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Appreciating The Flora of Tanjung Tuan

by Mr.Toh Hon Leong / November 21, 2020

Beautiful Tanjung Tuan

Tanjung Tuan is a forest and wildlife sanctuary. Hikers from nearby areas and as far as Malacca and Kuala Lumpur often throng this lovely area of hills, rocks, pristine beaches and tropical forest with its great variety of flora and fauna. Hikers are attracted to this unique location for reasons as varied as there are attractions available. The natural beauty makes for excellent photography, a climb up Batu Putih is both challenging and exhilarating and a slow walk in the forest, inhaling the super fresh air, is as soothing as meditation on a secluded mountain. The sun's ray piercing through the canopy and the sound of the waves smashing on the rocks are little joys and rewards of our endeavour in this green lung near Port Dickson.

Friends and acquaintances hiking with us in the forest are often warned of thorns. As we meander through the narrow forest paths, one may absent-mindedly hold on to a plant full of thorns for support. The resulting excruciating pain would certainly jolt you from your dreamy hike in the fresh morning air. It's most likely the plant is of the rattan species, which is common in the Tanjung Tuan Forest Reserve. A young rattan plant has a sheath, of thorns, which is discarded as it grows older and matures. The thorns serve as a form of defense mechanism that prevents the young rattan from being chewed up by herbivorous animals.

Young rattan plant

There are many varieties of rattan, but the most common one grows like a vine, although it's actually a palm species. The main portion could be lying on the ground like a snake, but its leaves which is similar to palm leaves, are often entangle with other tall trees. A whip-like appendage with hooks at the end of each palm leaf enables the rattan to climb by clinging on to other trees, competing for sunshine high up in the forest canopy.

Rattan lying on the ground

The "evil" rattan that hurts us in the forest is transformed into beautifully varnished furniture adorning our homes. It's hard work by harvesters and artisans that made this possible. Rattans are also widely used for handicraft, as canes and for making homes in some villages. The skin of the rattan can be peeled off to be woven into various products for chairs, baskets and lamp shades.

The spikes of a nibong palm are sharp as needles. Actually, "nibung" means thorns in Bahasa Indonesia. Hence, this is another equivalent of the rattan we ought to be careful of, while hiking in Tanjung Tuan. The slightly saline soil of Tanjung Tuan is very suitable for the nibong, and there are lots of such palms in the lower elevations.

Nibong Tree Full of Spikes

The nibong palm grows very tall and straight and its trunk is covered with black spikes. Its straightness and water resistance property make it very useful in the construction of kelongs, poles for tying boats and the construction of structures for rearing fishes. Some countries use it for making boards and even ladles.

A third type of thorny plant often found in Tanjung Tuan is the mengkuang. Hikers often mistaken it as a wild pandan plant. In fact, this plant is known as pandanus odoratissumus. The thorns of the mengkuang are located at the edges of the long-bladed leaves. Fortunately, the thorns are not as vicious, when compared to the earlier plants mentioned.

Young Mengkuang

Mengkuang weaving is practiced in our kampungs. The leaves are stripped of thorns, splitted into long strands, soaked and dried. Later, it is dyed into various colours. The strands are woven into mats, bags, purses and colourful gift boxes. This is a thriving cottage industry in some parts of the world.

The mengkuang also bears a fruit resembling a pineapple, and just like the pineapple, it's edible, though I have not eaten it personally. It's hard to get a nice ripe fruit, as the moneys are always ahead of us. Too bad.

Mengkuang Fruit

Mengkuang Products

As we scramble up the steep gradient of Batu Putih, the ubiquitous kamunting plants will most likely be present to extend its welcoming to hikers. The flowering plants appear to sway, dance and bow in the gentle breeze. This plant has a lovely flower, which forms an edible pod, consisting of an edible black "jam." The way forward is to view our surroundings and life in general in a positive and appreciating way. Some extra knowledge makes hiking more meaningful and fulfilling. The rocky terrain, with plenty of sunshine favours the kamunting. Trees normally die off, as its roots couldn't get enough water, especially during the dry season.

Kemunting Flower

This article makes no attempt to identify all the plants in Tanjung Tuan, but it's fun to be able to recognize some of these plants which are useful to our daily lives. One very useful tree is the evergreen tembusu tree, which grows as high as 40m, and is characterized by its brown craggy bark and relatively small leaves. There are quite a few such trees as we amble up the slope on the tar road going to the lighthouse.

Tembusu Tree

The trunk of the tembusu is well known as a very hard, as well as being termite and weevil resistant. The hard wood is used for making chopping boards, as planks or as parquet for flooring. It seems the wood can last for hundreds of years.

If you happen to hike along the Keramat Beach (beach facing Lexis Hibiscus Hotel), the bakau trees will wait to receive you. There is a small cluster of bakau trees in the intertidal zone of this area. The bakau trees normally grown in swampy muddy and salty areas, where other plants could not survive.

The arch stilt roots from the trunk and prop roots from its branches are special features of the bakau tree. Older leaves have openings, which appear like dark spots on the underside. These openings allow the entry of oxygen to be transported to all parts of the plant. The trees also have special mechanisms to remove excess salt from its cells Most of us are aware the bakau trunks are commonly used for piling in the construction industry. Bakau wood is commonly used as firewood and for making charcoal. The barks of the bakau trees is a source of tannin for tanning leather.

Stilt roots and prop roots of bakau trees

In many countries, a bakau forest serves as a fortress against tidal waves and could even withstand a tsunami. Besides, a bakau swamp is a spawning ground for fishes, crustaceans and other sea creatures. The bakau trees are home to birds, squirrels, monkey and other animals. In fact, the proboscis monkeys live in bakau forests. The male proboscis monkey appears so virile, and the reason is a diet of bakau leaves. This could be a man's organic alternative to "viagra."