Few countries as compact as Singapore can claim the same diversity of flora as this robust city-state. Thanks to Singapore’s extensive network of running trails located just minutes from major urban centres, it’s easy to see a wide array of plants in their native habitat without much effort. Below you’ll find a sampling of some of the more striking examples of exotic plant life that can be seen from Singapore’s numerous trails and nature walks.
Otherwise known as Tabernaemontana Divaricata, the Pinwheel Flower is easily identifiable thanks to its brilliant white petals and yellow centre. If you break the stem, you’ll notice a milky fluid leaking out. That fluid contains toxic alkaloids, so be sure to avoid ingesting it or getting it near your eyes. Though they can be found in many locations, the most impressive specimens are located within the Singapore Botanic Garden.
Also called the Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ and the Princess Aloha Orchid, this particular orchid is the national flower of Singapore. Specifically bred to produce dazzlingly bright colours, the Singapore Orchid boasts light pink petals, white lower sepals, bright pink-purple lips and an orange centre. Tall and slender, it requires supports to truly thrive. You’ll find it flowering pretty much anywhere in the city where there’s an open-air public park or garden.
Red Sealing Wax Palm
Commonly referred to as the “Lipstick Palm” by nature lovers, Cyrtostachys renda is a refreshing twist on the typical palm that many are used to seeing. Capable of growing to a height of more than 16m, the upper trunks of this particular tree have a distinctive red ochre hue. You can find these fetching giants in the Singapore Botanic Gardens or along the aptly named Lipstick Palm Trail.
Thottea grandiflora, also known as the Purple Thottea, is a member of the birthwort family and a threatened shrub in Southeast Asia. Roughly 2m in height, it sprouts unmistakable ovoid petals with a rich purple colour. You can find them along the Lornie Trail that runs around the MacRitchie Reservoir. Don’t try to touch these plants as you may damage them. Just be content to snap a photo and move on.
Golden Shower Orchid
Oncidium Goldiana, more commonly known as the Golden Shower or Dancing Lady Orchid, is an epiphyte with brilliant yellow flowers that draw the eye. The bright shade of gold gracing the petals is offset nicely by deep reddish-brown barring. While this particular species is hardly rare, you can find rows upon rows of exquisite blooms at the National Orchid Garden, which boasts a number of trails for casual jogging.
One of the most elegant flowers that can be found around Singapore, the stately Heliconia comes in an array of varieties and colours. From fuchsia to deep orange to borderline purple, it seems there are few appearances that its pointy petals can’t assume. Visit the Heliconia Walk at the Botanic Gardens or the Wallace Trail at Dairy Farm Nature Park by the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to see them up close.
Giant Sword Fern
Also referred to as the Broad Sword Fern or Paku Larat, Nephrolepis biserrata is a breathtaking piece of greenery that’s difficult to ignore. With a spread of up to 1.5m and a maximum height of about the same length, it’s one of the largest ferns you’re likely to encounter in Singapore. You’ll see them directly off the trail in the Southern Ridges and Kent Ridge Park.
The Kepayang tree, scientific name Pangium edule, is a sprawling species that loves mangrove swamps and marshy environments. The first thing you’ll notice upon encountering one are the large, oval-shaped fruit hanging from its limbs. Be forewarned that the uncooked fruit and seeds of this tree are poisonous since they contain hydrogen cyanide. You’ll find them in wet, lowland areas like Sungei Buloh Nature Park and Pasir Ris Park.
The lumbering giant known as Alstonia scholaris is a 50m beast that exudes a distinctive sweet aroma when flowering. It’s easily differentiated from similar species thanks to its greenish yellow petal clusters. If you score the light grey bark of the Indian Pulai, you’ll observe an alkaloid-rich milky latex leaking out. Indian Pulai trees can be found lining the Western Park Connector and within Bukit Batok Nature Park.
The Plumeria rubra plant, known on the street as Red Frangipani, is a woody flowering shrub that produces dazzling pink petals with golden centres. Though not toxic in any way, most frangipanis that you’ll encounter will be cultivated so don’t touch their flowers. It’s easy to identify thanks to its spear-shaped leaves and bush-like morphology. Often used for landscaping in suburban areas, it can be seen on most walking and biking paths during your daily runs.
Enjoy Natural Singapore One Run at a Time
The key to getting the most out of Singapore’s natural splendour is to familiarize yourself with it gradually. Focus on identifying one plant per run as you log kilometres around the city. You’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the local flora by taking it slow. Besides the gorgeous examples listed above, how many more exotic plants do you think you can find running around Singapore?