Bukit Timah and a “Humble” Plant

Bukit Timah hill at 537 feet is the highest (natural) point in Singapore. I wouldn’t categorize it as a mountain and haven’t. My office in the OUB Centre (919 feet) was higher.

 The 45 minute walk to the top is not hugely remarkable and when you get there the view is blocked by surrounding trees and jungle growth. The trip however is not without interest. The Singaporeans tend to look after what natural habitat they have left extremely well.  Whilst I’m constantly surprised how little wildlife you see in jungles (you tend to hear far more) apart from the biting and stinging insect variety, I have seen far more animal and bird life in nature walks in this city-state than in larger national parks elsewhere in Asia. Though as a rule you probably wouldn’t wish to bump into anything substantial in the latter.

There is a metallic road all the way to the top of the Bukit Timah hill and there are several other diversions and routes you can  take around the hill. It is well worthwhile going off the main drag if you are walking at the weekend for you will be rewarded, on this crowded island, with peace and solitude. On the “main road” (vehicles prohibited) interesting trees and plants are described on information plaques by adjacent posts. One, a humble looking plant compared to its towering neighbours, was Rattan.

The Rattan plant grows profusely in South East Asian jungles. It’s a bit like bramble on drugs. I had seen it often before without really seeing it. I’ve cursed its ankle clasping stems and its clothes piercing spines whenever “off trail”.  If you handle it without gloves your hands would be lacerated within seconds. Until I came across the informative plaque on the side of the Bukit Timah hill I really didn’t know what natural Rattan looked like. It is not the most glamorous plant and somewhat un-photogenic. You are unlikely to see it on display at the Chelsea Flower Show apart from the eponymous garden furniture in the hospitality tents.  A bit like Bamboo I assumed. They are quite different. Unlike Bamboo, which is hollow, Rattan stems (malacca), are solid. Rattan is a member of the Palm family and Bamboo, Grass. Furthermore Bamboo is freestanding whereas Rattan needs the structural support of large trees to grow fully, hence the spines to grip and attach, and to reach the sunlight above the canopy roof. In fact no rain forest – no Rattan. One Rattan plant has been measured to be 600 feet long. Pause a moment and imagine that. 600 feet! That is almost twice the size of the tallest measured living tree (a Californian Redwood) and higher than Bukit Timah hill.

 Humble plant indeed!


About The Weary Traveller

I like to walk up and down hills. I've been so very fortunate to have lived most of my life in the Far East (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the Middle East (Qatar, Oman and U.A.E). I now live and work in Bangkok. I'm past the half century now and can't help but feel that some of the mountains that I've climbed lately I should have done yesteryear. The mind is willing if the legs are not always so. Here are some stories and realized dreams of hills climbed and, dales and deserts crossed. With a bit of art thrown in. I hope you might enjoy.
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