Where seen? A beautiful tree with white fragrant flowers
that sparkle like stars against the dark green leaves. The fruits
look like green ping-pong balls. In Singapore it is not commonly seen
in the wild, but it is often planted in our coastal parks. It was
commonly seen on 'non-swampy' sandy beaches and rocky shores, and
is also often planted as a roadside tree and in gardens. Other names
for it include 'Alexandrian laurel' and 'Bintangur Laut'.
Features: A slow-growing tree
that can grow quite tall and spreading (10-30m tall), often crooked,
leaning or even growing along the ground. Bark dark and fissured.
It has no buttress or other root modifications. A milky latex, whitish
or yellowish, sticky, opaque and resin-like, exudes from all cut surfaces.
Leaves oval (8-18cm long) glossy dark green with close-set, fine parallel
veins. 'Calophyllum' means 'beautiful leaf' and indeed, the
tree is quite lovely.
Flowers (about 1cm) with delicate white petals and a puff of golden
yellow stamens. 4-15 flowers emerge from a spike. The flowers have
a sweet fragrance, starting to bloom before dawn to open fully by
sunrise and wither within the next day. According to Tomlinson, the
flowers are almost certainly pollinated by insects. According to Corners,
this "sweetest smelling of any Malayan tree" attracts "innumerable
insects". According to Tee, flowering tends to occur twice a
year, in April-June and October-December. It takes many years before
this slow-growing, long-lived tree starts to bloom.
Fruit (2.5-3cm) smooth, globular with one large seed which is slightly
poisonous. The seed is enclosed in a thin stony layer surrounded by
a spongy layer. The fruit floats for extended periods as does the
seed. But there are also records of it being dispersed by bats which
eat the fleshy outer layers.
Role in the habitat: According
to Corners, the fruits of Calophyllum species are dispersed
by bats and for those that grow by the river, by fish! In fact, the
fruits of the Bintangor tree (Calophyllum lanigerumare) are
used as fish bait by the Malays.
Human uses: According to Burkill, the tree produces "excellent,
close-grained timber" and is highly valued in making various
parts of boats, as well as other non-coastal uses such as for railway
sleepers, in cart-wheels and making furniture. Even though the fruit
is poisonous, the endosperm is eaten in some places as a pickle. Oil
extracted from the crushed seeds are used for lamps, as well as medications
for skin ailments. The resin, leaves and roots also have various medicinal
uses. According to Tomlinson, the tree has many local uses as a source
of dye, oil, timber and medicine. According to Corners, "the
gum, bark, leaves, roots, flowers and oil from the seeds are put to
such an astonishing variety of cures in native medicines that we could
call the tree All Heal". The oil which sweats from the drying
seeds is poisonous.
A relative of this plant, the Bintangor Tree (Calophyllum lanigerum
var. austrocoriaceum) produced a new compound, Calanolide A,
that was found highly effective in controlling the AIDS virus in the
laboratory. The compound was extracted from a twig and fruit of a
tree growing in Sarawak, Malaysia. Calanolide A has since been synthesised
and is still being tested as an AIDS control.
Status and threats: It is listed
as 'Critically Endangered' on the Red List of threatened plants of
Heritage Trees: There are five
Penaga laut trees with Heritage
Tree status: at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, near Botany
Centre Auditorium with a girth of 6.8m and height of 24m, at Pepys
Road Museum with a girth of 6.2m and height of 25m, in the Istana
Ground with a girth of 5.4m and height of 16m, St John's Island
(Blk 12 & 13) with a girth of 4.7m and height of 15m, and Canterbury
Road, at junction with Berkshire Road with a girth of 4.5m and
height of 18m.
Planted in a
Changi Beach, Apr 09
parallel veins on leaf.
Sentosa, Oct 03
Sentosa, Oct 03
laut on Singapore shores
inophyllum on Total Vascular Flora of Singapore Online:
photos and fact sheet.
inophyllum on the NParks Flora and Fauna website: photos
and fact sheet.
Calophyllum story on the Forest Department Sarawak
website about Calophyllum lanigerum var. austrocoriaceum the source
of Calanolide A.
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.
- Tee Swee
Ping and Wee Mei Lynn (eds). 2001. Trees of our Garden City.
National Parks Board. 202 pp.
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.
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.
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.