What is the National Tree of Singapore?

Reported to be more than 180 years old, the tree of Tembusu is recognized as the National Tree of Singapore. According to Little Flower Hut, it is one of the most distinguished and distinct trees native in Singapore. In fact, it is featured in the 5-dollar bill. The finest Tembusu tree located in the Singapore Botanic Gardens was photographed to be added as feature of the Portrait series of SG$5 note. More than that, there are several things that make this tree very interesting, which could also be the reason why it was chosen as the national tree of the country.

  • Scientific Background

With unique ID as heritage tree of HT 2001-26, Tembusu is scientifically identified as Fagraea fragrans. It belongs to the Gentianaceae family from the Fagraea genus. It is closely related to Fagraea gigantean and fagraea wallichiana.

Tembusu is also known in different names such as Buabua in Fiji Island, Urung in the Philippines, Temasuk in Sabah, Malaysia, Tatrao, Trai in Vietnam, Kan Krao in Thailand, Tembesu in Indonesia, Anan, Anama in Burma, Munpla in Laos, and Ta Trao in Cambodia.

  • Description

Tembusu is a huge evergreen tree that is native to different countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore. It is known to live more than one or two centuries and its hard wood can be used for a wide range of purposes.

Fromm a slow-growing shrub, Tembusu tree can grow up to 40 meters high. While young, it has a conical crown structure but as the tree matures, it becomes irregular in shape and structure. Trunks are in dark brown color with perpendicular branching. The leaves are in light green color, approximately at 5 cm to 8 cm in length depending on the maturity of the tree, while its flowers are in creamy white color or yellow color if the tree is already matured. The blooms are also distinctively fragrant, especially at night time. The flowering season of this tree is usually from the month of May to June and bloom again in the month of October to November. The fruit of the tree is a red berry that attracts birds and bats. The branches of Tembusu sit low and lying, making it a favorite site for photo shoots for family portraits, wedding photos, pre-nuptial photo shoots, and group pictures.

One of the oldest Tembusu tree is found within the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is still standing there at 30 meters high, giving the entire garden a glamorous landscape no matter what the season is. Even before the gardens were built there in 1859, it has been recorded that the tree is already there. Some of the oldest Tembusu trees are also found in Tanglin area still alive and stronger.

  • Recognition

Being a majestic icon, Tembusu tree holds such a great significance to the heritage of Singapore. It is featured on the current $5 bill of the country issued on September 9, 1999. However, the tree was first documented in 1880 by Walter Fox, a British Assistant Superintendent of Singapore Botanical Gardens.

One of a kind tree for its long life, hardiness, and attractiveness, many artists drew inspiration from Tembusu. Aside from Eng Siak Loy, the Singaporean artist who drew the tree for the five-dollar Singapore bill, photographers, painters, and artists all around the world chose the tree as one of the objects for their masterpieces.

In 2002, Mr. Eng siak Loy also designed the HSBC Care-for-Nature Heritage Trees stamp series wherein the Tembusu Tree was included. He won the award Asia’s Most Beautiful Stamps as well as the 2nd Most Beautiful Stamp in the World in 2003. This was awarded by Timbropresse Group based in Paris.

  • Facts About Tembusu

Tembusu tree is, no doubt, a durable tree. Its trunk produces a kind of wood that is not only heavy, hard, and purposeful, but is also highly long lasting and termite-resistant. Ever since, the quality of this wood was trusted as people used it for heavy construction and buildings, for bridges, railroads, boats, parquet flooring, wharves, chopping boards, and other kinds of furniture for home or office installation.

For medicinal purposes, the bark can be used to formulate a decoction for the treatment of malaria while the leaves, branches, and twigs of the tree in decoction form help control severe diarrhea.

The latex at the skin of its fruit can be used as adhesive while the wood can yield high quality fuel and charcoal for a wide range of uses.

The tree is also found in different parts of the region intentionally planted to control the erosion of the soil and to suppress and prevent the growth of weeds.

Significant to the history of Singapore, the Tembusu in Singapore Botanic Gardens as seen on the 5-dollar note has the Heritage Tree status along with eleven other Tembusu trees in Singapore. There is one planted at the St. John’s Island and another one in Sentosa Island.

The tree is also found in other countries like Australia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, and other parts of the Southeast Asia.

The National Tree of Singapore, Tembusu, has the qualities associated with the Singaporean’s qualities such as the resiliency, dynamism, versatility, purposeful, and enduring. Metaphorically, the tree has been used also to describe the relations between the civil society and the state as they reach to each other in humility. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was said to favor this tree among other trees in the country.