The National Parks Board estimates about 1.4 million trees are planted throughout Singapore – the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve alone is home to more species of trees than the entire North American continent! The reserve also gives Singapore the distinction of being one of only two cities in the world that contains a primary rainforest.
Even outside the rainforest, Singapore boasts plenty of green spaces and interesting plants. Look for the distinctive Rain Tree growing in parks and along roadsides. The tree has distinctive umbrella shaped branches, but they aren't the reason for its name – the leaves of the Rain Tree fold up just before the rain arrives and just before sunset.
You may also see the majestic Yellow Flame tree, which can reach up to 20 metres in height, and is commonly found growing along roadways and in urban green spots. This tree is a beautiful sight when in bloom, with its namesake bright yellow flowers covering the entire crown of the tree and creating a brilliant, soft carpet when they fall to the ground.
Another commonly seen flowering tree in Singapore is the frangipani, with creamy white or deep pink flowers. Frangipani trees are often seen in Hindu or Buddhist temples, and are also associated with death in Malay custom. Local lore says that spirits find shelter in frangipani trees, and these trees are often planted in cemeteries as well.
Look for one of Singapore’s most majestic trees, the tembusu, which can grow up to 40 metres in height. This evergreen tree has dense, dark foliage, oval-shaped green leaves, and dark brown bark. At sunset during flowering season, the white flowers of the Tembusu tree open and emit a sweet fragrance.
Another tree with fragrant flowers is the champak tree, a type of magnolia with pale white or orange flowers. Native to Southeast Asia, champak trees can grow to over 50 metres. Champak flowers are prized for their scent in Indian cultures, and their essential oils are used to create perfumes.
One of the most ubiquitous plants in Singapore, whether on the expressways or in people’s homes, is the bougainvillea. The colours of bougainvillea range from white and pale pink to vibrant orange, deep magenta and scarlet, so a row of bougainvillea positively bursts with colour and makes any street or building look like a tropical paradise.
Another striking flower is the ixora, also known as the West Indian Jasmine. The ixora grows as a wild dense shrub, and is identifiable by its glossy green leaves and large clusters of bright red or pink flowers. Schoolchildren in Singapore know that each tiny flower contains a few drops of sweet nectar in its stem.