May 11, 2008

Sea teak of Sentosa

The towering natural cliffs of Sentosa are cloaked in all kinds of special plants.Among them is Sea teak (Podocarpus polystachyus). In fact, during our first seagrass transect at Sentosa, Joseph Lai our leading botanist, pronounced the Sentosa shore 'Podocarpus heaven'!

This beautiful coastal forest tree with refreshingly bright green pointed leaves is a conifer. That is, it produces seeds but no flowers. Instead, it has reproductive structures called cones or strobili.Female plants produce a highly modified cone. According to Corners, the ripe seed is a swollen part of the stalk about 1cm long. See also Joseph Lai's photo of the fruit of the tree.

Male plants produce clusters of cream-coloured cones which shed whitish, powdery pollen.From Corners, the scientific name refers to 'many (poly) ears of corn (stachys)' which is what the male cones resemble.

From Hsuan Keng, the tree is considered a species native to Singapore and found in Labrador, Kranji and other parts of the island, usually near the sea or at the back of mangroves. It was also recorded growing in gardens. Corners records it as being common on rocky and sandy coasts and in mangroves in Malaya, as well as limestone hills. He notes that it grows well on rocky places just above the high tide as well as in mangrove swamps.

Joseph Lai has recently recorded Sea teak also at Sisters Island, Lazarus Island, Pulau Jong and Pulau Sarimbun.

With the loss of our natural coastal habitats and mangroves, this once common plant is also becoming increasingly rare.

According to Burkill, the timber is small but still used for house building, carts and various other uses. Indeed, the Malay name for the tree is Jati Laut (translating to Sea teak) as well as Setada or Sentada. Burkill notes that medicinal uses possibly ascribed to it include the use of the leaves as an alternative to treat rheumatism and painful joints.

More about this special tree on Ng, Peter K. L. & N. Sivasothi, 1999. A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I (Plant Diversity). Singapore Science Centre; here's the online version. See also Joseph Lai's photos of the tree on his website and the NPark's Floraweb entry for the tree. We also had a closer look at this tree during a TeamSeagrass monitoring session at Sentosa last year.


Burkill, 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.

Corners, 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.

Hsuan Keng, S.C. Chin and H. T. W. Tan. 1990, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Singapore University Press. 222 pp.

Ng, Peter K. L. & N. Sivasothi, 1999. A Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore I (Plant Diversity). Singapore Science Centre. 168 pp.

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