A Hidden Beauty – The Chocolate Soldier butterfly!

When the sun shines and the heat wakes up the plants, tiny invertebrates are starting their daily routine in the woods. Squirrels are climbing up the trees for nuts and berries, monkeys reach up to the canopy of the rainforest to feed on shoots, and magnificent water monitor lizards emerge from the streams and ponds to explore and hunt for food. Aside from these scenarios in Tropical Spice Garden, butterflies are also fluttering about in the bright sunshine, displaying their beauty. One of the common butterfly species sighted is the Chocolate Soldier, Junonia iphita.


J. iphita is a nondescript brown with some dull markings on the wings. When a J. iphita sits on the ground, you might easily mistake it as a small dry leaf! With a wingspan of about 5 – 6cm, both sexes are nearly very similar in appearance. However, butterfly experts pointed out the fact that females have slightly broader and rounded wings. It is one of the most widespread species with a distribution from Sri Langka and India, through Malaysia to Bali and the Lesser Sunda Isles, all the way to China. J. iphita are usually found close to the ground level and often bask in the sun during sunny day.

In Tropical Spice Garden, we often observe J. iphita flying in pairs, circling around the Heliconia plants along the tractor path up to the Bamboo Garden. When the sun shines through the canopy, the little beauty sits in the sunny spots on the cemented ground, slowly folding and unfolding its wings, enjoying the heat from the sun.


Like bees and bats, butterflies play an important role in pollination and also as ecosystem indicator. Various habitats across the world have been destroyed on a massive scale, and the patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to deforestation and pollution. The disappearance of butterflies in many areas due to deforestation and pollution results in a more severe consequence than just a loss of colour in the environment. As biological indicators of a healthy ecosystem, butterflies and moths collectively provide a range of environmental benefits: pollution, natural pest control, and a vital part of the bottom-up food chain.


Butterflies and moths have an interesting life cycle worthy of study and research. Not only they undergo a complete physiological change but they’ve been around for at least 50 million years and make up around a quarter of all estimated species on earth. These creatures are very sensitive to pollution and changes in the climate. With the uncontrolled growth in unsustainable urban development, we don’t realise that we are actually degrading our living conditions and what more, destroying a variety of invertebrate species with every land clearing. We also fail to recognise that the world’s food supply depend on pollinators.

Looking at butterflies make us happy, right? To attract butterflies to your own neighborhood or garden, try planting some perennials, flowering shrubs and trees that butterflies love. You can even try enticing them to visit by putting out a small saucer of syrup but do be careful of ants! Educate yourself and your children on the importance of these tiny friends before thinking twice to execute the “babies” – eggs and caterpillars on household plants. Go outside to your nearby park or create a garden of your own and try to identify the types of butterflies existing around. Create a sketchbook to learn and appreciate these pollinators.



Butterflies love friendly neighborhoods. Next time when you see a Chocolate Soldier nearby, make sure you welcome them with smile, snap a photo of the butterfly and share it with us!


More to read:





Beautiful Malayan Banded Gecko in the Garden!

Lizards, geckos and skinks…these cold-blooded reptiles could be one’s worst nightmare! However, the nature-enthusiastic staff at Tropical Spice Garden would be thrilled to spot any kind of creepy crawlies! This particular day, we were especially lucky to be able to observe a unique species of gecko – the Malayan Banded Gecko (Cyrtodactylus pulchellus).


C. pulchellus is also known as the Banded Bent-toed Gecko or the Malayan Forest Gecko and was named after the Latin phrase “pulchellis”, which means pretty! Well, we sure do agreeJ There is a distribution of 13 species of C. pulchellus complex range from southern Thailand through the Thai-Malay Peninsular to southern Peninsular Malaysia. The endemic C. pulchellus on Penang Island have been observed around Teluk Bahang, Botanical Gardens and Air Hitam.

This beautiful C. pulchellus in the garden was basking under the sun on a Heliconia plant.  It was approximately 10cm in body length (snout to vent), with a tail length of 12cm. It has a unique coloration on its body, displaying a light chestnut-brown colour with light-edge dark brown cross bands from head to tail. It was quite docile and remained quiescently on the Heliconia leaf, which enabled us to get closer to this little cutie-pie!




There is a very little is known about the distribution and taxonomy of this complex in the northern and southeastern range of Peninsular Malaysia. Thus, we are very happy with the fact that our garden serves as a habitat for this rare gecko species, as this group’s local endemism is in hilly and mountainous areas where it is known to occur in West Malaysia. Also, there are several local researchers have been actively involve in the investigation of the least explored parts of West Malaysia, in order to discover the diversity of rare reptiles that are hidden silently in different layers of tropical rainforest.


Some people might find these creepy crawlies quite disturbing and the first action when encountering these creatures is to execute them. There are scenarios where we set up rodent traps such as glue boards to ensnare pests, yet regrettably caught the endangered reptiles instead. What’s worse is to hear about people finding these reptiles lingering around their gardens, and in their panic, killing the creatures – a highly undesirable consequence – without understanding the importance of them in the role of biological pest control and keeping the balance of the food chain intact.




In Tropical Spice Garden, all wildlife are allowed to comfortably survive in the hierarchy of nature as we practice the principle of protecting and conserving the species in the Garden through eco-tourism, education, and research. There is usually a higher chance in observing such nocturnal reptiles – and others such as snakes, lizards and other gecko species – during our Night Walks where our professional guides will explain the beauty and importance of these cold-blooded animals to the guests. Besides, our Nature Education facilitators respect every living creature in the garden, designing various educational activities with a syllabus that help children to understand and appreciate the humbler lives around them. Many Penangnites might not even stand a chance to witness some of the precious, endangered, rare wildlife around Penang, for instance our very own Malayan Banded Gecko Cyrtodactylus pulchellus.




If you are a reptile lover, make sure you do not miss the Night Walks in Tropical Spice Garden. Bring your enthusiasm and with a hearty serving of curiosity and join us for an interesting herping session in the Garden! Who knows, it might be your lucky night to spot a C. pulchellus this Halloween!


Extra readings:

  1. Lee Grismer, Perry L. Wood, JR., Shahrul Anuar, Evan S. H. Quah, Mohd Abdul Muin, Maketab Mohamed, Chan Kin Onn, Alexandra X. Sumarli, Ariel I. Loredo & Heather M. Heinz. 2014. The phylogenetic relationships of three new species of the Cyrtodactylus pulchellus complex (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from poorly explored regions in northeastern Peninsular Malaysia. Zootaxa 3786 (3): 359-381.

Being Vegan : Saving The Planet One Bite At A Time

This wasn’t the first time the gallant Pamela took the mic and stir the wondering minds of her audience. As a vegan and an true animal lover, Pamela shined light on many concealed issues in relation to the impact food industries have on sentient beings and people in general. In addition, she enlightened many of us on how vegan is the right way to go to save our companion animals, our health and our planet. Her authentic approach to presenting the truth is both refreshing and soul piercing.

Although the talk was more of a discussion this time round, Pamela managed to captivate each and every one of them with inspiring and informative story of what’s really happening on this planet. Her skills and enthusiasm in drawing the pictures of tortured animals and fallen lands is just sensational every time she speaks. She is undoubtedly a reliable source to guide anyone who wishes to lead a more blissful and cruelty free life.

The discussion could never be carried out so successfully without the aid of Tropical Spice Garden (Paul & Michelle). The cosy and aspirational environment along with the healthy organic delicacy simply made everything else jive and harmonious. I really appreciate the support and contribution from the audience, especially from our vegan friend, Mariano Sosa, who selflessly volunteered to give us a sneak peak of the real world through his laptop. Overall, it was one of the best holistic motivational talks I’ve ever been. – Tan Seoh Chen


Speaker : Pamela Nowicka

Speaker : Pamela Nowicka


Part of the participants having a discussion

Part of the participants having a discussion


Snacks by Zenxin Organic Food Penang @ Prima Tanjung

Snacks by Zenxin Organic Food Penang @ Prima Tanjung


The fist talk that was held on 26th September 2015 @ TSG – In The City was great and the upcoming talk by Pamela Nowicka will be held on 10th October 2015, 3pm @ TSG – In The City as well with the title Being Vegan: Saving The Planet One Habit At A Time.

Call us for enquiries and bookings!

T: +6012 498 8797  |  +604 881 1797

E: education@tropicalspicegarden.com


Spice Wars Cover


I had a major craving for Indian food last weekend so I had briyani on Saturday and ‘tosai’ on Sunday – both with incredibly explosive combinations of spices in each dish that left my tummy rumbling quite happily.

Many of us may take spices for granted now since it’s readily available at every wet market and even have their own aisle in supermarkets. We hear right, left, and centre on their uses and benefits – whether to flavour foods, as a form of therapy and medicine. When faced with such an amazing array of varieties, do you ever stop to wonder where these spices come from? Why certain spices are more prominently used in Chinese/Malay/Indian cuisine and traditional medicine?

The spice trade is pretty old and back then, they weren’t as accessible as they are now. The history behind the spice trade is fascinating and inspiring in how they shaped the world – our world and our nation.

spice wars poster JPEG Front

In the next couple of months, we bring you the experts on our local spice history.

spice wars poster JPEG Back

Attend both talks and the special garden tour for RM110 which includes a Spice Friends membership!

Enquiries & Bookings:

E: education@tropicalspicegarden.com

T: +604 8811 797  |  +6012 4988 797

FB Event Page: Spice Wars



Vegan Talk Cover


Going ‘green’ seem to be a fast-growing trend in the light of current environmental issues but are you as confused over the variety of areas and options and ways as we are? Fear not, for the next month or so we are here to help!


Pamela Nowicka, a staunch supporter of environmental friendly pursuits, will be holding a couple of talks at our town shop: TSG In The City, 29 China St.

  1. Being Vegan: Saving The Planet One Bite At A Time
  2. Going Green: Saving The Planet One Habit At A Time

talk-vegan by pamela JPEG

Being Vegan: Saving The Planet One Bite At A Time

Veganism sounds like daunting lifestyle for those of us who grew up loving our pork knuckles, beef rendang, and mutton curry. Author and journalist, Pamela Nowicka, will be introducing the vegan concept – what it is and what it isn’t. Pamela became a vegan in 2013 for personal health reasons and after experiencing the life-changing benefits, she embarked on a mission to debunk myths and false assumptions about veganism.

In this talk, she will be  comparing the implications between a non-vegan and a vegan lifestyle for the environment, water, animals, health, climate change.

If you are curious about the benefits of living a vegan lifestyle or apprehensive about potential challenges of going vegan, bring those questions to the talk!



Going Green: Saving The Planet One Habit At A Time

Modern life leaves a lot to be desired on the sustainability front. With ever decreasing resources like water, topsoil and biodiversity, what can the ordinary person do to make a difference?

Pamela will be outlining the above issues and explore the challenges in changing our lifestyle to be more environmental friendly – does living in high-rise buildings mean we can’t do much? What can we actually do?




Complementary to these talks, we have a vegan cooking demo and a gardening workshop which relates back to the talks and for you to follow up with ready-made, pro-active solutions.

talk-vegan by pamela JPEG - Copy (3)talk-vegan by pamela JPEG - Copy (2)

Keen to start a greener lifestyle with us? Come spice it up with our promotional package!!
Attend both talks, the cooking demo and gardening workshop for RM180 which includes a Spice Friends membership and save up to RM60!

Enquiries & Bookings:

E: education@tropicalspicegarden.com

T: +604 8811 797  |  +6012 4988 797

FB Event Page: Spicing Up The Green Life

I’m a Junior Naturalist~

Our popular school holiday programme is now open for group bookings!
From 20th  to 26th September 2015, gather your friends for a fun-filled day at Tropical Spice Garden where you will experience the outdoors as a Junior Naturalist!
~EXPLORE your senses by going on an amazing-race around the Garden to fulfill your quests!
~Put your senses to the test as you OBSERVE your surroundings during the jungle trekking up the secondary forest to our water catchment area!
~Find natural treasures such as water bugs, intriguing stones and shells to COLLECT at our streams!
Inline image 1
*bookings to be confirmed by 14th September 2015
*minimum 10pax per booking
*other dates subject to availability and confirmation two weeks in advance

Chef Nurilkarim | Jawi Peranakan Cuisine

This 4th August 2015, TSG Cooking School will be having a Jawi Peranakan cuisine cooking class conducted by one of our guest chefs, Chef Nuril.

Jawi Peranakan refers to a community of Muslims with South Indian and Malay parentage born in the port cities of the Straits of Melaka; namely Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. It all started in the early 19th century when Muslims from South India migrated to Southeast Asia as traders and missionaries. As they settled down and married the locals, the resulting cultural merge was a “distinctive identity that was captured in their architecture, clothing, jewellery, and cuisine.”

Immensely proud of his heritage, Chef Nuril is eager to share the delights of Jawi Peranakan cuisine with TSG Cooking School guests where “the surroundings are calming with its beautifully landscaped hills of healthy spice [and herb plants] which allow us to gain a further understanding of how we incorporate these spices in our daily food.”

“Working as a chef, I have done quite a number of classes and demonstrations but cooking in Tropical Spice Garden is a privilege for anyone who loves food and the bond it has with nature.” The kitchen in TSG Cooking School is equipped with 10 working stations for a very intimate, hands-on experience for “enthusiastic individuals be it a tourist or local who is keen on learning the unique blends of Malaysian cuisine.”

Chef Nuril has won multiple awards since his undergraduate days and was the Culinary Editor of the Peranakan Muslim Heritage Series book, “Feasts of Penang: Muslim Culinary Heritage” by Dato Dr. Wazir Jahan Karim. With a remarkable academic background in western culinary arts, his passion remains in the tantalising flavours of Asian food and Penang’s unique Jawi Peranakan cuisine.

As an esteemed chef, one does wonder if Chef Nuril has higher expectations of himself when it comes to cooking Jawi Peranakan dishes compared to other cuisines.

“I definitely have high expectations of myself, not only in the food but more for the overall delivery of the class, and whether the students are comfortable with my workflow. Personal expectations are usually achievable if we take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of making a mistake. For my students, when it comes to Jawi Peranakan cooking, setting my expectations too high would mean a very rigid class. Personally, to relax and enjoy the fun you have with cooking is the first step so knowledge can be retained alongside fond memories, my expectations for the students most of the time is their willingness to learn and to try new things even though if it may seem a little alien at first. Jawi Peranakan food, like many cuisines from fusions of many cultures, focuses on balance although [it is] slightly richer than traditional Malay food. Once the students understand how to achieve this balance in the food with the usage of the proper ingredients and its quantities, most of my work is done. From there having understood the fundamental principles of cooking, the student is then empowered to add their own personal touches or adjust the flavours notes to their liking.”


Upcoming classes:

4th August 2015

15th September 2015


9.00am – Live Guided Tour of the Spice Terraces

9.45am – Complimentary tea @ Bamboo Garden

10.00am – Gift Shop 10.15am – Cooking Class

1.00pm – Lunch with Chef @ The Patio



Creamy Rose Chicken

Ghee Rice with Cucumber Achar

Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar


Charges: RM233.20 (incl. GST 6%)


> Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School 


Battle of the Reptiles – Green Crested Lizard vs Oriental Whip Snake

Working in a natural environment is a totally different experience than a typical office job. Besides having the privilege of savoring tasty herbal drinks and listening to the beautiful wildlife orchestra every day, we also stand a higher chance of observing and witnessing some of the greatest nature findings in the garden (think Nat Geo)!


Spread across 8 acres of the secondary forest, Tropical Spice Garden is a natural tropical habitat to more than 500 varieties of flora and fauna, ranging from native trees to sub-tropical plants, and creepy crawlies to mammals. Therefore when luck strikes, it is no surprise that you may encounter a Malayan water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) swimming in the water garden, a yellow-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) feeding on a praying mantis, or a colony of giant forest ants (Camponotus Gigas) making their way back to their nest.

One sunny afternoon when everyone is off for lunch, something happened in front of the garden’s pantry that grabbed everyone’s attention.

Cat Tails

A live “Urban Jungle” show was happening in front of our eyes – an Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) was attempting to consume a green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)! Being the naturalists that we are, we started to observe and document the behavioral and physical changes of the two species. The initial thought was: “The slim, slender snake will have a hard time swallowing the bigger and stronger lizard. Surely it’ll eventually give up…” To our astonishment, instead of giving up, the snake took almost an hour to finish a large and surely satisfying meal.


During the first 20 minutes, the snake maintained a firm grip on the lizard’s neck, which was very much still alive and struggling to escape.



Within half an hour, the lizard’s head was already halfway in the snake’s mouth with its legs still twitching! Soon, some small black ants started to gather around both reptiles. Despite the distraction of the ants crawling over both reptiles, the snake continued its mammoth task of a meal. As time goes by we realized that the lizard wasn’t moving anymore, which we concluded that it might already be dead at that point.


At the 45 minute mark, there was a dramatic change in the situation. The snake started to utilise its powerful muscles – expanding its jaws to accommodate the size of the lizard, we noticed a pale banding on the throat becoming more apparent. This banding pattern is only noticeable when a whip snake is feeding or feeling threatened.


Lastly, when 95% of the lizard was swallowed, the whip snake looking quite proud of itself gradually moved away from the limelight of our keen observations.


The Oriental whip snake is one of the common tree snakes that can be found in secondary forests, residential and agricultural areas throughout Southeast Asia. It is mildly venomous towards its prey – insects and small vertebrates – which it actively seeks out as it glides from tree to tree.


A common sight in Tropical Spice Garden, the green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) also has a widespread distribution in primary and secondary tropical forests.

Garden to Kitchen Workshop Web Banner

Garden to Kitchen : a hands-on gardening workshop

Garden to Kitchen Workshop

A hands-on gardening workshop to promote indoor gardening.

Using a selection of popular herbs and spices, you will learn from Daniel Ng, also known as Mr. Ang the proper gardening techniques to grow seeds and cuttings.

~*Did you know, Ang was the head gardener for Penang Botanical Gardens for 38 years?!*~

Not only you will be able to bring home the materials from the workshop, grab this opportunity to receive a 15% discount off seedboxes available at our Gift Shop to kickstart your kitchen garden!

Now anyone can have a green thumb 😉

Quickly register now to secure your spot!

Enquiries & Bookings:

E: education@tropicalspicegarden.com

T: +604 8811 797  |  +6012 4988 797

FB Event Page: Garden to Kitchen

Garden Crafters | 07-06-2015

The Nature Education team from Tropical Spice Garden held their third overnight camp in the garden grounds on 6th – 7th June 2015. Being a different type of experience from the daytime tours and workshops, this two day, one night camp was a hit with a boisterous bunch of 15 participants ranging from six to ten years old.

Titled ‘Garden Crafters’, the camp aimed to encourage the children to combine their creativity skills with some newfound gardening knowledge and gain some environmental awareness as well.

Garden Crafters 1

Upon arrival, the children were gathered at our newly erected Guides’ shelter that sits over a small stream. It was the perfect place to start introductions; a cool and comfortable place for the new faces to relax and integrate with those who are more at ease, having participated in previous workshops and camps. Most of them were already friends and to make more is always a bonus!

After a little ice-breaking session, the first order of the day would be setting up the tents!

Garden Crafters 2

As they say, ‘best to make hay while the sun still shines’ so we took the opportunity of clear, bright skies to set up our sleeping tents. This way, we avoid fumbling in the dark and risking mosquitoes and other insects flying into the tent. It was a great moment when the children started to help each other, regardless of whether it was their own tent or not. As the tents started to take form, the growing excitement was heart-warming as they started to pick their sleeping spots and made pacts with each other to stay up as late as possible!

Garden Crafters 3

The next activity was the main event: getting their hands dirty! The children were taught some gardening basics: what is the use of soil and the importance of proper combination of soil types, and how to plant from cuttings by using our popular Cat’s Whiskers plant.

Garden Crafters 4

How cute is my pot?

By teaching the children how to make mini planter pots from plastic bottles, we not only create awareness on the importance of recycling but show resourceful ways of reusing items. Creativity skills were put to the test when decorating their pots.

Garden Crafters 5

As darkness fell, it was time for the much anticipated Night Walk! Armed with a torch, the children traipsed through the Gardens with Joleen at the front, looking for creepy crawlies and experiencing firsthand the night time characteristics of some plants and animals – some go to sleep, and some wake up.

Garden Crafters 6

The night didn’t end after the Night Walk. We had Movie Time where we screened ‘Rio 2’ and enjoyed some mango pudding and other tidbits while watching the movie. It was past midnight when heavy eyelids got the children crawling back into their tents. With the bright, full moon watching over them, everyone slept well to the soothing orchestra of frog and cricket songs.

Garden Crafters 7

The next morning, we got up bright and early at 7am to have breakfast at the Bamboo Garden. After a quick shower and change, it was time for the next event: art in nature where we explored the creativity of Mother Nature.

Garden Crafters 8Garden Crafters 9

This activity was to inspire creativity and learn to appreciate the natural colours and textures in our environment. We made up some stories and drew them out on large pieces of tracing paper where we used leaf and bark rubbings. Such interesting and rib-tickling ideas were created that morning!

Garden Crafters 10 Garden Crafters 11 Garden Crafters 12

Garden Crafters 13

All too soon it was time to say goodbye, but not before the prize-giving session! We awarded the Best Leader, Best Group, Best Female and Male Participants in order to recognise and encourage the effort in team work and leadership skills, and eagerness in participating and learning.

Garden Crafters 14

The last picture as a group!

Hopefully we will all get to see each other again for another adventure in nature education at Tropical Spice Garden!