Singapore Trivia – The Tembusu Tree and 5-Dollar Note

If you visit the Botanic Gardens via the Tanglin gates, you may have notice the iconic Tembusu tree and find it familiar. That is because the tree, with its signature low stretching branch, is used as a motif on our current 5-dollar note.

Native to Singapore, the Tembusu trees, whose scientific name is fagraea fragrans, are hard-wooded evergreen trees that strive even on poor clayey soils. In the wild, the trees will often grow up to 40m in height, with large low-lying branches that have upswept ends. Named as one of Singapore’s heritage trees, the Tembusu trees, during their flowering seasons in May/June and October/November, will bear small orange berries and creamy moth-attracting flowers that open and give off a strong fragrance in the evening.

botanic gardens tembusu tree

botanic gardens tembusu tree singapore five dollar note

The signature Tembusu tree at the Botanic Gardens was more than 150 years old; it was already standing there before the Botanic Gardens was founded and laid in 1859 by an agri-horticultural society. Since then, it had witnessed the changes of the garden in the past one and a half century. The Botanic Gardens was taken over by the British colonial government in 1874 and during the Japanese Occupation, it was administrated by a Japanese professor and renamed as Shōnan Botanic Gardens. Today, the 74-hectare Gardens is managed by the National Parks Board.

The current Singapore 5-dollar note belongs to the Portrait Series, the fourth currency series of Singapore after its independence. The back design of the greenish note, officially issued on 9 September 1999, features the exact Tembusu tree that stands in the grounds of the Botanic Gardens.

Iconic landmarks in Singapore have been commonly used as the back designs of the former and current Singapore currency notes. Examples are the Supreme Court Building, Clifford Pier, Victoria Theatre, The Istana, Benjamin Sheares Bridges and Changi Airport, which have all been used as motifs in the previous Orchid, Bird and Ship series. The dollar notes’ motif designs sometimes also tell a Singapore’s history. For instance, the back of the Orchid Series’ 1-dollar note, released in mid-1967, features the Tanglin Halt flats, which were built in 1962. Fondly known as chup lau chu (“10-storey building” in Hokkien), these early HDB flats had existed for more than 50 years but eventually could not stand the test of time. Most of its tenants had moved out since 2008, and the vacant blocks will be demolished by end of 2015.

tanglin halt chup lau6

tanglin halt chup lau7

Published: 19 November 2015

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3 Responses to Singapore Trivia – The Tembusu Tree and 5-Dollar Note

  1. Warmth is felt through your words in this post – gave me a smile on a Friday morning, thank you 🙂

  2. Used to pass by Tanah Merah Coast Road and see this prominent “botak” tree along the road, dead, barren yet still beautiful

    Almost a notable landmark like the Punggol lone tree (… and like the Punggol one, this one was also chopped down recently

  3. Tragedy 😦

    1 dead, 4 injured after Tembusu tree falls at Singapore Botanic Gardens

    11 February 2017
    Channel NewsAsia

    One person died on Saturday (Feb 11) after a massive Tembusu tree toppled at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, interrupting an event organised by the High Commission of Canada that was scheduled to start at 5pm.

    The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it was alerted to the incident near the Symphony Stage at 4.25pm and that five people were taken to the National University Hospital.

    The National Parks Board (NParks) confirmed in a statement at 8.32pm that one of the five had died. The agency also said it was investigating the cause of the tree falling.

    “Our priority now is to accord assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured,” it added in the statement.

    Police said the person who died is a 38-year-old female Indian national who was there with her family. Her husband, a 39-year-old French national, and their two children, both aged one, suffered injuries.

    The High Commission of Canada, in a post on Twitter, said it was “deeply saddened” by the death. In another statement on Sunday, it also thanked “those that came so quickly to the aid of others following the accident”.

    Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called the incident a “terrible accident”.

    “Our deepest sympathies to the family of the person who was killed by the falling Tembusu tree at the Botanic Gardens this afternoon. Hope the four others injured will recover soon,” Mr Tharman wrote on Facebook at about 10.40pm.


    Eyewitness Jonathan Ang, who was there for the concert, said he was sitting at the open area away from most of the trees.

    “Suddenly we heard a cracking sound, like thunder,” he said.

    Across the main path, a tree fell “within five seconds”, taking another tree beside it down with it.

    “There were easily a hundred of us that rushed forward to help push the branches, the logs away,” he added, estimating that there were about four to six people under the “huge” tree when it fell.

    According to the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ website, the Tembusu tree – which was 40m tall with a girth of 6.5m – is estimated to be more than 270 years old and is the largest of its kind in the Gardens.

    Mr Ang said that thankfully, there were not many people sitting in the area as it was under the sun. Most of those nearby also appeared to be unharmed – “except for one poor woman, I’m not sure if she made it … She was unconscious and her husband was calling for her.”

    SCDF arrived within about five minutes, and paramedics appeared to be trying to revive the woman, he added.

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