Klang Valley’s Urban Jungle

05 December 2016

A whimsical guide to the rare and forgotten trees of the city.

As heavy development commences across various parts of the city, our natural biodiversity is increasingly at risk of disappearing in the name of progress. Large, mature trees native to the land are often felled for timber and to make room for yet another gleaming high-rise in its place. Some trees that used to be found in abundance across the city are now rarely seen as a result of this. Interestingly, many roads in Klang Valley are named after trees, for example, Jalan Binjai, Jalan Jelutong and Jalan Bruas.

Featuring several trees that are no longer commonly seen or are often overlooked, we take a whimsical look at the term “urban jungle” and imagined what the city would look like as they tower among our skyscrapers.

Angsana (Pterocarpus indicus)
A fast-growing tree with dense foliage, the Angsana was widely planted for shade in Malaysia and Singapore in the 19th century until a fungal disease, known as Fusarium Wilt, plagued the trees on the Peninsular and rapidly spread across the Causeway. Many of these trees either died off or were felled to curb the spread of disease and as a result, not many specimens are left today. It is a deciduous tree recognisable by its drooping branches and an annual shower of golden petals when its flower buds bloom simultaneously.

Jelutong (Dyera costulata)
The Jelutong is recognised as an endangered species of rainforest tree due to extensive harvesting in the wild for latex and its timber in making lightweight items like pencils and wooden handicrafts. The trees are protected in certain parts of Malaysia and classified “least concern” under The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as it propagates easily even over logged areas. They are able to grow up to 60m or more with clear, straight boles and an overall conical appearance.

Merawan Siput Jantan (Hopea odorata)
Despite being a rainforest species, the Merawan Siput Jantan was chosen and planted as an urban landscape tree during Klang Valley’s greening programme in the 1970s. It can reach 45m in height and is supposedly a favourite of our former Prime Minister, Tun Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The tree’s large, sturdy trunk prove very useful for boat and house building and its resin, known as rock dammar, could be applied onto sores and wounds and also used to caulk boats.

Petaling (Ochanostachys amentacea)
Did you know that Petaling is actually a tree name? In the early days, the tree was commonly found in the area and from whence Petaling Jaya got its name. According to Vanessa Ting who is part of The Rimba Project team, “as a name, it's scattered all over the Klang Valley,” she says. “Petaling Jaya, Petaling Street, Sri Petaling – it's quite ironic that we hardly see a Petaling tree in the city.” The tree is native to Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore and Sumatra and commonly found in primary and secondary lowland rainforests. It is very slow growing and can take up to 150 years before reaching full maturity.

Saga (Adenanthera pavonina)
A familiar tree to many Malaysians, they are best known for their hard and bright, scarlet seeds that many of us have collected to play with as kids. Back in the old days, the seeds were used to weigh precious metals like gold and silver as they had a curious uniformity in weight, four seeds totalling about one gram. Growing up to heights of 20m, these trees are hardy, low maintenance and favoured for the shade provided by their wide, spreading crowns.

Photos, text and illustrations by Lyn Ong

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