Singapore’s Heritage Tree Series – Purple Millettia

A handsome 35m-tall tree called Purple Millettia stands along the popular Swan Lake at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. A member of the Legume family (Fabaceae), its scientific name is Callerya atropurpurea and is commonly found in Peninsular Malaysia. Its origin in Singapore, though, was once disputed.

Singapore-based English botanist and the Botanic Gardens’ first Director Henry Nicholas Ridley (1855-1956) suggested, in his 1900 Singapore’s flora, that the tree was not native. But the Singapore Herbarium stated that a specimen was collected by James Samuel Goodenough along Sungei Jurong in 1893, where the swampy area was once surrounded by primary forest. So it was unlikely anyone would have planted the tree there in the first place. James Goodenough had worked for the Botanic Gardens, collecting some 800 plant specimens in Singapore in the 1890s.

In 1889, at the west side of Swan Lake, a small plot named Lawn F was designated to plant a taxonomic group called the legumes, which included trees, shrubs and climbers of the leguminous species. This species, nevertheless, are also found at many other parts of the Gardens.

The Purple Millettia at Swan Lake is more than a century old. It was observed recently that this tree has pneumatophore roots – roots that are specialised for breathing in swampy areas. Lawn F was supposedly a swamp before its development after 1866; hence whether this Purple Millettia was originally a native wild specimen or was planted here becomes a mystery.

Evergreen throughout the entire year, the Purple Millettia trees have dome-like crowns with glossy dark green leaves and reddish purple flowers. Their brown pods are hard and thick, each containing one to two seeds.

The Purple Millettia of Swan Lake has been dedicated to the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) in 2014. The Heritage Tree Dedication Award recognises organisations and individuals who contributes to the greening of Singapore or donates at least $500,000 to the Garden City Fund.

Published: 26 October 2021

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1 Response to Singapore’s Heritage Tree Series – Purple Millettia

  1. Wuxl says:

    Considering swans doesn’t usually occur in tropical Asia, the debate over the origin of the tress does have some irony

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