At least four tree species are flowering in the University of Malaya, as reported by one of our #RIMBAstalks correspondents, Benjamin Ong. You can catch the Kelat Laut or Sea Apple (Syzygium grande), Angsana (Pterocarpus indicus), and the Yellow Flame (Peltophorum pterocarpum), and the Rain Tree (Albizia saman) in action around campus.
But is there such a thing as ‘flowering season’, or do Malaysian trees flower at whim and will? After all, unlike temperate countries with cold winters that force trees to lie dormant, Malaysia enjoys even temperature which allows trees to grow all year round.
Kelat Laut flowering at Lingkaran Warisan, on the road between the 11th and 12th Residential Colleges.
Our trees do not have to wait the sun, bees and birds to align before unveiling flowers to be pollinated, and seeds to be dispersed, unless we consider the ‘four seasons’ of Malaysia—wet and wetter, hot and hotter!
According to Dr Sugumaran, Coordinator of Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden, the trigger for trees to flower (and ultimately fruit) is stress. The sudden dryness that comes with a hot season coaxes trees into producing seeds, in the hopes of ensuring the continuation of the species.
The grand old lady of a Rain Tree flowering at PASUM. You can also see other flowering Rain Trees opposite Law Faculty/1st College and the DTC/UM 2015 signboard.
Flowering is a heavy investment for trees. They pour in valuable resources of energy into producing flowers, which would otherwise go into forming leaves and roots, and strengthening trunks and branches. In other words, a tree forsakes its own growth and health in order to pass along its genes.
Stresses are not always natural, though. The application of rock salt around the roots of fruit trees is a common kampung (village) technique aimed to induce fruiting in an erstwhile ‘comfortable’ tree. Trees lining busy roads, such as the Yellow Flame, are perpetually exposed to heat and pollutants, which may be why they flower almost continuously throughout the year—very pretty for us, but rather hard on the trees!
Yellow Flame flowers all over campus, but try the basketball court opposite Law Faculty and around KPS and DTC.
Some stresses may not be so benign. Trees have been showing erratic flowering patterns—one sign is the durian, rambutan and other seasonal fruits popping up at various times of the year. This worrying trend can be attributed to climate change, as long droughts with high temperatures confuse trees into flowering several times a year.
Angsana trees develop their flowers in dry weather, but only burst into bloom after a sudden drop in temperature, such as after a heavy storm.
All photographs by Benjamin Ong.
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