On common trees
Published on: Sunday, February 21, 2021
By: Eskay Ong
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HAVING a natural environment that is filled with trees is a great blessing, and having one that is able to take care of itself, grow and develop on its own, and regenerate itself, is indeed a rare gem.  

That this is a great treasure which must be appreciated and taken care of, is true beyond words.

Tree covers have been the talk of the world for decades in the past for its positive effects on global climate, and hopefully, the situation may be changing for the better as more and more countries have woken up to the fact that there is a great possibility in wiping out life once trees are wiped out.

Remember the heydays of rape, orgy and plunder of the forest in Sabah by unfettered logging? Vast stretches of jungle were stripped of valuable timber by greedy contractors which, in the process, also destroyed much of the small trees, saplings and undergrowths.  

It may take decades or even centuries for a new generation of trees to develop and grow up.  

Many timbermen, companies and contractors got filthy rich on the back of the destruction of the forest, but countless more low level workers remained as poor as they were, and could possibly be even poorer now as there is little or no more logs or jungle produce to collect for sale.

Indeed the forest is a source of many wonderful trees and herbaceous plants such as orchids, alocacia and caladium, but is advisable not to take anything out from the jungle as it may be against the law to do so.  

Besides, it may also disturb the delicately-balanced ecosystem in the distribution of various varieties of plants in their natural environment. 

It may also break the food chain on which animals and birds, and humans as well, depend for survival.  

This is how elephants sometimes end up looking for alms in farmers’ backyards or greenhouses.  Apart from elephants from the forest coming out to knock on farmers’ backdoors, there are many medicinal herbs and trees that natives and jungle dwellers harvest and make use of as a replacement for western medicine.  

One good example is the tongkat ali or Eurycoma longifolia, which is often called Long Jack or Malaysian Ginseng. It is an item which is widely used to boost men’s health although there are other beneficial herbal usages such as in the form of raw sliced roots, powders, capsules, tea etc.  

Such stuff are by no means cheap to come by but many claim the extra ‘kick’ is all they need for the extra bucks stumped out.

Other beautiful trees that can be found in the jungle include African Tulip, Pulai, and Ficus benjamina, among others. As these are in their natural habitat, they do not belong to anyone except nature.  Therefore, do not attempt to go dig out a couple of them as it may be against the law.  

Moreover, taking or removing anything without authorisation is plainly a form of thievery, which should not be condoned. Besides, it must always be remembered that the jungle is a heritage that needs to be handed down to future generations.

Use of common trees in 

urban greening

The varieties of trees for use in urban greening is truly wide-ranging.  Some have the ability to produce gorgeous blooms according to the period of the year, while others may be foliage ornamental trees that come clad with thick layers of leaves all over the tree.  

Others may be neither here nor there with only some sparse spread of foliage and a little thinly distributed flowers which do not attract much attention, except for some massive buttresses and woody but kinky vines.

Trees in urban areas are mainly cultivated either for their crown of flowers or foliage, but generally, anything may be cultivated as long as there is a crown with some leaves or flowers, plus fairly good shade.

Within urban settings, nearly all trees are left to fend for themselves after a few months of slipshod maintenance.  The trees are all out there for all to see after the last cheque has been dispensed.  

The flaws are there for thousands of passers-by to see – missing, dead or half-dead trees, tilting trees, broken branches or tops, or grossly incorrect system of staking. If these do not cost taxpayers’ their hard-earned sweat and toil money, then what will?

Fortunately, within KK city boundary limits, although many trees have failed to reach any commendable level, nevertheless, through the struggles, sweat and toil of the relevant officers involved in tree planting, many trees that have been planted over the years are still standing firmly and beautifully, which therefore deserve to be praised and commended.  

For this, it is not too much to expect an award of something awe-inspiring, although it is still too soon to even think about it.

Some of the most outstanding flowering trees include Flame of the Forest, Golden Shower and Tabebuia.  

Plumeria is a good non-seasonal bloomer and Hongkong orchid tree blooms regularly but not too thickly. The jungle wattle or Acacia auriculaeformis blooms very thickly in golden yellow, but these are normally found on fringes of jungles or untended lands.

Cultivated trees

Within urban settings, nearly all trees are cultivated, in one way or another, on the ground. There are also many cases where trees are planted on rooftops but these are mostly constrained by the size and height, while the building rooftops that hold the trees need some extra reinforcements to carry the weight of the large trees, the soil as well as the planting boxes.  

Good waterproofing also needs to be laid before the greens can be set in.  All these can take some additional expenses but the result of seeing rooftop gardens beats out all the little additional costs.

Cultivated trees may include bloomers and non-bloomers of all colours and shades, or they may be foliage trees with some being densely-leafed while others may be quite sparse.

An ever-popular flowering tree that one often sees around town is the Golden Shower. It is a small tree that grows up to about 10 m in height with a loose crown.  

Many trees look quite dishevelled as the branches are directionless and free-aiming. As the tree is rather deciduous in nature, the wintering that occurs about once a year is sure to leave it in quite a naked and pitiful sight.  

On the other hand, the appearance of thick strands of golden coloured flowers in big clusters is sure to overwhelm any onlooker, to be followed by picture-snapping and many selfies.

A red-coloured flowering tree is the common Flame of the Forest, or Semarak Api.  It has been cultivated since ages ago, and is still being cultivated today.  Its beauty lies in its striking red flowers which tend to appear in large masses spread out all over the crown.  

There are several trees of the yellow variety in Sabah which is quite identical in form and size but the golden yellow blooms are equally gorgeous. Every Malaysian should know what a Flame of the Forest is, unless he is from Timbuktu.

The ubiquitous Angsana was at one time one of the most popular of all ornamental trees. Unfortunately, due some misunderstood behavioural pattern of the tree during the recent past, it was much maligned to the extent that there was even a rumbling to limit the number to be cultivated, or even remove some of the existing stands within KK city boundary.  

Basically, it was about the heavy seasonal leaf falls and the tendency of branches to snap during strong winds.  Fortunately, sane minds prevailed over the rogues, and thus, as they say, the rest is history.  

Today, as the trees grow older and more sturdy, very little is heard about the twin problems.  For general information, some very old angsana trees in Penang and Singapore with huge trunks and broad spreads, are much treasured and protected.  

As for heavy leaf falls, it is actually not so bad as compared to some recently introduced tiered trees in Penampang and KK city that are much, much worse. 

During the flowering season, virtually all angsana trees become enshrouded with a thick layer of yellow scented flowers, which is an attraction by itself.  Sadly, most of them will be on the ground within three to five days, which then becomes another attraction due to a layer of thick yellow carpet at the base of the tree.  

That’s a double bonus for a tree that was vilified once upon a time.

Tabebuia trees are also fantastic bloomers.  Close planting affects the intensity of flowering which means taxpayers are given a raw deal by the trees. Young trees appear to be neatly tiered but as they grow older and taller, they tend to outgrow their young tidy manner and instead become a rather dishevelled heap of trunk and leaves.  

However, these negative traits are more than made up for by the awesome production of colourful flowers that come in large masses.  It is always a sight to behold, just like gawking at Bauhinia cockiana, Garlic Vine, or Brugmansia spp.  

There are numerous widely cultivated ornamental trees with solid crowns and wide canopies.  These serve as structural materials in urban greens where they stand out prominently in terms of height, spread and overall size.  

Although they too produce flowers but they are usually too insignificant nor are they outstanding.  

For instance, large trees such as Rain Trees, Ketapang and Ficus Rubber Tree, are, to all intents and purposes, regarded as foliage trees. This is relevant considering their huge heads of foliage and broad spread, thus yielding a very good level of shade that is seen in few other trees within urban confines. 

Of course, there are many other varieties of trees that can be used in urban greening and these should be matched with the situation and location.  

After setting on the ground, the first couple of years should determine if they can grow well from then on. A schedule of proper maintenance should put them on very firm grounds to progress successfully into large healthy trees.


Large masses of jacaranda flowers make for a striking view.

A tabebuia tree overloaded with flowers.

Blooming Hongkong orchid at 30 cm height.


A fairly big golden shower tree in full bloom with lots of yellow flowers.


A tall flame of the forest tree.  

A flowerless ketapang tree sitting within the city.


Masses of flame of the forest flowers.


The crown of an angsana tree loaded with countless numbers of golden yellow flowers.

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