Rude Plants

Some botanists have a weird sense of humour when it comes to nomenclature or their EQs are pretty bad. This came to mind as I was pointing out the names of plants to my kids in a bid to rub some of the city-slicker off them.

Interestingly, a number of these unfortunate plants are often cited as examples in the local primary school Science syllabus.

Consider these:

Clitoria Ternatea

Yeah, right. Just because it looks like one doesn’t mean you have to call it out. And to think that legions of nonyas use this pretty blue

Clitoria Ternatea

Clitoria Ternatea

flower as a dye for their kuih-kuih or bak chang.

Many of us growing up in the 80s and 90s would have seen these in the Science textbooks too. I really can’t remember why these flowers were featured specifically. Probably because they were commonly found throughout Singapore at the time.

Freudians would have a field day with this poor bud I’m sure, given the chance.

 Bauhinia Kockiana or Kock’s Bauhinia

Kock's Bauhinia

Kock’s Bauhinia

My son smirked and the daughter blanched when I told them  the name of this gorgeous but luridly-named plant the other day.

So Mr Kock created this hybrid, and I’m sure he’s very proud of it. But for goodness’ sake, how about another more suitable name for this very pretty flower?

 

 

Orchid

My parents were orchid enthusiasts and even today, we still have these most difficult of plants, maintenance wise, in our garden.

Did you know though that the Orchid comes from the greek word Orkhis meaning, ahem, testicle?

Ah well, you learn something new every day.

Puffball or Lycoperdon

There’s also the puff ball, yet another strange organism that appeared in a leading girls’ primary school exam paper as an example for reproduction through spores.

This is a direct translation of the puffball according to wikipedia: The name comes from lycos meaning wolf and perdon meaning to break wind; thus the name literally means wolf-farts.

Uh huh. I’m sure the teachers who set that paper knew this when they created that question.

Finally, plants are not the only ones. Animals too are not spared. I present to you a fine specimen: The Longdong stream salamander or Batrachuperus Longdongensis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you really have nothing better to do with yourself, check out http://www.curioustaxonomy.net  for more weird and fantastic stories about how plants and animals get their names. It will make for sparkling dinner conversation. I guarantee it.

Footnote:

Trillium Erectum or Stinking Willie Credit: http://www.trilliumresearch.org/species2.html

Trillium Erectum or Stinking Willie
Credit:
http://www.trilliumresearch.org/species2.html

By the way, as I was googling about botanical nomenclature, I came across this charming description in Home & Garden (http://nwsdy.li/1jfqUhW) of the honourable guy who started it all: Carl Linnaeus, the father of botanical nomenclature, was considered a pretty rude and offensive guy in his day. His classification of plants largely focused on their similarities to human genitalia and sexuality. Back in the 1700s, he referred to stamens as husbands, and pistils as wives, shocking the community at large. Pretty much, he was regarded as a pervert.”  

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Aromatic Angsana

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If you see a flowering Angsana tree, those massive, beautiful grand dames of Singapore, stop and take a whiff.

Amazing, right? That smell takes me right back to childhood.

Back then, we had many more graceful Angsana trees lining our avenues. They hardly bloom, but when their vibrant, yellow blooms burst forth after hot, dry seasons, it is a sight to behold. And all around, the unmistakable scent of their blossoms.

Angsanas are now being cut down round the island as they have been deemed as “risky” trees. The fiercer thunderstorms we are experiencing  mean that branches could come hurtling down onto roads and cause hurt. That, unfortunately, has resulted in five or more beautiful trees along Old Changi Road near my place, at least 40 years old, being gleefully hacked down to nothing. I suspect that the greedy condo developers have taken the advantage to lop down a few venerable giants too to make way for their crass condos.

To me, it is such an awful waste.

The Angsana blooms last only a day or two so if you catch one flowering, go underneath and take a deep breath. It might be an aroma that you might not get to enjoy for much longer.

 

 

Easter Blessings

It’s Easter weekend and there’s much to be grateful for.

Once again, the pink Amaryllis lilies have bloomed in my neighbourhood. Like clockwork, they never fail to share their beauty once a year during Lent, right through to Easter.

Easter lilies

My red Amaryllis also decided to favour us with her brilliance on Good Friday. This is a special flower for the family as I brought the bulbs over from dad’s place when I moved to my new home years ago. When it blooms, I think of dad and I believe that he is not far from me.

It’s also time for Hot Cross Buns, a favourite of mine since my school days in Oz-land. The kids enjoy them too, so while Good Friday is for fasting, abstinence and long church services, Holy Saturday is for baking.

I am no Delia Smith or Martha Stewart and my creations don’t make a pretty picture, but I’m grateful that they’re good enough for thefamily.

Easter is a celebration of light, love, joy, renewal and hope. Here’s wishing everybody light, love, joy and blessings this holy season.

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Lemon cupcakes and very amateur hot cross buns

 

Singapore Spring

The Straits Times beat me to this post, but it must be newsy enough to make it to our local rag.

Spring has come to tropical Singapore.

We’ve seen the latest Imagedepressing UN climate reports (http://bit.ly/1lGYRKz) and the local government machinery has already begun pre-emptive mumblings to the population to expect many dry, hazy days ahead. Singapore’s just experienced it driest first quarter in a century, and we have El Nino and that blasted haze to look forward to. In all that gloom and doom, however, Mother Nature has in recent days given us a respite with a glorious showing of her inimitable raiment.

photo (7)The rain showers on our parched soil has brought forth a flurry of blooming. Nature is in a bit of a panic, I think, and is going full throttle to reproduce and ensure the continuation of her species. It is not lost on me also that this coincides with Spring time in the temperate zones. Many people I know are jetting off to Japan to see the Sakura. While that is still on my bucket list, I am grateful that we are experiencing the benefits of Spring right here in good old Singapore.

The streets, if one bothers to actually stop smart-phoning to look, are currently festooned with brilliant colour from the flowering trees and shrubs. I give the National Parks Board full marks for planting the very picturesque Trumpet (http://bit.ly/PBQ8vf) and Cassia Fistula (http://bit.ly/1oA9i4H) trees along our Singapore roads. I’m sure these would win hands down if there was a prolific flowering contest.

There’s another side benefit to Spring in the tropics. We also get to enjoy Summer and AutumnImage treats too. Summer because of the loads of fruit I see ripening everywhere I look. Autumn because the falling tissue-like flowers from the Trumpet Trees, as well as the detritus of the dry leaves from the recent drought have turned sidewalks and parks into seas of pinks, mauves, whites, reds and browns.

A neighbour’s luscious mangoes

I’m not usually one to go on a soap box but this crazy weather makes me fret. We are treating Mother Earth terribly, trashing our only home in a voracious thirst for urban development and all things man-made.

Kedongdong or Buah LongLong fruit

She has been compassionate this time, blessing us with welcome rain and all this beauty. But time is running out, and I’m sure vengeance will be served. I hate to think that perhaps, just perhaps, what I enjoy today, will only be a fond but distant memory for my kids in their senior years.

Via La Tropica

I walk the dogs every morning around my estate. This takes place about 7 am after the school chauffeuring run, before the madness of the day starts and the heat sets in. ImageWhat started out five years ago in a bid to keep both dogs and owner from piling on the pounds, has brought unexpected side benefits.

I’ve gotten to know the neighbourhood aunties and uncles who are also out on their morning jaunts. There’s a nice down-to-earth, kampung vibe to my little estate, and most people will nod and smile hello. Awww.

Before you non-Singaporean folk wonder what I’m going on about, you must know this. It is something you do not see often in fast-paced Singapore – the smiling passer-by. People are more likely to avert their eyes and look studiously down at the ground when walking towards you. Worse still, they will look at you incredulously if you grin at them, with that “Siao ah, lu kua simi?” (Hokien for “crazy nut, watchu lookin’ at?!!) face.

Secondly, like a kampung, the residents are very good about using any spit of government land outside their houses to plant their fruit and spice gardens. So my walks have often turned into expeditions to collect the aromatics for the dish I intend to cook that day.

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Clockwise from left: Curry tree; Pandan; Kaffir Lime.

Want curry leaves for chicken curry? No problem, take your pick of the many, many trees growing along the way. In fact, I just helped myself to a couple of the fragrant sprigs just this morning.

Feel like making nasi lemak or chicken rice? Pandan leaves are in abundance in the hood. I’ve counted at least twenty plants growing along my usual route. Of course, if they appear to belong to a neighbour, ask nicely first. You have no idea how fierce aunties can be when guarding their home grown treasures.

Need one or two Kaffir Lime (Limau Purut) leaves for a sambal dish? There are a few growing wild just up the hill. They must be one of my favourite spices. A leaf or two sliced finely or pounded adds an instant zing to any recipe.

Fruit trees are in abundance in the neighbourhood too. Now I don’t help myself to those, as the fruit are either the pride and joy of the owner, or food for the few mynahs and orioles that also share our space.

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I took a few pictures of the fruit I saw on my walk this morning. There are many more varieties of fruit but here are a few of the less common ones you may see in Singapore: the Custard Apple, the Jambu Ayer, the Chiku and the Noni tree.

Okay, maybe the Noni is not that uncommon. There seems to be a special affinity for the Noni to the pretty awful soil we get here.  Two small Noni shrubs are growing happily along the crumbling crevices of the retaining wall I share with my neighbour, and are fruiting away.

And no, don’t ask me if I’ve made Noni juice yet. I’ve read up recipes online and they all involve fermentation of some kind and sound ghastly to me. Maybe I should, and if I do, I’m sure it will make for an interesting post in the future.