'Sakura' season in Singapore too

Nature lovers are treated to a beautiful sight as the pink mempat tree blooms
Huang Lijie, Straits Times 21 Mar 10;

Sakuras are blooming in Japan this month - and so is Singapore's version of the sakura tree, the pink mempat tree.

Indigenous to this region, the pink mempat tree bears flowers with small pink petals and a yellow centre that resemble the Japanese sakura, or cherry blossom, hence its nickname, 'Singapore sakura'.

Like the Japanese sakura, the branches are almost bare before the tree flowers, so the crown of pink buds bursting into bloom is especially eye-catching.

Already, flowering pink mempat trees along Alexandra Road, Choa Chu Kang Drive and Joo Chiat Road, have stopped pedestrians and motorists in their tracks.

Retired teacher Angie Ng, 68, said: 'I stopped my car to take a picture of these trees because they are so beautiful.'

The blooms are expected to last for between one and two weeks.

Indeed, the sight is so stunning that an upcoming City Developments condominium project in West Coast Drive, Hundred Trees, plans to plant some 100 pink mempat trees to line a boulevard near its entrance.

Plant lovers whom The Sunday Times interviewed suggest that parks here should have an area dedicated to the trees.

This will allow the public to admire the flowers the same way the Japanese take part in hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing.

In Japan, people throng the gardens from late March to early April every year to picnic under sakura trees and enjoy the profusion of colour.

Mr Tee Swee Ping, assistant director of streetscape of the National Parks Board, said however that there are no plans to dedicate a park to flowering trees 'in hope of having them flower' at the same time.

The local climate does not encourage intense mass flowering periods, he added.

He explained that mass flowering of trees in Singapore's tropical climate is usually triggered by a long dry spell, followed by sudden heavy rain.

'But most of the time, the local climate is uniformly wet without prolonged dry spells, so intense mass flowering periods are few and far between,' he said.

The recent change in weather, from hot and dry to cool and wet, however, acted as a stimulus, causing some trees to bloom.

He added that such changes in weather usually occur between February and April and between July and August.

The pink mempat tree is also planted in clusters along Mandai Road, Ayer Rajah Expressway, Tampines Expressway, and in parks such as West Coast Park and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Besides the pink mempat tree, other flowering trees here include the trumpet tree, which bears white and pink trumpet-shaped flowers; and the yellow flame, with bunches of small, bright yellow flowers.