Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Dillenia suffruticosa

More commonly known as Simpoh Air, this shrubby tree is native to Southeast Asia. 

Simpoh Air is a large shrub or small tree that grows to about 6 to 7m tall. It has deep taproots to tap deep underground for water sources. As such, it is believed that their presence suggest an available water source underground. 

The oval leaves are large at about 15 to 35cm and with a toothed edge and fold near the stalk. The young leaves are reddish in colour and appear to have a corrugated texture. 

The large flowers of Simpoh Air are about 8 to 10cm and bright yellow in colour. The flowers have five large thin petals and grows in clusters on a long stalk, though they only open one at a time. The bud will first swell and turn yellow in the morning before the day it blooms. At about 3am the next day, the flower will start to open and become fully bloomed about an hour before sunrise. By 4pm, the petals will drop off and the sepals will fold back on the young fruit in the evening. The flower stalk will rotate slowly to point upwards when it starts to fruit after the flower blooms. The flower buds face downwards while the young fruits face upwards. 

The flowers do not produce any nectar and have no scent. Its flowers are pollinated by the carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) as well as small beetles and flies that are observed.

The fruits take exactly five weeks to set and opens at 3am. The pink fruit capsule resembles a star shape  when fully expanded, with 7 to 8 cells showing purple seeds that have a fleshy bright red aril. Birds and even monkeys feed on these fruits. The seeds are swallowed whole together the fleshy aril around them, and thus dispersed by the birds.The empty husk falls off at about 8am the following day.

Simpoh Air provides food and shelter for other plants and creatures, such as the Yellow-vented bulbul and is among the few plants that can germinate and grow on white sands. As a pioneer species, it provides shade for other less hardy plants to establish themselves. Its young shoots and leaves are also edible.

The large leaves are also used to wrap food such as tempeh (Malay fermented soyabean cakes), or formed into shallow cones to contain traditional ‘fast food’ such as rojak. 

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