Fort Canning Park [Singapore]

On a cloudy evening, I saw an old woman speaking to a little tree in Fort Canning Park in Singapore. The information board in front of the tree drew my attention, and I began to read it. The lady turned to me and said: "I often come here and speak to this tree. In this place, we had a huge Flame of the Forest tree. When it bloomed the entire area was beautiful. But the tree died in 2020. I used to talk to the tree. As it’s no more, nowadays I'm talking to the offspring". She showed me some old photographs of the tree and she moved away.

Fort Canning Park and Skyscraper Buildings

The Flame of the Forest is native to Madagascar and this particular tree was endorsed as a heritage tree in Singapore. The government of Singapore declares some of the trees as "heritage trees", based on their girth as well as the botanical, social and cultural values. There are heritage trees over a hundred years old, and few of them are native to Singapore. Fort Canning is one of the places to find such heritage trees.

Fort Canning Park is a small hill surrounded by the skyscrapers to the south of Singapore city. One who enters the park can feel the ambience of the rainforest in a few minutes. Though the hill is well known for it’s natural aspect, it has a historical value too. This hill was the centre of the kingdom of Temasek in the 14th century and it became the centre for administration during the British period.

This park was constructed with a fort during the 1850s. When the rebellion broke out in 1857 in India, the Governor General of British territories in India, under the East India Company, was Lord Charles John Canning. In 1958, the East India Company was dissolved and all the British territories, including Singapore, came directly under the British Crown. Lord Charles John Canning was appointed as the first Viceroy of India in 1958. Hence the British Government decided to name the park in Singapore 'Fort Canning'. Today there are hundreds of trees in the park that provide a good habitat for many bird species. To strengthen the spice trade, the British brought cocoa trees to Singapore. I saw a pair of Plaintain Squirrels feeding on the fruit of the trees.

Plaintain Squirrel feeding Cocoa

The Kapok Tree (Ceiba pentandra), native to tropical America, is one of the heritage trees in Fort Canning. The Malay word ‘kapok’ refers to the white fibre in which the seed is embedded. Old trees have large buttresses and the stem is usually covered with stout conical prickles. Another heritage tree well known by appearance is the Rain Tree (Samanea saman), also introduced to Singapore from the tropical Americas. The Rain Tree is called "Pukul Lima" in Malay, meaning 5 o’ clock; the leaflets tend to fold up around that time in the evening. Similarly, the Indian Pitta (Pitta brachyura) is called "Arumanik kuruvi", meaning 6’ o clock bird in Tamil, as it calls around that time in the evening. These names surprised me as they refered to phenomena in other languages.

Rain Tree and Red Jungle fowl

The Red Jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) is one of the common bird species and is found all around the park. They freely roam about, thanks to the local people who don't pose them any threat and is a fine example of wildlife coexisting with humans. Similarly, the Asian Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) and the Clouded Monitors (Varanus nebulosus) are commonly seen in Singapore. I saw an Asian Water Monitor Lizard on a ficus tree. Unlike in urban areas, the Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) trees in this park are well protected, with the aerial roots touching the ground and forming strong woody props. Resident birds, like the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), and the Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) are commonly seen in this tree.

Black-naped Oriole - Javan Myna - Yellow-vented Bulbul - (Top to Bottom)

The American tropics contributed two more heritage trees to the Park, the "Madras Thorn" (Pithecellobium dulce) and the "Earpod Tree" (Enterolobium cyclocarpum). The Pinkish pods of "Madras Thorn" are familiar to many Indians, who consume the sweet pulp during the season. The "Earpod Tree" also produces ear-shaped pods with a sweet pulp, but this is mostly eaten by the wild animals and cattle.

Earpod Tree on the left and Madaras Thorn on the right

During a walk I once saw a pair of Collared kingfishers (Todiramphus chloris) feeding their chicks nesting in an arboreal hole. Unlike most Kingfishers, the Collared kingfisher uses the holes in trees for nesting. They are commonly found in the coastal area of Southeast Asia. I also saw an Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) which also uses the holes for nesting. They coexist well in the urban area and it was really surprising to see them perching in high-rise buildings around the Fort Canning Park. The Park has a mural wall recreated in 14th-century Javanese style. This wall shows the socio-cultural  significance of water from the 14th Century to the 19th Century. The hornbill was also depicted, beautifully carved on the wall, showing the historical and natural importance of the bird.

Javanese Style Wall with Oriental Pied Hornbill Crafted and Oriental Pied Hornbill Perching on Urban Building

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine Sep 2022. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal

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  1. This article has too much of use information and thanks for sharing it! Please keep writing and inspiring us 😊🙏🏽

  2. One tree with many purpose and it’s good to know that it has been a part of the Indian history. Beautifully written 😍👌🏻

    1. Thank you. Please choose your name while commenting or add your signature, thanks :)

  3. A Good article with lot of information... Keep posting!!!!

  4. Excellent Bro..keep posting the good articles 👏 👍

  5. Satheesh, Nice to read about the park with some history👍..
    Siva G

  6. Balachandran VenkateshanSeptember 23, 2022 at 8:39 PM

    Well connected article, would love to visit

  7. நன்று. நிறைய தகவல்கள், அறிவியல் பெயர்கள். ஞாபகம் வைப்பதென்பது சற்றே கடினமான ஒன்று . ஆ று மணிக்குருவி பற்றிய செய்தி , எனக்கு நிச்சயம் புதிது. ,🙂.

  8. Very well written information... நன்றி சதீஷ்