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Once a Year When Flowers Bloom

Firmiana malayana at the entrance of Rimba Ilmu's front terrace.

Not all flowers bloom in springtime, not all leaves are shed during fall… in tropical Malaysia, these two events may happen at the same time, on the same tree.

Most of the time, the Firmiana malayana looks like any other tree, but being deciduous—which means, shedding its leaves periodically—it spends the first three months of the year in bare branches tipped with masses of orange flowers.

Its local name is the Mata Lembu, which means ‘cow’s eyes’, refering to the large oval-shaped scars on its trunk left by old branches. When it is bare, the buttressed, silvery grey trunk makes a breathtaking sight amidst the vivid orange flowers. Its fruits also form before the leaves appear again, and resemble softly-iridescent boats with pale brown seeds nestling within.

The bright orange flowers will give way to pink fruits that will detach and spiral towards the ground.

The leaves are large and broad, and their shapes range from oval to three-lobed, with bright pink leaf-stalks and underside veins.

This very decorative tree is native to Peninsular Malaysia and can be found mostly on river banks and open forest. There is one majestic individual at the entrance of the front terrace of the Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden - catch it between January to April for a springtime effect!

Photographs by Benjamin Ong.

#RIMBAstalks documents biodiversity news around campus. Spot a woodpecker, or a macaque stealing your shampoo? Send stories, pictures or videos to us at, or contact us on Facebook!

#Firmianamalayana #treesofUM #BenjaminOng #VanessaTIng #matalembu #rimbailmu

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