Storm-vulnerable Albizia trees to get the chop

Walter Sim Straits Times 27 Jul 13;

THE Albizia, bad boy of trees and scourge of local roads, is getting the axe.

Vulnerable to storms and more prone to falling due to its brittle wood structure and shallow root system, it is being targeted by the authorities in the interest of public safety. The tree is also susceptible to pests and root rot.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Housing Board have been working with the National Parks Board (NParks) to cull the tree and replace it with other species like the sea gutta, tembusu and jelutong, which are more weather-resilient and less likely to break. SLA has already culled some 3,000 storm-vulnerable trees, including the Albizia.

"Priority was given to areas assessed to be more critical," an SLA spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times. He added that this was especially so near roads and public places.

"Pruning will not be effective in preventing Albizia trees from falling, especially during adverse weather conditions. Removing them remains the best solution."

On Sunday, an Albizia tree growing on state land toppled onto a Bukit Timah property belonging to 94-year-old Pamela Hickley, the former private secretary to Singapore's last British governor. The tree, which fell despite a lack of wind, flattened a portion of a fence and garden.

The SLA said it receives about 70 reports of trees falling a year, mainly on forested state land. But it could not give the total number of Albizia trees on the 14,000ha of state land it oversees. This is because the species spreads naturally and tracking is "not practicable".

If left unchecked, the Albizia, one of the fastest growing species of trees in the world, can reach more than 40m - about 11 storeys. It was first introduced to Singapore in the 1870s.

NParks, which is also replacing older trees in parks and along roads which are at risk of falling, has advised agencies to "take a more vigilant and proactive approach to replace storm-vulnerable species, in particular, self- sown Albizia trees".

Over the past 10 years, four people have died and 62 injured by falling trees and branches. There were 122 cases of trees being uprooted from January to April this year.

HDB did not provide figures of the number of trees it has cut down in its public estates, but said that its officers regularly conduct inspections to identify those which may pose a danger.

It also explains the danger to residents who may prefer to see the trees stay. In January, a 30m Albizia in a forested area bound by Elias Road and Pasir Ris Drive 3 was cut despite protests from residents, who said that it was home to 900 parakeets.