laut or Sea poison
Where seen? This tree with large waxy leaves, stunning
pinkish pom-pom flowers and square fruits is now widely planted in
our coastal parks. It is sometimes seen growing wild in our back mangroves.
Elsewhere, it grows in a wide range of coastal habitats from coastal
forest, shores, sandy to rocky coasts and occasionally in mangroves.
Features: A small to medium sized
tree (7-30m tall). Bark pinkish grey, smooth becoming rough and thick
in older trees. It may have buttressed roots.
Leaves oval (20-30cm long), waxy glossy somewhat fleshy, edge smooth
(not toothed). Young leaves may be pinkish olive with pink veins.
Older leaves wither yellow or pale orange.
Flowers very showy with four white petals and lots of fine, pink-tipped
stamens forming a pom-pom shape (10-15cm). According to Corners "the
buds beging to swell at noon, but the petals and stamens do not unfold
until nearly sunset when the heavy perfume becomes noticeable".
By sunrise the next day, the entire circle of stamens and petals fall
off the tree. Corners says, "The ring of stamens floating downstream
and the stale perfume of the night used to be a morning feature of
According to Tomlinson, the night-blooming flowers are pollinated
by night-flying animals. According to Hugh Tan, they are pollinated
by bats. According to Corners, the flowers are "evidently pollinated
by moths, attracted by the scent and hovering in front of the flowers
and probing into them with long tongues, they dust the pollen on their
Fruit large (8-10cm) squarish, fibrous and contains 1-2 seeds oblong
(4-5cm long). The fruit floats and the softer outer layers rot in
the water, so the fruit is stranded on a faraway shore as a fibrous
basket surrounding the seed.
It is the food plant for moth larvae of Dasychira spp. and
Human uses: The tree contains a toxin called saponin, concentrated
mainly in the seeds but also found in other parts. According to Burkill,
the fruits are used as a fish poison. They are pulped and thrown into
the river to stun fish. According to Wee, the heated leaves are used
in the Philippines to treat stomache and rheumatism and the seeds
used to get rid of tapeworms. According to Giesen, juice from the
seeds are used to seal paper umbrellas and to kill lice and other
Status and threats: This tree
is listed as 'Critically Endangered' in the Red List of threatened
plants of Singapore.
Heritage Tree: There is one Putat
laut with Heritage
Tree status. It is at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Healing Garden
and has a girth of 3m and is 10m tall.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Jan 02
Young leaves pinkish.
Chek Jawa, Aug 07
Showy pom-pom shaped flower.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Sep 03
laut on Singapore shores
on the NParks Flora and Fauna website: photos and fact sheet.
- Giesen, Wim
and Stephan Wulffraat, Max Zieren and Liesbeth Scholten. 2006.
Guidebook for Southeast Asia (PDF online downloadable).
RAP publication 2006/07 Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Bangkok.
- Hsuan Keng,
S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The
Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons.
Singapore University Press. 222 pp.
- Tan, Hugh
T.W. and T. Morgany. 2001. Growing
the Native Plants of Singapore. BP Science Centre Guidebook.
E. J. H., 1997. Wayside
Trees of Malaya: in two volumes.
Fourth edition, Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1:
1-476 pp, plates 1-38; volume 2: 477-861 pp., plates 139-236.
P. B., 1986. The
Botany of Mangroves Cambridge University Press. USA. 419 pp.
G.W. H. and P. K. L. Ng and Ho Hua Chew, 2008. The Singapore
Red Data Book: Threatened plants and animals of Singapore.
Nature Society (Singapore). 285 pp.
- Wee Yeow
Chin. 1992. A
Guide to Medicinal Plants. The Singapore Science Centre.
I. H., 1993. A
Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula.
3rd printing. Publication Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur. Volume 1: 1-1240; volume 2: 1241-2444.