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!
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!
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
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Hopefully we will all get to see each other again for another adventure in nature education at Tropical Spice Garden!
Come the month of May, the atmosphere in Tropical Spice Garden is filled with a pungent, fruity fragrance. While walking around the Heart of the Garden, look down and you will notice an abundance of rotten berries/fruits along the pathway. Yes, those are the figs, wild and flourishing in the Garden.
There are a few large fig trees in the garden. One of the specimens in the Heart of the Garden is the Strangler fig tree.
Figs (Ficus spp) are one of the successful forest species, with up to 900 species distributed around the world. Fig trees play an important role in the tropical rainforest as the syconium makes up the main diet for many types of animals in the forest, from mammals, e.g. monkeys, bats, and squirrels; to birds – residential and migrating species.
The way a Strangler fig grows is very special. Life starts as a tiny, sticky seed in an animal’s feces disposed in the canopy of a host tree. With ample sunlight and water, the seed grows its roots downwards towards to forest floor, aiming to penetrate into the soil. As time passes, the roots thicken and wraps around the host tree. Eventually the fig’s crown grows and overshadows the host. Once the host is strangled, the fig will then absorb the nutrients from the host while competing with the host for sunlight and water. Eventually, the host tree dies, leaving the Strangler fig with a hollow trunk.
One unique feature of Strangler figs is the syconium, a type of multiple fruit that are formed from a cluster of flowers (inflorescence), where the ovaries are found within a hollow, succulent vessel. Due to the absence of physical flowers on the tree itself, the fig tree is often called “Wu Hua Guo” in Chinese, meaning “fruit borne without flower”.
Open a syconium and you can see ten to hundreds of stamens and ovaries, and dead insects inside! Therefore, when guests ask whether the fig fruits are safe to be eaten, we always advise not to because it is usually eaten by wild animals, not recommended for humans as there are insect eggs and/or other invertebrates inside the fruit, which can be unhygienic.
Why are there insects in the fruits? Syconium has a symbiotic relationship with the fig wasps (Agaonidae spp). The wasps enter through the small opening underneath the fruit and pollinate the flower in the process of laying eggs. The fruits then bear seeds which fall to the ground upon maturation. The wildlife in the Garden usually consumes the fruit while it is still green and attached to the tree, as mature fruits on the ground are highly likely to be infested with dead wasps and wasp eggs.
Visit our Garden in the early morning and you might chance upon witnessing the Green Pigeons feeding on the fig tree growing splendidly in the middle of our Gift Shop!
Some forest figs fruit all year long, providing a constant supply for the frugivorous wildlife in the rainforest. However, due to constant logging and open forest burning, many slow-growing forest species are unable to regenerate and may also affect the fruiting consistency of the figs. Consequently, the frugivores are forced to source and compete for alternative fruit sources during the irregular fig ‘non-flowering’ seasons. Hence, it is vital for us to understand and appreciate the significance of wild plants in the rainforest, which they are not only useful for medicinal & nutrient values, but also furnish the wild animals with protection & care.
Are you a bird enthusiast, love bird watching, a beginner in birding world and would love to learn more about the local birdies around Penang?
If yes, come join us for this unique birding workshop as Mr Kanda Kumar of Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) will be teaching us on the basic identification & sketching techniques on some beautiful Penang birds!
Kanda will also be bringing us around the garden for a short bird watching session, looking for Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Black-naped Oriole, Racket-tailed Drongo and many more! 😀
Bring along your kids, family and friends together-gather for this educational event!
For registrations & enquiry, please contact:
Ms Jocelyn Goon
T: +604 8811 797 | M: +6012 4988 797
Spaces are limited, register in advance with us to avoid disappointment!
Why “5 Senses”
Tropical Spice Garden offers a variety of children nature educational programmes, targeting kids between the ages of 6 to 12 years old. We hope to educate the next generation on the importance of the tropical rainforest ecosystem and ignite an appreciation for the Garden’s various flora & fauna.
One of the “not to be-missed” activities is the 5 Senses Tour!
Why “5 Senses”?
We hope to trigger the curiosity of children and encourage them to utilize their five senses in learning the natural environment.
Sense of …
Touch – Feel the texture and surface of the plants.
Smell – Experience the various rainforest scents, such as flower and spice fragrance
Sight – Enjoy the garden views and practice observation skills by spotting wildlife.
Sound – Listen to nature music in the garden (bugs, water, amphibians…)
Taste – Have a taste of the garden’s herbal/spice teas at the Bamboo Garden.
As the 5 Senses Tour takes the children on a journey into the tropical trails in the garden, our well-trained children guides (Nature Educationists) explain on the variety of tropical flora & fauna that can be found around the world. Some of the kids’ favorite plants are the Cat’s Tails (Acalypha hispida), Sliver Joey Palm (Johannesteijsmannia magnifica), and Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) to name a few.
The main highlight of the 5 Senses Tour is the Spice trails exploration. The nature educators talk about the medicinal properties and culinary uses of spices, allowing the children to smell and touch the spices to identify the characteristics and remembering the names. Some spices we talk about are the Cinnamon, Cloves, Black Peppers, Torch Gingers, and Lime. Instead of just showing them the dry/fresh spices, we also bring the children to the spice trees, touch the tree bark, smell the leaf and compare the scent to the dry spices.
Children will also be stopping by the bamboo garden for a short tea break before proceeding to the next activity. We serve herbal/spice drinks to the children, which at the same time they can relax and chill next to the lily pond, looking for froggies, guppies and water striders.
We believe that “Nature is the best teacher”. By exposing the children to outdoor adventures and activities, we are able to bring out the best from each child: teamwork, independence, patience, observation and time management skills, and more.
Tropical Spice Garden organizes half day nature education activities, 1 day workshops, overnight camps and educational nature talks.
For further information, kindly contact TSG Nature Education Department:
Tel: 04-8811797 (ext 311)