Where seen? This tree with small neat leaves can be spectacular
when in male flower bloom, or when the leaves turn red before dropping
off. They are quite commonly seen on our Northern shores. Corners
recorded them as "locally common, as in Kranji Forest Reserve
by the main road" where "they give a beautiful display of
red and yellow autumn tints" ostensibly when the leaves fall
during dry weather. According to Hsuan Keng, it was common in mangroves
including Kranji, Changi and Tuas. The tree grows on both muddy and
stony soil, with its roots spreading. It rarely seen on sandy shores.
It requires freshwater input for a large part of the year and is commonly
found on the landward margin of mangroves.
The milky sap or latex that exudes from broken leaves, bark and twigs
is poisonous and can blister skin, hurt eyes and may even cause temporary
blindness. 'Buta' means 'blind' in Malay.
Features: The tree grows to 15m
tall sometimes branched at the base, thus forming multiple trunks.
Roots run along the ground surface and often knotted and covered with
lenticels. Tomlinson notes that the tree does not have root systems
obviously specialised for mangroves and that it is also found to an
elevation of 400m and he says they thus cannot be regarded as an exclusively
mangrove tree. Bark grey, smooth but warty, becoming fissured. Lenticels
are prominent on young twigs.
Leaves thick, oval and pointed (5-10cm long), arranged alternately
in a spiral. Young leaves are pink, old leaves turn yellow then red
before dropping off. Leaves usually drop off after dry weather.
Flowers are tiny (less than 1mm). Trees bear either male or female
flowers, never both. Male flowers start as upright narrow cones when
young and as they develop, elongate into longer spikes (5-10cm) that
eventually form drooping yellow tassels. Male flowers are said to
be "very scented". Female flowers appear in shorter spikes.
According to Tomlinson the flowers are pollinated by insects as the
pollen is sticky. Bees are common visitors and may be the chief pollinators.
The fruits are small (less than 1cm) three-lobed, green turning black
as they ripen into dry capsules. Each capsule is made up of three
portions, containing tiny dark to black seeds.
The colourful Mangrove shield
bug (Calliphara nobilis) feeds on the seeds of this tree
and is often seen in large numbers when the tree is fruiting. It is
the preferred local food plant for the caterpillars of the moths,
Achaea janatas, Iscadia pulchra, Selepa celtis, and
of the genus Archips, Phyllocnistis, and Sauris.
Human uses: According to Burkill,
the timber is much used in some places for firewood and to make small
articles. It is tricky to cut down the tree as the spattering of the
milky sap can blister bare skin and cause eye damage. Experienced
wood cutters first remove the bark before felling the tree. The latex
is used as a fish poison as well as in dart poison.
Various traditional medicinal uses are made of the bark, leaves and
roots. According to Wee, the plant contains behenic acid. The Burmese
used the leaves to treat epilepsy, in the Solomon Islands the latex
is taken with coconut milk as a powerful purgative and an emetic,
and oil distilled from the wood is used by the Malays to treat itching
and skin infections. According to Giersen, it is not used as firewood
as it produces an unpleasant smoke. But the wood is used to make matchsticks
in the Philippines, also sold as aromatic wood, and is considered
useful for carving. The roots are used to treat toothache and swellings.
leaves and male flowers.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Dec 03
Kranji Canal, Mar 00
Kranji Canal, Mar 09
with multiple trunks.
No specialised roots.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Jan 02
turning red at the same time.
Sungei Buloh, Sep 09
Kranji Canal, Mar 09
trees on Singapore shores
- Hsuan Keng,
S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The
Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons.
Singapore University Press. 222 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.
- Wee Yeow
Chin. 1992. A
Guide to Medicinal Plants. The Singapore Science Centre.