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:





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

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

2D1N Garden Crafters Kids Camp!

Kids Overnight Camp-June

Introducing to you.. The GARDEN CRAFTERS 2D1N Kids Camp!

This is the third overnight camp that will be organised by the Nature Education team of TSG and we love to bring the kids back to nature!

To be held on 6th – 7th June 2015, the camp aims to combine the elements of arts with gardening by making customised planter posts from recycled materials, and of course other activities including overnight in the camp that they will need to set up by their own, picnic by the beach and also night walk session in a complete different-from-daytime garden.

Come join us in exploring the natural textures and colours of the rainforest and enjoy getting your hands dirty while bringing out the creativity within you!

*Early bird registration closes 24th May 2015. Grab the deal!

For enquiries please contact:


+604 8811 797/ +6012 4988797


A Fun-tastic Day with the Kids- Im A Junior Naturalist TOO

I’m a Junior Naturalist Too!

The fun of being a naturalist is learning all you can about the natural world! We believe that Nature Education is the key foundation for children to learn about their nature surrounding, appreciate wildlife & plants, and understand the importance of conserving & protecting our tropical nature environment.

“I’m a Junior Naturalist” is a 1-day outdoor programme happening in the Tropical Spice Garden. The first Junior Naturalist was conducted on Dec 2014, which lots of joys of laughter, photos here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.703244633027272.1073741875.158661167485624&type=3

This year, “I’m a Junior Naturalist TOO!” on the 21st March 2015, was a success! Special thanks to the facilitators – Joleen, Jocelyn, Paul & Ms Hor (volunteer) for making the event a memorable one for the kids and us! Hereby we summarise the activities from that day.

Started off in the morning with a briefing & ice-breaking game session. Guess what we played? The fun Garden Musical Chair Game!


Briefing session with the little ones


Playing games by the water garden gave the children a fresh nature environment to warm up. Everyone was having a great time through self-introduction & grouping session. Not forget to mention the “Koel” bird call! *inside joke*

musical chair

Who didn’t get to sit will need to introduce themselves!


The first naturalist activity of the day was the Nature Explorer! The 3 groups were ordered to complete a 4-mission task which required them to observe & record the spices & herbs along the spice terraces, search for the coins hidden around trees, teaching foreign guests to read Malay paragraph, and a nature scavenger game!

naturalist quest

Memorising the names of the spices and come back to write it down


read the text

Angeline in action

After the fun Nature Explorer, we had a quick snack time then headed up to the secondary forest behind the Beverages of the World terrace. The children were told to stay close with each other, to respect the forest by not plucking any plants unless we permit so, and many more.


Into the woods


camp 6

The ferns are as tall as them. Adventurous!


The kids learnt about some secondary forest plants, such as the Resam fern, Club Moss, Tiup-tiup tree, Red barked Tree and many more. We also spent some quality at the water catchment area up on the hill, looking at the natural water flow system, and observing Nepenthes Pitcher plants. Regardless the complaints on how tough were the trails and the annoying tall bushy ferns, we enjoyed each other’s accompany so much that the kids learnt the way of teamwork in forest.

camp 7

The boys leading the way


After lunch we had the most enthralling activity of the day – The Naturalist Quest. Kids were required to venture around the garden, observe and record the nature observation around them. All of them were truly naturalists as they make use of the “nature tables”, weren’t mind to get dirty by lying down on the ground to write down their observations. We were all amazed by these little naturalist’s performances.

camp 8

By the turtle pond


camp 9

This booklet will remind them of their childhood memory when they are all grown up


camp 10

Kai Jie in action


Before proceeding to the Water Fun activity down the stream along the Heart of the Garden, we had a post-naturalist briefing time together, discussed on individual’s findings and their thoughts on nature.

camp 11

Girls power!


The little researchers were looking for guppies & water striders.

camp 12

Kids love water and getting wet and all muddy! After changing, we all gathered around the water garden for the graduation ceremony which we distributed the certificates & prizes to the kids.

camp 13

Group photo before we end the day!


Overall, we were all very happy for “I’m a Junior Naturalist TOO”, especially after receiving the feedbacks from the parents! Check out our Facebook album for more photos of the camp: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.953025028049230.1073741906.158661167485624&type=3

We are currently planning on our next overnight camp in June 2015. Meanwhile, we are running various half day programmes for kids age 6-12 too! If you are interested, feel free to contact us for more details!


Nature Education Department

04-8811797 (Ext 311)


Birds & Nests – Signs of Spring

The past 3 months was spring time in Penang!

Most of the flowering plants in the garden were blooming, and we also managed to observe two different bird nests by the water garden!

Yellow Vented Bulbul's Nest

Yellow-vented Bulbul’s Nest

We first observed the nest on Feb 23th when we noticed a couple of adult Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) flying around the shrubbery by the water garden. There were two hatchlings in the nest, which grew rapidly as days passed. When we first saw them their eyes were closed, very tiny and featherless. It was difficult to see them clearly even from half a metre away due to the thick shrub, but then again, we didn’t want to get too close and agitate the parents.

Approaching March, they developed their primary wing feathers. With their big wide eyes, they started to test their wings by fluttering them rapidly while perching at the edge of the nest.The parents of the juveniles were nearby the nesting site all the time, making sure their precious were well fed & groomed. It took 9 days for these two juvenile yellow-vented bulbuls to fledge. Indeed it was a beautiful experience observing the bulbuls. They are fascinating to watch, and most importantly, family oriented for both the male and female took turns caring for their young.

Olive Backed Sunbird's Nest

Olive-backed Sunbird’s Nest

We were attracted by the not too loud, yet high pitched call by the water garden. Upon investigation, we saw a female adult Olive Backed Sun bird (Cinnyris jugalaris) perching on a branch where its nest was attached to.

Sunbird nests are unique as they are purse/pear-shaped, hanging from a tree branch and constructed using leaves, twigs and sometimes spiderwebs.  This adorable sun bird then flew into her nest and remained calmly in there guarding her babies, unperturbed by our observations. If you would like to have a closer view, try approaching it quietly and slowly and you’ll witness the sweet darling smile of a sunbird. Beautiful day? Go out & explore now, you might find beautiful things around you!

Bird Nest

Yellow-vented Bulbul vs Olive-backed Sunbird