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.
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.
Published: 19 November 2015