February 2005 — Garden in Hot Dry Weather

BY ANGELA HIJJAS

For the first half of February, the weather seemed unusually hot, dry and hazy. Temperatures in KL reached as high as 38C. In the middle of the month the weather broke with windy storms in the late afternoons and night. This morning I walked around the garden looking at broken branches and just relishing the damp again, when I noticed fallen seeds, since identified as Dryobalanops aromatica, known in Malay as kapor. These canopy trees were planted about 12 years ago, and I am delighted to find that they are fruiting so soon, although I have lost several of the original row planted along the length of the front fence to white ants. Ironically, kapor has a strong camphor frangrance and is preferred for making storage boxes that deter insect attack, but the tree itself seems particularly vulnerable. The fruits have five wings that enable the heavy seed to resist falling straight to the ground under the shade of the parent tree. As happened last night, they were dislodged from the tree by the wind and carried at least several meters, although I am unsure which tree produced the fruit. The fruit commences spinning like a helicopter about 1 meter into the drop, and then falls more slowly, carried away by the wind.

The Grammatophyllum speciosa is flowering in its pot in full sun. This is the world’s largest orchid plant, seen in high canopy positions in the forest. The flowers are yellow and brown, so not outstandingly colourful, but a total of 20 infloresences (stalks) makes up for any deficiency. Seed pods are forming, so hopefully the wind will deliver them eventually to new sites for them to colonize naturally. This plant has flowered once before over the 10 years it has been cultivated, but never so prolifically.

The new planting at the back near the tennis court is settling in, but the previous planting done about two years ago is really starting to go ahead. I have planted three Gondstylus bancanus, known in Malay as ramin melawis, in a low-lying position, and they are now about 5m tall. Native to peatswamps from Perak to west Johor, and in seasonal swamps in Selangor, southeast Sumatra, and Borneo, ramin timber is the main variety that has been illegally logged in Sumatra over recent years and exported through Malaysian ports, although there is now some effort to contain this trade.