Friday, January 19, 2018

Could the African tulip tree Spathodea campanulata be insectivorous?

Trees are not known to feed on insects, but some flowers are known to poison and kill the insects that take their pollen. The African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulata is a tree with insect-killing flowers. Their victims are pollen-collecting stingless bees.   

The theory proposed to explain this behaviour is that the African tulip tree has evolved to favour pollination by birds. Birds visit the flowers to take the sweet nectar at the base of the corolla cup. In the process, their backs get dusted with pollen, which they carry to the next flower. To reserve the pollen for the birds, the pollen contains a poison to deter insects.

A neat theory. but unsupported by facts.

The bees get killed, but new bees are born every day and they keep coming and getting killed. The deterrent does not deter.   

Birds peck a hole at the bottom of the flower and taking the nectar without being dusted with pollen.

Other insects, especially ants, visit the flower for the sweet nectar, and die within the flower because the nectar is poisonous.

How does the poison work? It is a nerve poison. Crawling insects that come into contact with the nectar lose control of their limbs and struggle to crawl out. The flower is big, and the poison takes effect in less than 30 seconds. Before a poisoned insect can crawl to the mouth of the flower, it slips and falls  into the pool of nectar at the base of the flower where it is immobilized instantly.  Bees that come into contact with the pollen presumably fall into the flower when they lose control of their wings. 

The bodies of the insects are retained in the fluid at the base of the corolla for up to four days before the corolla is shed.What happens during these four days? Are there  nutrients from the insects that the corolla can absorb and passes on to the tree before it is shed? Is the corolla a temporary digestive organ?

This work is published in the UTAR Agriculture Science Journal Volume 3 (Nov 1917 that readers can access by Google search. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Avocado FNAv1 suitable for Peninsular Malaysia

Avocado FNAv1 is  the code name I have chosen for a specific clone of grafted avocado with a pedigree resulting from 30 years of research. Its good points are
1. Good flavour, uniform cream texture and uniform clean colour of the flesh.
2. Handy pear shape and size.
3, Flowering and fruiting in 3 years and thereafter on average once a year.
4. Self-pollinating i,e. does not need a partner tree, hence suitable as a single tree in a small area as in the mini garden of a terrace house
5. Non seasonal
The fifth point is significant. Seasonal fruits like durian and rambutan produce a glut each time they fruit because they all fruit together. With FNAv1, the individual plants although all genetically identical, somehow become independent and unpredictable in their times of flowering and fruiting. A tree may have a break of 12 months between crops or sometimes one crop may follow another almost without a break. A plantation could be producing all year round with different trees producing at different times. 

Propagation of the plants is slow and difficult. It takes about 9 months to produce a grafted plant. Only about 50% of seeds produce graftable stock plants and only about 50% of  plants survive grafting. The genetic identity of the stock plants is fixed to avoid complications from unknown stock-scions interactions, hence I am limited by the number of seeds available. This year I may be able to produce 20 plants out of 100 seeds that I planted last year from a crop of fruits from a 30 year old tree. There  will be a small crop of seeds in 5 months time from a 3 year old tree that is flowering now.

I propose to establish an email group of all those who obtain these plants from me so that we can track their behaviour in different places in Peninsular Malaysia and thereby build up the knowledge base necessary to support a local avocado industry.  I will not patent the plant so all those who buy it will be free to repropagate the plants themselves.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Record numbers of visitors at the Secret Garden

The number of visitors at the Secret Garden on Hari Raya Sunday was 822. The total for the 4-day holiday period was 2478. The breakdown is as follows:

24 June:  449
25 June:  822
26 June:  592
27 June:  616.

Total: 2478
The normal average is 300 per day. What is the reason for the surge in numbers? Could it be due to 
outstation visitors coming to KL for the long holidays? 

At MPH, Popular and Borders, the sections on gardening have shrunk or disappeared. This indicates that the demand for garden books has dropped sharply, perhaps due to increase in condominium living. .

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best ever-flowering climbers for a tropical garden

In the tropics it is possible to make an ever-flowering garden using ever-flowering plants. Among the most spectacular of such plants are 20 species of ever-flowering climbers. These are  described and illustrated in the December 2016 issue of the UTAR Agriculture Science Journal that can be obtained by logging into

All these climbers may be viewed at the Secret Garden of 1 Utama in Kuala Lumpur except for the stephanotis which died last month. To my regret I failed to propagate it when I had the chance. Now I have to hunt for another plant. Last week I removed the Indian morning glory Ipomoea indica when I discovered that it was threatening to take over the whole garden by producing long runners that were spreading and branching underground. I will have to replant this in an isolated garden bed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Best rooftop garden in the world?

Visitors have been commenting that the Secret Garden of 1 Utama  is better than any rooftop garden they have seen in Japan, Korea or USA. It has always been our aim to reach the top and we seem to have succeeded.

We have a new  brochure for the Secret Garden just delivered this week. Visitors can pick this up at the garden when it is open on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

Entrance to the garden is free.