Counting and counting in Pulau Ubin

Updates on my project:

Estimate count of Caryota mitis

I’ve been going to Pulau Ubin to count the number of Caryota mitis plants along the trail edges, which has come up to over 2,000 plants. Now I understand, and really appreciate, the “common” status this plant has in Singapore. In official terms, being “common” means to have more than 1000 mature individuals.

Macaque spotted eating fruits of Caryota mitis

We were cycling along the trail away from Chek Jawa when came upon a group of macaques. They were all over and we tried to cycle past without attracting too much attention. It was a good thing that our fascination took over or else we would not have noticed one particular macaque on a Caryota mitis plant. I decided to stop to take a picture.

Lo and behold, the macaque began plucking the fruits right before our eyes. It was pretty fidgety. Bahiah said that ants were probably attacking it. We couldn’t really see from where we were because the plant was over 2 metres tall and we did not want to get too close. I managed to get a picture AND a video!


Stretching, not too elegantly, for a fruit


The long-tailed macaque and the fishtail palm

I wonder how the macaque withstands the raphides, needle-like crystals within the fruit, considering that it induces an itch response when human skin comes into contact with the fruit [1]. These crystal needles were supposedly deterrent measures against feeding yet there seems to be no effect on birds and mammals [2]. Definitely food fruit for thought! Hehe

I actually managed to take a picture of an Oriental Pied Hornbill. But it’s a bit blurry. I hope I’ll be able to catch it in action aka feeding on Caryota mitis fruits perhaps!

Anyway, here’s the link to video:


[1] Broschat T.K. & Latham W.G. (1994). Oxalate Content of Palm Fruit Mesocarp. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 22(4), 389-292.
[2] Snyder D.S., Hatfield G.M. & Lampe K.F. (1979). Examination of the Itch Response from the Raphides of the Fishtail Palm Caryota mitis. Oxicology and Applied Pharmocology 48, 287-292.

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Love Our MacRitchie Forest walk on 2nd November 2013

I went for the last Love Our MacRitchie Forest walk last Saturday on 2nd November 2013. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning! Our guide, Henrietta, was really engaging and cheerful through out the walk. There were two other guides, Steward and Amy, who contributed to . I really learnt a lot during the walk, not only about the issues surrounding MacRitchie Forest but also about forest system and plants in general.  It was really cool to listen to the guides talk about the fishtail palm too! Turns out that Steward was Tze Kwan’s assistant during her fieldwork collecting civet poop! Small world.

Oh and I saw many fishtail palms. Unfortunately, I got too engrossed listening and taking pictures and eating figs that I didn’t even do an estimated count. FAIL.

However, please make do with the pictures from the walk! For more information on this event or future events, you can check out the Love Our MacRitchie Forest facebook page!

Rubber tree!

Rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. I learnt how to identify this by the leaves that occur in threes.

Fruiting fishtail palm

Fruiting fishtail palm

Selaginella! What a lovely name.

Selaginella! What a lovely name.

I...forgot what this was called :(

I…forgot what this was called 😦

Caryota mitis

Caryota mitis

Young shoots of Caryota mitis

Young shoots of Caryota mitis

The menace, Zanzibar yam plant. Dioscorea sansibarensis

The menace, Zanzibar yam plant. Dioscorea sansibarensis


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Two recces and a meeting

So last Friday, 4th October 2013, I went to on another recce at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This time I entered the forest. Ooo~~

I managed to drag a friend and hence complied to the “No-solo-don’t-be-a-hero” rule of fieldwork. I had good practice in introducing my friend to the plant that is the subject of my study. I kept it to the minimum though because as a scientific researcher, I am only allowed to tell her what I am sure of (currently, the basic structure of Caryota mitis). Nevertheless, at least I got to practice my presentation and communication skills (especially in explaining why it is important to study Caryota mitis in the context of restoration ecology and mutualism).

The best part of the recce was that we got to spot many wildlife that included long-tailed macaques, plaintain squirrels and two monitor lizard sighting!


Monitor lizard on a tree!


We entered the forest via Dairy Farm, past the Singapore Quarry and unintentionally exited at the Wallace Trail. We re-entered the forest though and made our way to the summit before finally exiting at the Visitor Centre. I stopped counting when we accidentally exited at the Wallace Trail as I got distracted over figuring out how to get to the summit. 



I was glad to introduce Caryota mitis to someone new!


Bipinnate leaves with fishtail leaflets of Caryota mitis, the clustering fishtail palm.


At midweek, I had a meeting with Professor Hugh Tan aka my botany professor for a module that I am taking. Bahiah and I met up with him to ask some questions on palms and Caryota mitis in general. He recommended us to pester Dr. Adrian Loo, the palm specialist. Hahaha oops sounds like we were bothering him (nah, just kidding). Aside from talking about plants, I got chided for not being in touch with my culture because I had asked what “bayam” was (apparently, it’s ‘spinach’ in Malay). We also got quizzed on what we learnt during lecture, particularly on fruits when Bahiah asked him a question on fruit productivity. Suffice to say, I embarrassed myself (what’s new?). Nevertheless, it was an entertaining and fruitful (hah!) discussion.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, 13th October 2013. I went on another recce to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This time I went with a different friend who had previously accompanied me too. She was suppose to show me the forested route from Dairy Farm to the Visitor Centre since she had trekked the route before as a camp intstructor. Unfortunately, we ended up exiting at Wallace Trail again. This time however, I just continued counting the plants I saw, taking note that this plants were spotted along a tarmac route instead. We came upon two cultivated (I think) Caryota mitis plants near the Wallace Education Centre. These two plants are a good representation of the clustering habit of Caryota mitis


Syab, as my measuring tool. First plant near Wallace Education Centre.


Second plant at the Wallace Education Centre.

We didn’t spot as much wildlife as the Friday recce. But! We did see a slender squirrel along the Seraya Loop near the Jungle Fall Valley. I need to inform Iris of this sighting. We tried taking a picture/video. We even crouched low but it kept moving and there was too much foliage in the way.


Slender squirrel sighting along Seraya Loop near Jungle Fall Valley.

Oh and an announcement! Looks like the flowering phenology of Caryota mitis will be the scope of my project! I feel relieved to have finally settled on a research topic and having a few questions to address now. At least now my literature research and review can be slightly more focused.

Here’s to another week of struggling!

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Attempted recce at MacRitchie Nature Trail on September 25, 2013

MacRitchie Park was the third recce site for Bahiah and I, having visited Kent Ridge Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve previously. Having learnt from my second recce, I began by taking a picture of the starting point and got my pen and paper ready for a morning of counting plants.


Marker for our start point!

We got slightly distracted when we spotted a plaintain squirrel. This particular squirrel must’ve been used to the human presence because it came quite close to us, jumping from tree to tree. We were so engrossed by its athletic display. I tried taking a picture of the squirrel for identification by another fellow researcher who is studying squirrels (her name is Iris, her blog can be found under the links). I could only capture a blurry picture because it kept moving.


Plaintain squirrel near the base of the tree.

The squirrel went away, signaling that it was time to get down to business. Bahiah and I started counting. However, as we walked further, we realized that the fishtail palms we were spotting were not our study species. Why? The plants that we saw were mainly tall and solitary, which are distinct of the species, Caryota urens. The Caryota mitis is distinctly known not only for its fishtail leaflets, but also for its clustering form.


Supposed solitary Caryota urens.

We were deciding on whether to continue when the answer came in the form of the rainy weather. We managed to reach the 0.5km mark before heading back out of the trail. Although we mainly saw C. urens, it cannot be confirmed that MacRitchie has no C. mitis. After all, we only visited one part of the park. A second recce to MacRitchie may be required.


Marker for our end point.

Update (October 5 2013): Dr. Loo, the palm specialist, took a look at my pictures and subsequently went to look at the plants at MacRitchie on his own. He said that the plants are Caryota mitis, just that they have not suckered yet. Oops. Looks like I need to brush up on my knowledge of palm form. On the bright side, I may have a potential research question now!

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Second recce at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on September 23, 2013

The second recce was more productive. I did a slightly systematic recce whereby I took note of my start and end points, the number of plants I spotted from the trail, and took pictures of almost all the plants that I counted.

In total, I managed to spot 65 plants from the trail that began at Dairy Farm Adventure Centre and ended at the Singapore Quarry.


Recce Route from Dairy Farm Adventure Centre to Singapore Quarry.

There were about 3 fruiting plants and 6 flowering plants. I took several pictures of the plants in order to determine if they were adults or juveniles. Currently, the only way I know how to differentiate an adult from a juvenile is through its leaf form. According to a paper1 I’ve read, adult C. mitis leaves are completely bipinnate whereas the juvenile leaves are once-pinnate.


Left box: Once-pinnate leaf form. Right box: Bipinnate leaf form.

Furthermore, the height of a juvenile plant would be shorter than the height of an adult plant (right?). I have yet to go through the pictures I took so I am not sure how exactly to differentiate and classify a sole adult plant and a sole juvenile plant.

Nevertheless, I was glad to have done a somewhat systematic count of the plants in a site. I was glad to finally get something done in the way of my project. Hopefully, this snowballs into real, systematic research soon.


[1] Fisher, J.B. (1976). Induction of Juvenile Leaf Form in a Palm (Caryota mitis) by Gibberellin. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 103(4), pp. 153-157. Journal can be accessed from

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International Coastal Cleanup at Kranji Mangrove on September 21, 2013

The annual coastal cleanup had descended once again upon our Singapore shores. It was my fourth coastal cleanup and this time it was at Kranji Mangrove, almost directly across the Causeway. The previous locations where I had attended the clean-up were at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, Pulau Ubin and Pasir Ris. This was also my first time at a mangrove in Singapore. It was cool to see the characteristics of a mangrove such as the prop roots.

Most of the trash was located at the shoreline. The type of trash at the site varied from something as ubiquitous as styrofoam packaging to a big mattress. There were also quite a lot of construction materials as well. This is expected since the mangrove was adjacent to a site with heavy construction equipment and activity. It is sad to see the mangrove as a convenient dumpsite.

However, I still managed to see a few interesting wildlife!



2013-09-21 09.04.30

I…forgot the name of this crab.

2013-09-21 09.04.36

Mating horseshoe crabs!

I was glad to have done my part in participating in this yearly event. The coastal clean-up is an annual, global event that occurs in September. It was a fun-filled Saturday morning spent saving the environment with a bunch of friends. To find out more about International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, visit

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Civet spotting at Siglap with the Civet Ladies and Bahiah on September 17, 2013

Weiting had kindly invited Bahiah and I to tag along with them for a night of civet spotting at Siglap. Weiting and Tze Kwan, aka the Civet Ladies, were being filmed for some documentary. So, when we arrived, there was a TV crew too. Despite spending my early childhood and subsequent primary school years in the Siglap area, I had never once saw a civet. Maybe I thought it was cat even if I did see one.

Anyway, once the TV crew was ready, we began our night activity of spotting the civets. I had my headlights on and began walking towards the trees. Normally, I would not dare to blatantly look up into a tree at night after hearing of many ghost stories that begin with looking up at a tree. However, since I was not alone, and I figured my intentions were purely scientific, perhaps the otherworldly spirits would join us in our search for the civets instead of scaring us.

Almost as soon as we began, Tze Kwan spotted the first civet of the night. Initially, I couldn’t see it until she steadied her own headlights onto the creature. IT WAS SO ADORABLE! My apologies for anthropomorphizing but that was my first exact thought.

It never gets old seeing an animal live in its “natural” habitat. Just like the colugo experience, this was my first time seeing a civet in real life. It really does look like a bandit, with the black eye mask. We managed to spot another civet later on which descended to the ground. However, the unusually high number of people must have made it hesitant because we did not see it run across the ground even as we waited patiently for it to emerge from the clump of shrubs. I don’t know if the TV crew managed to get good shots of the civet moving about but here is my pathetic attempt to capture an image of a civet in the tree.

Pathetic, blurry attempt at taking a picture of a civet in the tree

Pathetic, blurry attempt at taking a picture of a civet in the tree

Fortunately,  Tze Kwan got brilliant close-up shots of the civet in the tree. You can check them out on the Common Palm Civets of Singapore facebook page.

Although the common palm civet may seem unrelated to my own research on Caryota mitis, this is not so. In fact, the reason why my project even exists is all because of the common palm civet. From Tze Kwan’s research on its diet, it was discovered that the fruits of the fishtail palm appeared most frequently. As a result, there was a need to find out more to extend the ecology of the common palm civet, which includes the food it eats.

Hence, after a night of civet spotting, I gained a newfound perspective on my own project. The activity reiterated the purpose of my project and that is to bridge the gap in knowledge in the ecology of the fishtail palm itself, which in turn will hopefully elucidate the ecology of the common palm civet in Singapore.

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