Singapore's famed Instagram Tree felled

Diane Leow, Channel NewsAsia 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: It sat atop a grassy plain at Punggol Waterway Park and even as a shadow of its former self, what was popularly known as Instagram Tree drew shutterbugs from all over the island.

The tree has its own location on Google Maps, under "Punggol Lone Tree". A search of #InstagramTree on the social network shows at least a thousand photos captured at that spot, be it for #OOTD (outfit of the day) posts, or "emo" musings on the meaning of existence and the transience of life.

But on Wednesday (Dec 16), workers removed what was left of the once-lush and much-loved tree. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) said it was dead and had to go in the "interest of public safety". It was reportedly struck by lightning in July.

According to Mr Goh Si Gium, an executive committee member at Nature Society (Singapore), the tree is an Albizia tree from eastern Indonesia. Over the past few months, its crown withered and its carcass became overrun with creepers.

So how did the tree branch out into an online phenomenon? Social media expert Nicholas Shields explained: "It’s just a tree in an empty lot of land. That is until you allow a bit of creativity with your camera to turn it into a solitary tree in the widest plain in Singapore. It’s all about trick of the eye, I think that’s what most people love about it."

The tree also provided refuge from the hustle and bustle of Singapore, he added. "We are always craving some solace, some escape and this tree, as silly as it sounds, gives us that," said the 987fm Senior Music Director.

He noted that the announcement of the tree's removal was met with sadness and a rush to capture one last snapshot with the icon. "A lot of people have either taken their engagement photos at the tree, or know someone who has taken engagement, wedding, couple photos, school projects, adverts etc. at the tree."


Wedding photographer Alex Goh recalled using the tree as a backdrop in June for a pre-wedding shoot.

"Trees have always been a symbol of growth and elegance for me," said Mr Goh, on why he chose that particular location. "The lone tree was free of any distracting elements in its surroundings. Hence, I was able to focus on the couple and their interaction around the tree."

Mr Goh added that in the concrete jungle that is Singapore, one would be hard-pressed to find a similar spot. Now that the tree is gone, shots captured there are all the more special, and valuable, he said.

Mr Haolun Li, photographer and founder at Framewerks Photography, told Channel NewsAsia before the tree was felled that he was disappointed it had to be uprooted.

"It is getting more difficult to find rustic and untouched places like this tree in Singapore. Even if the tree was struck by lightning, I would love to be back there again to photograph a couple, as the location just gives off an aura of character which few places have," said Mr Li. He managed to snap photos for a couple there in May.


Over the weekend, a handful of youngsters were spotted milking the tree for all its worth as a photo opportunity. Some even ignored the safety cordon around the tree and flippantly posed with a sign erected by HDB warning of danger from falling parts.

Some residents told Channel NewsAsia they did not know the familiar figure would soon be gone.

"I didn't notice anything special about this tree at all, but now and then I see young people coming up to take photos, so I thought this tree must be special," said Mr Chew Fook Hong, who has lived in Punggol for the last 15 years. "Every time I jog past this tree I'll look at it, and I feel good about it.

"I think it's a pity," he said. "This tree is a bit special, because it's solitary. I like to look at it when I jog past. I don't see any solitary trees around except for this one, and it's quite unique actually."

Mdm Arlyn Ahmad, a frequent visitor to Punggol Waterway Park, got off her bicycle to quickly snap a keepsake. "I feel sad, because over here, nothing really lasts forever," she said.

Students Afif Barkerr, Christina Koh and Kun Han Goh braved the erratic, wet and hot weather on Saturday to enshrine the memory of Instagram Tree, after a trip to Coney Island.

"We heard that it's going to be removed, so we thought we'd better come here to get a picture before it's gone," said Ms Koh.

Mr Leroy Tan also made the trip to Punggol with his colleagues Ms Chieh Ruo Qing and Mr Hu Hong Yao. "It's one of the landmarks on the way to Coney Island. Without it, you have one less spot," said Mr Tan, who felt it was a pity that the tree would be chopped down.

Soe Htet, a Myanmar student at Singapore Polytechnic, climbed up the hill with a friend to pose with the tree after waiting out a drizzle.

"I did some research and realised Punggol is quite famous. I thought one day we'd come here, but we never made it," he said. After hearing that the tree had been struck by lighting, his interest was piqued and he wanted to photograph the icon. "(I feel) quite sad, but they say it's bad for the environment. I'm here to commemorate the tree."

Scientist Zviad Tsakadze, a self-professed nature lover, also visited the tree on Saturday morning. Whilst he thought it a pity that the tree had to go, he said it was part of the circle of life. "It's part of nature," he said.

Now that the Insta-famous tree has had its 15 minutes, what next? At least two successors have been identified, Mr Shields shared. "People have suggested some other trees around the island – there’s one at Quayside Isle and a similar-looking tree at Seletar Reservoir."

- CNA/dl

Popular Instagram tree in Punggol removed
Today Online 16 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE – The next time you visit Punggol Waterway Park, an iconic tree that once drew shutterbugs will no longer be there.

The tree, popularly known as #InstagramTree online, was cut down today (Dec 16) as scheduled after arborists had earlier certified the tree was dead. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced last week that the tree, which had been struck by lightning in July, would be removed in the interest of public safety.

Some members of the public gathered at Punggol Waterway Park to watch as workers cut down the tree today.

After the HDB's announcement, many also took to social media to bid farewell, including one Instagram user who put up a series of nine photos. Some 200 photos were posted on Instagram with the hashtag #InstagramTree over the past week, bringing the number of posts with the hashtag to more than 1,700.

In the last caption of the nine-photo series, Instagram user @flyingpistachios wrote: "Thank you for being so picturesque. Singapore should erect a statue of you on your very spot in celebration of the most famous tree."

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