Friday, July 27, 2012

Trip Report: Vireya Rhododendrons in the Cloud Forest

Singapore's Gardens by the Bay has two large domes, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.  Both are amazing places.  The Cloud Forest dome has more of the types of plants I like to grow, including aroids, orchids and other tropical plants.

Gardens by the Bay cloud forest
Gardens by the Bay's Cloud Forest dome

One of the really cool types of plants growing in the Cloud Forest are the Vireya Rhododendrons.  These are a special section of Rhododendrons that grow in tropical locations, usually as epiphytes.  They have beautiful flowers of all sorts of different colors.  I contacted the guy who runs the Vireya website and he helped me identify the plants in this post.  He also told me that the plants in the Cloud Forest were all shipped to the gardens fairly recently and had to have all buds removed from the plants before shipping - for import reasons.  So I am really lucky to have been able to see any blooms.

Rhododendron archangel
Rhododendron 'Archangel'

Rhododendron inferno
Rhododendron 'Inferno'

I'll let the flowers speak for themselves.  Beautiful, right?

Rhododendron jimmy_sax
Rhododendron 'Jimmy Sax'

Rhododendron pretty_lady
Rhododendron 'Pretty Lady'

Rhododendron jasminiflorum
Rhododendron jasminiflorum

I need to try to grow one of these.  Right now all I can think about is how unhappy they would be in my greenhouse.  It has been about 100 degrees every day for the past couple of weeks and we haven't had any rain in over a month.  It's not exactly a cloud forest here in central Oklahoma.

Rhododendron Uluru
Rhododendron 'Uluru'

Vireya Rhododendron
Rhododendron 'Kisses'

I will be posting more photos from Gardens by the Bay soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Trip Report: Fruits in Singapore

While in Jakarta I got to sample a lot of unfamiliar fruits.  On my single day in Singapore, I got to sample even more!

My friend Shawn took me to Geylang, where there are numerous durian sellers along the streets.  This part of town is the place to go for the durian lovers.  Shawn said that you are not allowed to carry durian on the subway since it smells so... strongly.  So basically, everyone comes to this one area to eat durian.  And there are dumpsters and dumpsters and dumpsters full of the empty shells to prove it.

Cutting my durian
Shawn picked out a nice, small durian for me to sample.  The seller cut into it and Shawn inspected the inside to be sure it was a nice quality fruit.  We took my small, $2 durian back to a table and Shawn showed me how to pull it open and dig in.

My first taste of durian
I won't say I liked the taste, but it was better than the smell.  I was able to eat the fruit off of 1 seed.  Pause, then try another.

Shawn finished off my little durian and then went back to buy a larger one for himself.  He got a $5 durian and tore into it.  He told me his fruit was a little sweeter and less bitter than mine had been.  So, I went ahead and tried one more, just to have the full experience.  After we (Shawn) had finished our (his) durian, we washed our hands using the method of running the water over the outside of the fruit to help remove the stickiness and smell from our hands.  I do think that it helped, though the people who were watching us do this told Shawn that it doesn't work.

Dragonfruit (beet purple and white), and other cut and packaged fruits
Then we walked by some of the fruit stands and Shawn picked out a couple pieces of several different fruits for me to try.  First, was the mangosteen.

The mangosteen fruit is a sweet white pulp inside a thick, plum-colored rind.  There is a pit, which should not be eaten.  I really liked the mangosteen and will look for those again, if I have the chance.

Mangosteen inside
Then was the rambutan, a hairy little red fruit.

This one was also sweet and worth eating again.

Rambutan inside
We also got some longans (dragon's eye), which I had had in Jakarta and somewhat enjoyed.  Then were the lychees.  I had tried lychee juice at my hotel one evening and it was pretty decent.

The inside of the lychee was similar to the longan, with a little bit of fruit surrounding a big seed, which is not edible.

It's exciting to know that there are so many fruits out there in the world besides oranges, apples, bananas and pears.  So many different flavors to try and interesting packages to open.  For instance, when I was in Jakarta I just figured out my own ways into each fruit, since I was trying them on my own.  When I was tasting these fruits with Shawn he had a clever way of tearing in to each fruit.  These things take practice.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Trip Report: Botanical statues of Jakarta

Jakarta is the capital of the diverse islands (more than 17,000 of them) of Indonesia.  At one time, Indonesia was ruled by the Netherlands.  They won their freedom once more on August 17, 1945.  Their historical struggles and ultimate victory are remembered with the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta.

The night scene around the Monas
This monument includes a 433 foot spire, capped in gold foil, a wall of bas relief carvings telling the history of Indonesia, and a museum.  This is all surrounded by a large park that is well-utilized by the people of Jakarta. On my daytime visit there were hundreds of people around, marching, jogging, and exercising in groups.  On my evening visit there were even more people present.  Mostly they were families with small children riding scooters or flying light-up helicopters, but there were also teenagers hanging out, doing what teenagers do, and vendors selling interesting things like mini-bajaj toys.  Yes, I bought one.  Yes, it is my coolest souvenir.

Bajaj on the streets of Jakarta
My toy bajaj that makes the authentic tut-tut sound when you pull it by a string
The gardens surrounding the bas relief wall at the center of the monument contain some rather curious tributes to the natural wonders of Indonesia.  In terms of Guinness World Records, Indonesia wins several prizes for botanical marvels.  The "largest flower" prize can be broken into at least three different categories, and Indonesia gets to claim two of them.

Amorphophallus titanum
Amorphophallus titanum - photo courtesy wikipedia
Amorphophallus titanum - also known as the Titan Arum, Carrion Flower or Corpse Flower - is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the known world.  It is not a single flower, but hundreds of flowers, all contained on that one large spadix.  "Inflorescence" means a collection of flowers.  "Unbranched" means that the flowers are all contained on the same structure.  These plants are native only to western Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia.  [For the record, the largest branched inflorescence belongs to a palm tree, which occurs in India and Sri Lanka.]

Amorphophallus titanum statue
The gardens around the monument contain 28 statues of the Amorphophallus titanum and they are all to scale.

Rafflesia arnoldii
Rafflesia arnoldii - photo courtesy wikipedia. Author: ma_suska
Rafflesia arnoldii - also known as the Corpse Flower - is the largest single flower in the known world.  It occurs only in western Sumatra as well.  Just like the Titan Arum, it derives its common name by smelling like a decomposing body to attract corpse flies.

Rafflesia glass sculpture
The gardens contain 8 glass sculptures of the interesting Rafflesia flowers.

Four Amorphophallus titanum statues in view
So here's to art and to honoring your botanical marvels!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trip Report: Ficus, Plumeria and Palms at Gardens by the Bay

For my one free day in Singapore, I set out to visit the recently-opened Gardens by the Bay, a garden that cost over 1 billion Singapore dollars to build.  I literally took 1,114 pictures during my 1 day in Singapore!  Needless to say, I won't be posting all of those pictures here.  I am trying to come up with a reasonable number of blog posts on a reasonable number of subjects and a small collection of photos.  First off are some trees from the outdoor gardens, specifically those of the Ficus, Plumeria and various Palm genera.

GBB has a great collection of trees, including several species of Ficus I had never seen before.  One of the first Ficus that I saw (and really admired) was Ficus deltoidea.  My friend, Shawn, that toured the gardens with me, said that Ficus deltoidea is quite common in Singapore and is even used as a hedge or ground cover.  Sure enough, later we saw it densely planted, as if intended to become a ground cover.

Ficus deltoidea

Ficus deltoidea gets its name from the appearance of the veins on the leaf, which look like a river delta.  There are a couple of other Ficus with triangular leaves.  The species Ficus natalensis ssp. leprieurii has very smooth, triangular green leaves and small brown figs.

Ficus natalensis ssp. leprieurii, Triangle Fig

The Rusty Fig has a very prominent trunk, even when the total tree height is not tall.  The bark is smooth and gray.  The tree gets its name from the color of the undersides of the leaves.  This particular tree had a ton of aerial roots handing down from the branches.  My guess is that the gardens staff is going to have their work cut out for them keeping this tree in check.  It could easily take over and become a behemoth.

Ficus rubiginosa, Rusty Fig

The most unusual Ficus award goes to the Philippine Fig, Ficus pseudopalma.  This tree was small, but really didn't look like a Ficus to me.  Like a palm, the leaves were all emerging from the crown of the tree, with the large black figs packed in at the base of the leaves.

Ficus pseudopalma, Philippine Fig

Most of the large trees were clearly identified with markers, but one Ficus that I really liked was missing a placard.  It had very small figs that were bluish in color.

Unknown Ficus

I am used to seeing Plumeria rubra trees in various flower colors in most tropical places.  The only other Plumeria species I have seen in Plumeria pudica, which has leaves of a distinctively different shape.  GBB had three other Plumeria (or at least what I thought were Plumeria) that I had not seen before.  One appeared to be the regular Plumeria rubra, but in miniature.  Another looked similar to Plumeria rubra, but had a purplish tint to the leaves.  The flowers were small and understated.  The fruit that formed after pollination was totally different from the fruit of Plumeria rubra; this one was fleshy, football shaped and dark purple.

Mystery tree with colorful leaves and small flowers

I have enlisted the help of my friends in tracking down the identity of this mystery tree.  They are thinking that it is not a Plumeria afterall.  One possible genus is Cerbera.  I am still looking for the correct ID.

Fruit or seed pod from the mystery tree.

The other interesting Plumeria was labeled as Plumeria obtusa 'Hanging Windmill.'  The flowers of this tree are spidery and white and the foliage is much darker than the typical Plumeria.

Plumeria obtusa 'Hanging Windmill'

Of course, there were lots of palm trees at GBB, but I am still only casually taking notice of palms when they strike me as very different from other palms I have seen.  One that fit this bill was Arenga pinnata, which had very dark fiber up the entire trunk.  This is known as the sugar palm, because the unopened inflorescence can be tapped to yield a sugar water.  This palm is important to the diet of the endangered Cloud Rat.  Yes, that is a real animal.

Arenga pinnata, Sugar Palm

Arenga pinnata trunk

The other palm that caught my notice was a bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis.  There was a row of these along a median at one of the entrances to the park.  They just have a really neat shape to them, don't they?

Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, Bottle Palm

Well, this is something like episode 1 of 10, chronicling my trip to Singapore's Gardens by the Bay.  So stay tuned for many more photos and posts soon!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trip Report: Indonesian fruits

Here in Jakarta I have gotten to try lots of different foods.  Since I am restricting this blog to plant-related subjects only, I will share the more planty food I have eaten here on my trip.


The coolest fruit by far is Salak, which is the fruit of the Salacca zalacca palm. It is also called snake fruit because of the scaly skin. It is amazing how much the skin is like a snake skin!

Peeling the salak.  Here you can see the separated fruits inside.

The fruit inside is hard and divided into sections like garlic cloves. It is not juicy and contains a large hard seed, but the fruit is pretty good.

Salak with seed exposed

One fruit is particularly famous around southeast Asia for being loved by the locals and hated by western visitors. It is durian and it smells god awful. Truly. I actually haven't had a chance to taste a pure durian fruit (yet), but I did buy a durian pudding and eat a good 5 or 6 spoon fulls. I was actually surprised that it wasn't as bad as I expected. I wouldn't say I liked it, but I will say that the smell was worse than the taste.

durian pudding
Durian pudding

I am planning to try a durian and also a dragon fruit (hopefully) in Singapore, before I head home.  I also need to try one of these starfruits!

starfruit, Carambola
Carambola (or starfruit)

Fruit juices are very popular here, especially with lunch. I have now tried at least 6 different kinds, including strawberry, lychee, guava, the two pictured below (from fruits I had never heard of), and sirsak (two pictures down). The lychee fruit comes from the Litchi chinensis tree. I haven't actually seen any lychee fruits, but I looked up some information on them and they are very similar to longan (below).

Two fruit juices, popular to drink with meals

Sirsak juice is made from the "soursop" fruit of the Annona muricata. It is my favorite juice that I've had here. It was pretty thick and really tasted like a virgin pina colada. Does it get any better than that?

sirsak juice
Sirsak juice

Before you peel off the woody skin, the Longan fruit looks like a tiny potato. This fruit comes from the Dimocarpus longan tree.


Once the skin is peeled away you can see the milky translucent fruit, which is a lot like a grape with the skin peeled away. It is juicy and has a good taste, although I can't think of anything that it tastes like. There is a large seed inside. The name longan means "dragon's eye" in Chinese, due to the appearance of the fruit and seed inside. I liked this fruit pretty well.

The exposed inside of the Longan

The Markisa fruit is from one of the edible species of Passionflower, Passiflora edulis. It looks a lot like an orange on the outside, but it's a whole different ball game inside.

Markisa (passion fruit)

When you peel the skin away you find lots of seeds that are basically encased in a small amount of sticky fruit that is really not worth the trouble. It doesn't taste great and the fruit to seed ratio is about 1:1. That's a lot of spitting and very little to show for it. I read on wikipedia that the orange-skinned variety (like mine) is usually not eaten but the fruit juices are strained out and used for various recipes.

Inside of the Markisa (passion fruit)

Well, that's all for now. Off to taste some more fruits!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trip Report: Plants along the streets of Jakarta

Yesterday I went for a walk.  Along the way I took a lot of pictures of plants growing along the sidewalk.  Jakarta is not a particularly pretty place, but there are some neat tropical plants growing wherever they can take hold.  For purposes of this blog, I'll be showing you those pictures.

Polyathia longifolia in front of a nice house in Jakarta
One of the more common trees here in Jakarta is the Polyathia longifolia, which is usually growing tall and skinny like an Italian cypress tree. It has long shiny leaves with undulate margins (wavy edges).

Leaves of Polyathia longifolia
Some of my favorite plants (Aglaonema, Dieffenbachia, and Calathea) are growing everywhere here.



A pot full of Dieffenbachia
Really large Dieffenbachia
Aglaonema, maybe

There are also lots of colorful flowering plants around: Bougainvillea, Plumeria, Heliconia, Canna and things I have never seen before.

Some sort of Acanthaceae, possibly Crossandra



Do you know what this is?
(Update: mr_subjunctive and peaches identified this as Clerodendron thomsoniae)

There were some other nice Aroids (besides the Dieffenbachia and Aglaonema) growing here and there...

An aroid climbing a tree. Perhaps Epipremnum or Rhaphidophora.


There are Sansevieria growing everywhere. I noticed one in particular that was in bloom.

Sansevieria in bloom

When I finished my leisurely walk, I came back to the hotel, where is some more formal landscaping out front.

Agave in front of the hotel

Adenium (foreground) and Cycad (back right) in garden at hotel entrance
My walk took me to a park about a mile away from the hotel.  I'll post pictures from there in a separate post.  Stay tuned!