Friday, July 03, 2020

Do folia fertilisers work?

My gardener recently applied foliar fertiliser to the shade garden of the Secret Garden of 1 Utama and we were amazed by the improvement in the plants. The leaves grew larger and more colourful after two applications, once a week. Previously we applied granular organic ferlilisers on to the soil below the leaves. This was very difficult to do without trampling on the plants.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Biochar for gardeners

Biochar is charcoal used to improve the quality of soil for growing plants. Biochar particles mixed into soil will make the soil loose and friable for better water and air penetration To be effective the particles should be 1 - 10 mm diameter.

In the Secret Garden of 1 Utama, I mix biochar with soil in equal proportions and top up from time to time with pure biochar. We buy biochar by the tonne. Biochar is now available in small packets for  home gardeners, labelled as Horticultural Biochar Mulch.

Supplies can be purchased on line at

Those interested can get 10% discount if they cite Promo Code francis 10 Discount 10%

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The world’s largest flower, Amorphophallus titanum, in Kuala Lumpur

The world’s largest flower is Amorphophallus titanum, a rare species, native to Sumatra. The flowers may exceed 3 m in height and 1m diameter.  

Photo shows two young plants in December 2019, each with two leaves; the upper leaf twice as tall as the lower leaf

I managed to obtain two seedlings and had them planted in the Secret Garden on the Rooftop of the 1 Utama Shopping Mall.

The plants are reported to produce one leaf a year, each leaf bigger than the previous one. The final leaf is the largest, with a stalk that looks like a stout tree trunk, reaching 6 m (20 ft) tall and carrying a single massive leaf that is spread out to 5 m (20 ft) across,and  divided into many leaflets, to mimic a tree crown. This incredible 'one-leaf tree' eventually dies down and disappears. After a few months,  an enormous flower will appear out of the ground. It is said to take 7 to 10 years for a plant to get big enough to flower. This description is  based on plants grown in greenhouses under artificial conditions in UK or US. They may behave differently under open tropical conditions.  

I got my plants when they were barely 15 cm (6 inches) tall, in July 2019 and planted then under full sun. Each plant came with one leaf. The next leaf appeared in October and the third in December: three leaf cycles in 6 months. Already it is clear that they produce more than one leaf a year. I expect them to flower much earlier than 10 years. Maybe two years?

The Secret Garden is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays. Those who are interested can now observe these plants at close quarters. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Monday, August 19, 2019

Is Rafflesia an Angiosperm?

Rafflesia arnoldii is well known as one of two contenders for the title of World's Largest Flower, the other contender being Amorphophallus titanum. Both are native to Sumatra. Rafflesia arnoldii has a close relative in Peninsular Malaysia--Rafflesia cantleyi. In March 1918 I was given the opportunity to embark on a detailed study of Rafflesia cantleyi using fresh materials supplied by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia as part of its development of a Rafflesia Research Center in the northern part of Perak State. 

Rafflesia was described and given it name by the British scientist Robert Brown in 1821. Brown followed up with another paper in 1834. These papers were remarkable for the way Brown described the difficulties he had with Rafflesia. Although he had classified Rafflesia as a dicot flowering plant because of its 5-petalled flowers, the structure of the female and male organs are utterly different from all other flowering plants and Brown was not afraid to say so. However, instead of stimulating further critical enquiry, Brown’s misgivings have been ignored. In re-examining the morphology of Rafflesia in detail I have come the conclusion that Rafflesia is so fundamentally different from other flowering plants that it should be placed in a separate category of its own. It is a flowering plant but not an angiosperm like other flowering plants!

However, molecular biologists have gone the other way and embedded Rafflesia in the angiosperms close to or within the family Euphorbiaceae. My first attempt to publish my findings was rejected because  the editor and reviewers considered the matter to have been settled by molecular biologists.

As a scientist, I have always believed that every theory is science can be reexamined at any time and that this is what keeps science alive and relevant. In this case, new evidence is provided by photographs of structures made visible by careful dissection under a microscope. Those viewing the photographic evidence are free to evaluate the evidence themselves.  

I was able to get this paper published in the Journal of Tropical Forest Science and for those who are curious, here is the link to the paper.

Journal of Tropical Forest Science 31(3): 286–297 (2019) Ng FSP