Relaxing under cool andira shade
Published on: Sunday, May 08, 2022
By: Eskay Ong
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A large andira tree which is about 23 years old has attained a height of about 13 metres (left). An inflorescence bearing hundreds of buds and flowers (right).
THE sight of a good shade tree is likely to evoke nostalgic memories of the past such as peaceful moments under the canopy of some trees in the kampung doing the usual stuffs that may include wallowing away the day in the shade with a few bottles of a fiery tipple in hand. 

Within built-up areas, one of the most widely seen shade trees that is grown in towns and cities in Sabah is Andira surinamensis.  

It is a perennial evergreen to slightly deciduous tree that is much appreciated for its broad and dense rich green crown as well as its thick cool shade. If there are benches under its crown, it is certain that there will be many tired people scrambling to take a midday siesta or a well-earned respite to escape from the sizzling heat of the midday sun.

Although the botanical name of the tree may be a bit of a tongue-twister, the easy way out is just to use a short, that is, andira, as this is the commonly used name that is bandied about on a daily basis. The genus Andira belongs to the family Fabaceae which has numerous varieties most of which have large crowns and good shading quality provided by a well-spread out canopy.

Although andiras are evergreen trees, there is a tendency to intermittenly undergo foliar abscission on an irregular basis. Despite this partial deciduous character, its stature as a shade tree remains largely unaffected, except during serious thunderstorms where young trees may topple, or branches of the larger ones snapped.  

This may affect foliage loss but fortunately, andiras, especially the mature ones, are too tough to be made barren even by the fiercest of thunderstorms or the strongest of winds.

Scrounging around a fruiting andira tree may yield surprising monetary rewards.  

A row of young andira trees in Kg. Air, Kota Kinabalu. Is the guy there foraging for something rewarding?

Close-up view of andira flowers. 

The native distribution of andiras is mainly in tropical America where the countries covered include Brazil, Columbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and the Caribbean Islands. In its natural habitat, andira trees can reach a height of up to 30 metres or even taller although cultivated ones rarely exceed 15 or 18 metres in height.

The leaves of andira trees are pinnately compound, with each bearing more than 10 leaflets. While the young leaves are of a light coloured pale green, the mature ones are dark green with a shiny sheen. Most of the leaves stay on the trees except for the older ones that are wintered off during the irregular foliar abscission period.  For this reason, shades provided by andira trees are one of the best and most consistent kinds.

Andira flowers are pinkish to light purplish in colour. They are borne on large panicles each of which bears many slim branches that carry the inflorescences. A large panicle on a healthy tree may carry hundreds of flowers with more buds developing even as the mature ones begin to bloom. Although not very brightly coloured, the large flower panicles are produced in large numbers as a result of which, it becomes highly visible.

After the flowering, fruitlets begin to appear, and as they enlarge and mature, they appear to resemble clusters of kedongdong although the latter usually come in much bigger numbers. Andira fruits are considered as small fruits as they measure only about 4-7cm in length with a width of about 3-5cm.  

Although the fruits are small in size, they are very hard and so they pack a powerful punch which can easily down a bird or monkey with a well-aimed shot. The fruits are relatively smooth-skinned but it is not as glossy or shiny as kedongdongs.

Usually, there is no problem with the roots of andira trees if there is a sufficiently wide root development zone for it. But within the limited space of city landscaping areas, the zone for even the mature trees is barely 1.5 metres in diameter, and this is usually confined within a bricked circular or square border.  

With the little space, there is nothing for the mature tree to do except to break out of the limited space with large masses of twisted and bulging roots appearing above the ground level, thus breaking up the concrete or brick pavings on all sides.  

This shows the power of andira tree roots, and unless landscape planners act smarter, there is going to be a lot more damages all over the scene. A slow stroll around the city should be convincing enough. Don’t believe?  Believe it.

The stems of young andira trees are normally straight except for those that are neglected or not maintained. As saplings develop into mature trees, the stems lengthen and broaden to as much as one metre in diameter in the case of the old trees.  

Normally, the older trees are harvested in some communities where the trunks are used to provide an income when they are sold or bartered off for some urgently needed materials such as clothing, farming tools, kitchen utensils, or even foodstuffs.  

Although the wood is coarse-textured, it is of a high quality and can be intensively ground to yield a smooth and fine surface. The wood is rather hard and heavy with coloured stains including yellow, brown to dark reddish brown.  

As such, it is often used in the manufacture of furniture, wall-panelling, parquet flooring, timber partitions, etc. With skilful hands, very nice sculptures may be carved out of the wood especially the stumps and joints.

Cultivation and propagation

Andira trees are easy to cultivate. They need to be provided with a sunny or at least bright locations for them to grow vigorously. Most general soil conditions are acceptable including the marginal, scrub lands or neglected areas. Rich soils or sandy loams or those topsoils washed down from a higher levels should make for a very productive growing medium that can enhance the rapid growth rate of the tree.  

If the soil is perpetually moist or slightly damp, growth rate may be even faster. Such conditions of growth are able to help young saplings of two metres to attain heights of up to 15 metres within 7-12 years, and at the same time, achieving a trunk diameter of about one meter at a height of the same.

To create the right conditions for such rapid growths, the right procedures need to be carried out so as not to hinder the fast natural rate of growth. This has to commence from the time the planting hole is prepared right up to the completion of planting and staking of the sapling.

A good planting hole should measure a metre cube and this should take much heavy work in digging and moving the soil that may reach several hundred kilograms.  An enriched topsoil should then be filled in and firmed while at the same time, placing the earth ball of the sapling right at the centre. Tamp down the soil all around the sapling and then tie the stem at two points to a stake that is firmly pushed into soil. When this is done, water the sapling slowly making sure that water really seeps into the soil.

Saplings can easily be started by using seeds that are collected from fruiting trees.  Alternatively, marcotts or cuttings may also be used although the process of seeding normally produces the highest percentage of success. To yield the best results with seeding, some heat or physical treatment may be necessary although not absolutely necessary. 

On many occasions, it is possible to find that there are plenty of already germinated seedlings growing and thriving well under fruiting andira trees all over the city. A half day foraging session scrounging below the canopy of such trees should yield substantial numbers of such seedlings, which confirms that such sessions can sometimes be very rewarding.

On many occasions, saplings need to be firmly supported after the planting. This is especially so if they are tall with a fairly large crown, which is the result of having been kept in the nursery for too long.  An easy way out for many workers is to use a single stake where the sapling is tied to it at a single point.  

This is one way to make easy and quick bucks but the loss is in the likelihood of instability of the sapling after the planting exercise. This loss can be seen in sloppy or slanting positions of the saplings, with the result that as the trees mature, they appear to be untidy, uneven and shoddy.

A better proposition would be to use double stakes, with one on each side of the sapling.  If the stakes are set firmly and vertically, it is unlikely the saplings would face the goyang-goyang problem. 

But the best option would be to use a tripod system of locking tall saplings into a position of unwavering stability and as such, growth and development of the young tree should be healthy and progressive.

With nice and beautiful trees everywhere, Sabahans especially KK city folks, are in debt to the geniuses at DBKK for having slogged and toiled through such capital ideas as cultivating Andira surinamensis trees on a wide scale.

Pinnate leaf with multiple leaflets.


A solitary green fruit.  

A nice tree may also cause damage with their powerful roots.


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