Where has all the flora gone?

Straits Times Forum 30 Sep 11;

MR LIM Poh Seng asks an intriguing question: Is the national flower becoming 'extinct' ('In search of Vanda Miss Joaquim'; Forum Online, Monday)?

Singapore's national flower is a sterile hybrid of two orchid species, both of which do not naturally occur in Singapore. It was the result of a cross made by Armenian horticulturist Agnes Joaquim in her garden, as described by pioneer botanist Henry Ridley.

I am not sure if 'extinction' seems to be an ecologically relevant concept to apply to it, but as this is our official national flower, Mr Lim's concerns are understandable.

As conservation scientists, we often ask: How many of Singapore's native plant species have become extinct? How many are in danger of becoming extinct?

The latest edition of Singapore's Red Data Book lists some 30 per cent of more than 2,000 plant species native to Singapore as nationally extinct. Many have been rediscovered in the following years, but many others remain rare - only a few of them exist in a few locations.

One particular native species of interest is the Singapore Kopsia. It is found only in the freshwater swamps of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, and its flowers bear the Singapore colours: red and white.

Another species of interest is a climber known to be found only in Singapore and nowhere else, with the scientific name Spatholobus ridleyi.

If this climber becomes extinct in Singapore, it also means that it will disappear permanently from the face of the earth.

Unlike hybrid orchids that require artificial propagation, our native plant species are fully capable of reproducing and surviving on their own - if not for habitat destruction and disturbance by us humans.

Perhaps we should grow more native plants in all schools. This will enable our children to know and appreciate our gradually disappearing natural heritage.

Chong Kwek Yan

Time to firm up our national icons
Straits Times Forum 30 Sep 11;

BESIDES our national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, have we decided on other national icons?

I am given to understand that our national animal, bird and fish are the Merlion, Crimson Sunbird and the Peacock Bass respectively. Can the relevant authorities confirm this?

All along, I thought our national animal was the lion which is claimed also by other countries like Belgium, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain. Unless we would like to claim another member of the cat family, the Kucinta or Singapore river cat.

The lion is appropriate given its association with Singapore's founding and name. It also has the characteristics of bravery. Our coat of arms bears a lion, and our currency bears the coat of arms too.

However, great thought must go towards selecting our national bird and fish if it is still not confirmed. A selection process where Singaporeans can give their suggestions could be initiated. A committee can then be formed to do the final selection.

For the national tree, could it be the Tembusu, since it is featured on our $5 note? Also it is quite common in Singapore and I do not think it will go extinct.

For schools that do not have a Tembusu tree, they should start growing at least one. In the old days, the trunk of this tree was used to make chopping boards because of its hardness. I am told germs cannot survive on the surface of these chopping boards. Boys can also use the branches to make catapults.

Once we have firmed up on our national icons, we should reflect them in our currency and stamps. This will help Singaporeans know what our national icons are, the values they represent and the stories behind them.

Lim Poh Seng

In search of Vanda Miss Joaquim
Straits Times Forum 26 Sep 11;

IS SINGAPORE'S national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, becoming extinct? Is it difficult to grow?

The only place where I can see the national flower is at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Singapore Tourism Board or National Parks Board should provide a list of places where we can view the national flower.

We should grow the national flower in all schools. This will enable our children to know and appreciate our national flower.

Lim Poh Seng