April, 1985 as a baby.

A gaping hole in the tough, weather-beaten Tembusu...

Another sign of the Tembusu tree trunk survived a major surgery...

The Tembusu heritage tree in young days. "Wooden crutches" not required.

The young ladies sitting on the young Tembusu heritage tree in 1957. Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Above photo taken on 19 Jun, 2010 at the lower bough of the branch tree with favourite spots for climbing. The two "wooden crutches" nowadays need support and tender, loving care to strengthen the aged Tembusu heritage tree.

A photo taken with Wei and Dad at the "Tembusu Heritage Tree", Botanic Gardens on 19 Jun, 2010.

Tembusu Quiz:

When was the first generation "Tembusu Heritage Tree" seedling planted at this location?

When will the next generation of this same Tembusu be reproduced, grafted or "cloned" as a "Citizen of Singapore" at the Botanic Gardens?

Post Related:

The most famous Tembusu tree is in the Botanic Gardens and is designated as a Heritage tree.

YG's blog about another Tembusu tree here .



Blogger Lam Chun See said...

This is probably Spore's most-photographed tree. I too have a couple of photos of my kids here.

June 26, 2010 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes, crowds from tourist buses mill round this tree all the time. A much photographed tree.

If there's a celebrity green, here's one.

June 27, 2010 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

I too like the Tembusu tree. My favourites though are the ones near the canoeing centre at MacRitchie Resevoir. Viewed from the other side of the lake, they simply look majestic.

June 27, 2010 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger sim hui hwang said...

Thanks, Mr Seah. Your tembusu story is very nice to read. I remember walking into the gardens via the main entrance and at a certain time of the year, there will be this tall tree that scatters pale pinkish flowers that are very limp. The flowers keep falling down like snowflakes and the whole area under the tree will be carpeted with these sakura-like flowers. I am not too sure what tree it is. Could it be the Indian rose? I am not good at trees. I believe I have seen this tembusu tree too. So huge and majestic it is. The swans I didnt get to see the last time I was there, maybe two years ago.

June 28, 2010 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Dear Hui Hwang,

Thank you for sharing your Singapore memories to enrich an eloquent and interesting comments on a walk down memory lane at Botanic Gardens.

Your beautiful prose interpretation of "carpeted sakura-like flowers" which "flowers keep falling down like snowflakes", the huge and majestic Tembusu tree.

To let a thousand flowers bloom, a pleasure to read and learn your sentimental blog for us to enjoy. Cheers!

June 30, 2010 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hello Thimbuktu,

My dad loves your photo of the tembusu tree. May I have your permission to display it as a banner on a website I am building for him?


September 2, 2012 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Sure Paul, pls go ahead. I am glad your Dad loves this photo of the tembusu tree. Cheers!

September 2, 2012 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger lim said...

I really like the b/w photo of the ladies at the Tembusu tree.

February 15, 2017 at 7:11 PM  

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