Garden Beauty – The Silver Joey Palm

When you are walking up to the Bamboo Garden along the tractor pathway, pay attention to your left and you will see one of the most beautiful plants in Tropical Spice Garden: the Silver Joey palm, Johannesteijmannia magnifica, or locally known as ‘pokok payung’, or ‘daun serdang’.

The Silver Joey palm has some of the largest and most fascinating leaves of any palm tree on the planet. Along with its sibling species, the Slender Joey palm (J. lanceolata) , these palms have been reported to be threatened and endangered in the IUCN Red List, 1997, due to poaching and seed collection. Besides uncontrolled deforestation and conversion of forest areas to oil palm plantations and rubber estates, the building of dams and illegal logging activities are also driving the cause of decline in these majestic palms in the wild.


There are 4 species of Johannesteijsmannia species:Silver Joey (J. magnifica), Diamond Joey (J. altifrons), Joey on the stick (J. perakensis), and Slender Joey (J. lanceolata).

The distribution of the Joey palms is limited to small ranges in Malaysia. Today, we are going to look more in-depth towards the Silver Joey palm and its unique characteristics.

The Silver Joey is distributed in Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan, where it occurs only in the hilly and virgin rainforest. This species is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and it appears to be stem-less with the leaves growing out from the ground in a cluster. However, the stem or trunk is actually formed below ground, out of sight. The plant can attain a height of up to three metres with its big diamond shaped leaves stretching out to two metres with silvery grey undersides. This stunning effect from the leaves’ undersides however, is more noticeable at night when you shine a light directly at it. A lovely sight to behold during our Night Walks!


The indigenous communities used the leaves of the palm as an ‘atap’ or roof thatch for small shelters and houses. However, when zinc roofs begin to replace the rooftops of the villages, they rarely use the leaves nowadays. Furthermore, medicinal values of Silver Palm was recorded in Johor, where the petioles are burnt and the ashes, with some water added, are applied topically to the body, especially to ease respiratory problems and small wounds. The seeds are boiled with water and the concoction is taken orally to reduce fever among children. The seeds can also be grated into powder and applied to the face, chest or tongue for relieving sore throat, cough and asthma.


There is an increasing demand for these palms as an ornamental due to their exotic appearance, thus illegal harvesting and uncontrolled seed harvesting had been the main threat to their survival. Moreover, the growth development of Silver Joey is a very slow process – taking up to decades – and irresponsible humans would poach younger specimens before the young plants have the chance to stabilise and thrive in their natural habitat. The inflorescences attract stingless bees (Trigona spp) and they are believed to be one of the main pollinators. Of course, when you visit our garden during the Night Walks, you might observe the inflorescences attracting a wide range of insects and bugs too!






The Silver Joey Palm is indeed a unique palm species that deserves our attention and appreciation. There were surveys carried out in orang asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia and it seems that the orang asli have been collecting the seeds or live specimens for sale. That, and with the increasing rate of deforestation in West Malaysia, the cultivation of Silver Joey palms in nurseries becomes a sliver of hope in preserving the species for future generations. Most importantly, the protection of the Johannesteijsmannia lies in educating indigenous and local communities, and exotic plant collectors in order to save this species from extinction in the wild.






Next time, we’ll elaborate more on the remaining 3 species of Johannesteijsmannia! Come over to Tropical Spice to witness the beauty of Silver Joey Palm!

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Feature Chef : Nyonya Su Pei

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The new year 2016 sees Chef Nyonya Su Pei hitting the ground running as she is being carried forward by the momentum of success she was catapulted into after last year’s incredible George Town World Heritage Eat Rite Festival.

With her increasing popularity, Nyonya Su Pei is being kept busy and she laments that last year was the first time she was unable to complete a project – be it a piece of embroidery artwork or writing down all her recipes to be compiled into a book. With a goal of adapting sophisticated Nyonya cuisine for the public, she collaborated with Straits Chinese (Penang) Association on a two-volume cookbook: Nyonya Flavours which has been best-selling for five consecutive years.

Nyonya Su Pei

As the Nyonya cuisine are essentially family secret recipes which have been adapted and adopted over many generations, we asked the ‘taboo’ question of whether Nyonya recipes can really be shared. “When writing out a recipe, I can only write so much,” says Nyonya Su Pei. She reveals that even if there is a group of people cooking the same recipe, the differences in environment, ingredient preparation and even stirring methods can result in different tastes. The intimacy of hands-on teaching can never be replaced with mere words.

Photo Source: Nyonya Su Pei's Facebook

Photo Source: Nyonya Su Pei’s Facebook

For her first ever cooking class in Tropical Spice Garden, it was a “daunting experience to demonstrate to experienced and international gourmands who have probably seen more of the world than I have.” With her incredible passion and determination, Nyonya Su Pei has converted many visitors to the gardens into Nyonya food lovers and has even successfully carried out several Nyonya Masterchef Challenges as a team building activity.

With 10 working stations in Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School, we provide a hands-on environment for that personal experience in learning of our unique local cuisines. Book a class or a teambuilding session today!


Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School

Garden Blooms – The Bat Lily (Tacca integrifolia)

Flowering plants, also known as Angiosperms, are the most diverse group of land plants in the world. Existing in different shapes, sizes, and colours, there are more than 95 species of flowering plants in Tropical Spice Garden – ranging from bromeliads to palms, cacti to begonias, and more! However, one genus stood out among all the flowering dicotyledons and monocotyledons in the garden; the genus Tacca which consists of the bat flowers and arrowroots – herbaceous perennials native to Africa and Asia.


The genus Tacca consists of the flowering plants in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae, and there are at least 17 species of Taccas. They are native to tropical region of China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, East India, Indonesia, Laos, West Malaysia, Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

The well-known Tacca species that have been cultivated as ornamental plants are the T. chantrieri and T. integrifolia. Taccas are known for their strange, yet mesmerizing flowers with long ‘whiskery’ bracts that can reach up to a foot in length! The lurid, purplish flowers are also known as the Bat Lily or keladi murai due to the two light coloured bracts held high like bat wings. Besides, Taccas have large, beautiful dark green foliage and prefer to be grown in low light conditions with good air circulation.

In Tropical Spice Garden, looking for a T. integrifolia is like participating in a botany treasure hunt! They are planted in various parts of the garden: from the Ornamental Trail to the Spice Terraces. Sometimes the flowers are so well hidden that you might miss them even though they are just right beside you! There are also a few Tacca integrifolia alba scattered around the garden, where the flowers are a ghostly white instead of purple!

Taccas bloom during the warmest months of the year, and in Tropical Spice Garden, we are lucky enough to witness the blooms up to 6-8 times per year!



Till today, the pharmacological potential of T. integrifolia remains unknown. In Malaysia, a paste from the tubers of the plant is applied to rash caused by insect bites. It is also used in traditional medicine for lowering blood pressure, gastric ulcer and minor burns. Furthermore, the plant was also found to be a diuretic. However, caution must be taken, as the toxic effects of this plant are still unknown. A more intensive study of T. integrifolia in the future would be great to disclose any compounds of therapeutic interest.

There is a lack of information regarding the function of the long bracts of the flower, where there was assumption of this feature as a “deceit syndrome”, in which reproductive structures resemble decaying organic material attracts flies that facilitate cross-pollination (sapromyiophily). However, some research showed that the Tacca populations were highly self-pollinating; pollinator visits were infrequent yet there were high pollen loads on the stigma, some of which occurred before the flower even blooms. Here at Tropical Spice Garden, we do observe something interesting during our Night Walks, where wingless insects utilize the long ‘whiskers’ to crawl up the flowers!



Taccas can be grown successfully indoors and outdoors as a popular ornamental plant, propagated from seeds or rhizomes grown best in well-drained, fertile soil. In terms of growing conditions, Taccas do well in conditions with ample humidity, strong airflow, and moderate light and temperatures. Thus, they make a good choice for your shade garden or indoor houseplant.


One thing is common among the growers…. Everyone loves the unusual, odd, unique, exquisite and magnificent appearance and features of the Taccas!




More readings:



Home-style Health: A series of Traditional Medicine Methods

As an unofficial representative of Generation Y, I can safely say that we grew up having our parents and grandparents brewing all sorts of soups and tonics for us to swallow when we feel a little under the weather. Much to our dismay, of course, as we rather much prefer the quick fixes that the little pills provide. Besides, the soups and tonics don’t always taste very nice!

What we don’t realise is that these drugs only treat the symptoms but not the disease or actual ailment. Painkillers may dull our migraines and that little twinge in our knees but continuous intake causes a buildup of the drug in our bodies that may last up to several years! I used to take an alarming amount of painkillers every month for my severe period cramps until I realised that my dosages will keep on increasing over the years unless I do something about it. From exercising to limiting my intake of cold drinks, from swallowing peppercorns whole to heat pads, nothing seemed to stop me from feeling like I’m on the brink of death every month.

Add in the fact that I always roll my eyes at my grandmother’s pantang larang such as don’t wash your hair during the first day of your period (or for a whole month during confinement after childbirth), or eat more ginger because your body is ‘cold’. I didn’t understand these taboos and refused to believe or acknowledge any well-meaning advice if it isn’t explained scientifically.



Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness -WHO

If you are just as cynical as I am, or have an interest in traditional medicine and want to know more, or are just confused over various versions of old wives’ tales, do join in this series of workshops where you’ll find answers to those questions. Enjoy a special flat rate of RM90/pax when you sign up for all three sessions and if you’re bringing a child below twelve years old, they’ll enjoy the kids’ rate of RM15/pax.

Each workshop will focus on methods employed by three different cultures so it’ll be an intriguing affair to compare the differences and similarities in Chinese, Indian, and Malay traditional medicine. These workshops will be quite hands-on where we’ll make some herbal bath sachets, get some tips (maybe secret recipes?) for treating anything from acne to rheumatism, learn the history and reasons behind the taboos, and how to maintain good health in various environments – from struggling under a heavy workload, to understanding the regulations during childbirth confinement, to rushing during festive seasons…everything-lah!




T: 04-8811797 (ext 311) | 012-4988797


Chubby and Charismatic – The Common Greenback frog!

Have you been to our Bamboo Garden? An enchanting corner of Tropical Spice Garden that has SEVEN different species of bamboo and a variety of flowering plants, guests have the opportunity to enjoy a natural fish spa session by the lily pond, as well as revitalizing themselves with a cup of herbal drink from the tea kiosk. Instead of just looking at the tiny colourful guppies (Poecilia reticulata) swimming in the lily pond, be little more observant and try and see if you could spot something else!

Look carefully and you will be able to observe the Common Greenback frog, Hylarana erythraea. This pretty green frog can be found clinging on low riparian shrubs, staying in shallow water bodies or by small freshwater streams. These frogs are mainly nocturnal and during the day, they generally sit around under some shade. At night, the H. erythraea get together to perform a series of beautiful pleasant ‘orchestra’ tracks in the rainforest, which the males call out to the females for courtship & mating.




The Common Greenback frogs (H. erythraea) can be found across Southeast Asia, and is also known as the Red-eared Greenback or the Leaf Frog. The habitats of H. erythraea range from scrubland, grassland, and agricultural areas to urban disturbed areas. In addition, H. erythraea is a middle size frog with a snout-length from 30-75mm, which the size varies according to different sexes and maturity.


When evening approaches, the Giant Waterlily, the Victoria Amazonica, starts to bloom and the “squeak…squeak…squeak…” call of the H. erythraea can be heard around the garden. The females are bigger in size compared to the males, while the juveniles are much smaller and less attractive. When disturbed or threatened, these frogs are able to skip across the water surface to escape from predators. Furthermore, they are well camouflaged to their natural habitat, thus it is not easy to spot them resting on lily pads with lots of green plants in the background!


H. erythraea and other amphibian species play an important role in maintaining the wellness of humans and nature.


Firstly, a diversity of calls, a natural orchestra, produced by various nocturnal amphibians, as well as invertebrates, is a great relaxing treatment for us, human, after a long stressful day of work and heavy traffic in the city.

Secondly, amphibians are very abundant and often dominate ecosystems in terms of quantity, particularly in wetland and forest habitats. They are a vital part in food webs, as they are popular food choice for many predators and are also important predators themselves. A decline in amphibian population in the wild due to human activities will definitely affect our shared biosphere – more insects and less tertiary predators which leads to an unstable and unsustainable ecosystem. Since amphibians require fresh, clean aquatic habitats, they also serve as a biological indicator of environmental health.



Not forgetting to mention that amphibians are fascinating and beautiful creatures. There are some beautiful frogs around the world; i.e. the Poison Dart frog (Dendrobatidae spp), White’s Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) and Norhayati’s Flying Frog (Rhacophorus norhayatii), which are beautiful and unique in their own ways. Malaysian herpetologists are working hard to study the life cycle and behaviour of our native frogs, as well as exploring around the country to search for new species in the wild. One of our Night Walk guides, Evan Quah, is finishing his doctorate degree in the field of herpetology at University Sains Malaysia and has enchanted us with stories and information of reptiles and amphibians of Malaysia. His enthusiasm is truly infectious as he explores the garden with adventurous guests, young and old alike, searching for scaly friends in the dark.

“With education, there is no fear.”



Amphibians have a lot to teach us about science: zoology and biology. By educating on the importance of amphibians to children and adults, it will not only increase awareness on their importance but it will help save the declining amphibian populations on earth.

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




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.

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

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

Enquiries & Bookings:


T: +604 8811 797  |  +6012 4988 797

FB Event Page: Spice Wars