The mini Blk S12 “forest”

Back in those days when I was in Year 1/ 2, most of my lectures started at 10 a.m. and were held at LT32. Once in a while my friend would be late for class and so at 10.05 a.m., I would text her to ask her where she is and she would reply, “climbing the LT32 mountain!!” Ten minutes into the lecture, she would appear at the door then make her way towards her seat next to me, panting. To most of us who have had lessons at LT32, it is probably intuitive to us that my friend’s “LT32 mountain” refers to the laborious “hike” up the slope along Science Drive 4, and then up again the long flight of stairs that would eventually lead us to the carpark behind LT32.

For the past coming to 4 years in NUS, I’ve “hiked” that path umpteen times. Along the way, once in a while I would slow down just to spend a couple more minutes enjoying the vegetation on the left of the walkway, i.e., this:

(that's Blk S12 in the background)

(that’s Blk S12 in the background)

To most of us who started started studying in NUS only 3 to 4 years ago, perhaps this patch of vegetation seems just like any other “garden” or “park” in the middle of a built-up area. Me too, until a year ago when I learnt from my then UROPS (and current FYP) supervisor how this space was greened up.

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in sourcing for photos of the area before it was greened up, but here’s how it looked like on Google Earth:

Satellite image in 2010

Satellite image in 2010.

We can see that it was still a very bare area with hardly any green cover six years ago in 2010 (the triangular patch in the middle of the photo). But today, the same patch is thriving and growing so well with NATIVE SPECIES. Yes, species that are native to Singapore. Theoretically speaking, planting native flora may support greater local wildlife. I wanted to experience for myself how this patch of native green cover has attracted native wildlife in our NUS campus and so I spent a short one hour at the area. To my pleasant surprise, my eyes were treated to a feast! Here are some of the fauna and flora I found:

Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)

Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)

This gentle dove was happily feeding on the ground before it flew to this concrete ledge, seemingly aware I was snapping photos of it.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans)

A pair of pink-necked Green Pigeons (Treron vernans)

These two love birds were comfortably roosting high up in the tree canopy. The male pigeon (left) looks much more colourful with pink nape and neck, and orange covering the lower breast area, while the female (right) is largely covered in a green coat.

Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)

Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)

The playful squirrel was foraging for food for a good 10 to 15 minutes, running up and down the treelets and across the ground, and I managed to snap this shot (still slightly blur though) after several failed attempts.

Unknown bird with orange beak

Unknown bird with orange beak

I’m not sure what species this is, but it could be a lineated barbet ( I’m just guessing though.

Silhouette of another unknown bird

Silhouette of unknown bird 2

Silhouette of unknown bird 3

Silhouette of unknown bird 3 (it could be a dove based on it’s horizontal posture)

The call of a Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) (it’s a bit soft, please try to increase the volume level of your computer!)

Our all time (not so) favourite, the  Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus)

Our all time (not so) favourite, the Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus)

I also saw quite a few Weaver Ants' (Oecophylla smaragdina) nests

I also saw quite a few Weaver Ants’ (Oecophylla smaragdina) nests.

In particular, insects are an interesting one because they form the lower tropic levels and may underpin food webs, thus supporting more charismatic species at higher trophic interactions. But the most important of all is of course the plants, which is the basis on which all life is based. Just to share some of the beautiful flora that can be found in this patch of native green area!

Blue Strawberry Flowers (Memecylon caeruleum)

Blue Strawberry Flowers (Memecylon caeruleum)

Peach-pinkish coloured fruits of Memecylon caeruleum

Peachy-pinkish coloured fruits of Memecylon caeruleum

False Lime (Suregada multiflora)

False Lime (Suregada multiflora) flowers (not freshly blossomed ones though)

Fruits of Suregada multiflora

Fruits of Suregada multiflora. They do look similar to our “normal” lime!

Sometimes when this plant (Suregada multiflora) is producing lots of flowers, it’ll be easy to pick up a very slight fragrance that whiffs past when the wind blows. This is a critically endangered species and one whole row of it is planted just next to the brick walkway.

Wild Pepper (Piper sarmentosum)

Wild Pepper (Piper sarmentosum)

Im not sure what species this is

Im not sure what species this is, but it sure does look elegant!

Nibung Palm (Oncosperma tigillarium)

Nibung Palm (Oncosperma tigillarium)

These three palms are probably the most conspicuous plants as they are “sticking out” of the entire patch. In fact, several species of back mangroves/ mangrove associates/ swamp-adapted species were planted at the bottom of the slope because of the more water-logged conditions below. These include:

Mangrove Fan Palm (Licuala spinosa)

Mangrove Fan Palm (Licuala spinosa)

I’m not 100% certain of this species ID, but it does seem like it, from the bright orange fruits!

Pandanus spp.

Pandanus spp.

My conclusion at the end of my mini field trip was that there is so much biodiversity in the area! This is a good example to illustrate how urban biodiversity can be enhanced by providing (or planting) species’ habitats. Plus, an added bonus is that most of the plants in the area are native, some of which are locally threatened, e.g., the Nibung palm and False Lime, and thus this helps in the conservation of local species as well. While urbanisation has inevitably led to the loss of natural habitats and human-wildlife conflicts, I guess we can still make the best out of a not-so-good thing (e.g., by creating artificial habitats for organisms and still try to attract fauna into our urbanised areas). I will illustrate this using the following two examples:

This huge exotic rain tree is being navitised by the native Hoya spp. that is climbing on it

This huge exotic rain tree is being navitised by the native Hoya spp. that is climbing on it!

Wild Pepper seedlings growing at the shady areas below larger shrubs and trees

Wild Pepper seedlings growing below larger shrubs and trees. Where space is a constraint, plants can be cultivated at different layers so as to increase the number of plants per unit area!


Who would have known? Everyday we walk in and out of our campus not knowing that all these beautiful flora and fauna exist just right at our doorstep! Of course, as an amateur, I’ve probably only scratched the surface of the much more diverse and rich urban biodiversity we have in NUS, as well as the rest of Singapore, but this only goes to show that while we can’t “un-urbanise” an area, or “un-plant” exotic species, or undo the damages already done, we still can work around the situation and make the best out of it!

(all photographs were taken by me)

4 thoughts on “The mini Blk S12 “forest”

  • March 13, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Hi Sherry!
    Always a pleasure to read more about greening in Singapore, especially the efforts to grow native plants in NUS. I’ve seen a collared kingfisher in Science actually, but it was near the drain behind science carpark, right next to AYE. I highly doubt it lives there, so close to the highway, and was probably passing through the waterway. Unfortunately there was also a changeable lizard just shy of a meter away, a contrast I did find interesting anyway. I think there really is more to appreciate in NUS (especially in the plant department) that everyone should be able to recognise so thank you for sharing a bit more on it. 🙂

  • March 14, 2016 at 1:32 am

    love this post and the ID skills, Sherry !

  • March 14, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Wow, thanks for ID-ing so many species!!

    Fun fact: A prof once told me that that patch was actually not planted by anyone. It was decided that that patch would be left on its own and NUS should ‘let nature take its course’. And nature sure did its thing!!! I think its amazing how this small patch of (ex)grassland in NUS can grow to become such a bio-diverse patch without any human intervention. Hopefully, more of such things will (be allowed to) occur around NUS so that we can more natural patches of ‘mini forests’!!

    • March 16, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Hey Amanda,
      Thanks for your feedback! I think there could have been a bit of misunderstanding->the area was deliberately planted using native species that are able to adapt to the varying environmental conditions along the steepness gradient. Perhaps what your prof meant about letting nature take its course refers to the post-planting phase, which is evidently successful based on what we see now because the area is flourishing incredibly well and attracting fauna on its own without further human intervention.

      It might be difficult for a grassy patch to become forested with native trees and shrubs, especially without sources of seed propagules nearby (the patch is surrounded by built-up areas!) and in the presence of opportunistic exotic pioneer species (mostly weedy) that could quickly establish themselves in an exposed area. I think it may not be entirely impossible to occur, but chances of it happening should be low, or might take several decades. So for it to turn from a grassy patch to one with trees and shrubs so quickly within the last 5/6 years, based on satellite images, further shows that there was indeed human intervention.

      There is another grassy patch in NUS that was left on its own though! It is also in the Science Faculty, directly outside LT22. If you happen to pass by that area, you’ll see that the grassy patch has only become covered by a dense layer of weedy vegetation. But then again, the patch was only left on its own for a couple of years. Plus, I do hear that the area does get a bit of accidental trimming by workers who are unaware of the ongoing project.


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