Simpoh Malesia

All about learning Dillenia

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My Fieldwork In Kuala Lompat

My last fieldwork that i did recently was at Kuala Lompat, Krau, Pahang. This trip was being held on 21 and 22 of September 2006. The first species that i found here is Dillenia reticulata, which is also known as 'simpoh gajah'. The juvenil leaves are indeed very huge and can measure more than a metre long and are very hairy. Unlike the matured leaves, their surface are lack of hairs, much shorter and usually has slighly emarginate apex. The tree is sure very high and huge and it has stilt roots.

The photos that i took wasn't that clear as it's a huge tree and i haven't figure out how to capture a nice photo yet in that condition. I even hired an aborigine there to help me pluck the leaves to be made as voucher specimen. On the top is the photo of juvenil D. reticulata.
The next species that i encountered was Dillenia ovata. Actually, it's the aborigine (Pak Man) that pinpoint that species to me. He saw it at the roadside to our quarters. This tree is fruiting at that moment and i manage to collect this specimen with Pak Man's help. Gladly enough this time the tree isn't that high and is pretty easy to reach. I noticed that the bark of this tree is rather flaky and the fruits are much smaller compare to D. indica. Although the outer fruit are alike in features but the inner part of the fruits are a bit different (picture below). The based of the leaves of D. ovata are unequal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Doing taxonomic work

Dealing in taxonomic work is not an easy task. One have to familiarize oneself with the botanical terms being used in the taxon one is working on. Besides, different authors use different terms to describe the features that they think best suited the specimens that they examined. Therefore, one will be easily confused on what to term to use and what actually differentiate this situation. In my case, i encountered the term 'hairy, tomentose, hispid and hirsute' being used to describe the petiol as well as the abaxial of the leaf surface of Dillenia species. One really have to scrutinized the specimens to know what the other author is talking about. This take time and experience to understand. One can't determine how it is by just reading the terms.

Secondly, it's the matter of sitting for hours in a herbarium observing dry, dull, brownish specimens. Can you imagine that it took me 4-5 hours work a day in the herbarium and being able to examined only 4-5 specimens. Each specimens took me almost an hour! Of course it doesn't mean starring on the herbarium sheet. It's the work of measuring and describing all the characteristic that we observed and touch. Well, i even question myself before that 'How could i cope by looking at this dull specimens?' and 'What will i actually learnhrough this dry material?'. Well, things aren't that bad actually. Not all specimens are dull.

Below is a specimen of Dillenia ovata that capture my eyes and help to boost my interest and energy to do my herbarium work in UKMB on 5 August 2006. A neat and perfect specimens with fruits and flowers will give you all the characteristic that will help you to determine the species better. It is nice when one already master the skill in the taxon that one is working on. By then, one can determine the species in the genus or family just like snapping the fingers by just looking at simply a dry leaf of that species. As usual, nothing comes without hardwork.
Bravo and good luck to all taxonomists and new practitioners like me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is it Dillenia excelsa?

My first ever fieldwork during my master was carried out in Ayer Keroh Forest Reserve, Malacca. I went there with my best friend who was on her way back to her hometown. Upon reaching the place, we went to the ranger office to ask for the permission to gather the leaves and inflorescence of Dillenia as boucher. He said that there aren’t any of the species that have been labeled so far and we might have to rumble through the inner forest to find the Dillenia species. He was not that sure where to find it too. My instinct also told me that he is not that familiar with this genus either, although he tried hard to help us by showing us some references on that genus. He told us that the trees of ‘simpoh’ are always stilt-rooted which of course I don’t agree but I just abide him.

With that, we venture into the forest in search of Dillenia. True to what the ranger said, we didn’t manage to find any species nearby, so we wandered inner the jungle. We stopped quite often to take a look at the leaves on the top canopy trying to scrutinized whether the leaves description tally with any of the Dillenia species that are expected to occur in Malacca. Most of the leaves that we thought are of some resemblance turned out to be far from it when we got nearer to the tree. After much trial and error and being stung with dozens of mosquitoes, we were really exhausted and almost gave up. Without our realization, almost 3 hours had slipped away. On our way out, a tree caught my eye and my instinct tell me that this might be a tree I’m looking for.

We approached the tree and I started to look at the fallen leaves. The shape, colour, apex, base, petiol, veins and size are very close with the description of Dillenia excelsa. The only thing that doesn’t fit is that the abaxial of the leaves are not really sparsely to densely hairy as described. You can only manage to see few hairs standing apart from each other if scrutinizing the abaxial of the leaves with magnifying glass. To further clarify this species, I tried by comparing the description of the bark. After much consideration, I think it does fit the description. With this comfirmation, I decided to capture the photographs of it. It is really a hard work to capture a nice photo of tall trees with the presence of sunlight glimpses. I can’t even focused on the nearest fresh leaves to capture its’ morphological structure.

Later on, we tried to pluck the nearest leaves to be my boucher specimen. Unfortunately, it’s too high for us to reach (picture above) and we’re unable to find much longer stem to be our pole. After trying for about half an hour, we quit. We only brought back a few dried leaves and manage to find 2 to 3 yellowish green leaves for my anatomical sample. Somehow, I’m still doubtful of this species that I gather as it differs with the herbarium leaves that I observed in UKMB especially the leaf surface. I’m not sure whether it’s due to natural drying leaves with oven dried leaves. I guess I’ll consult En. Shamsul for his opinion as he has better experienced and might be able to settle my doubt.

My First Encounter With Dillenia

My first encounter on Dillenia was during my degree programme. My group had chosen the subclass of Dillenidae as the project assignment of the course “Families Of Seed Plants”. Although I dealt mostly on the families of Begoniaceae and Cucurbitaceae at that moment, I also help others to search high and low all the species of Dillenidae in our campus surrounding. We really had quite a tough time as all of us are not really familiar with these plants. Somehow, we manage to finish the assignments with much hardwork and sleepless night.

From this assignment, I got the opportunity to get to know two species of Dillenia that are very commonly found. The first species is the shrubby simpoh or Dillenia suffruticosa. It is also known as “Simpoh Ayer” by local. I was attracted to it because it had large showy yellow petals (picture below). Besides that, another structure that caught my attention at that time is the reddish seeds from the indehiscent fruits that have a star-like shape. Even till now, I was still fascinated to see it. Although it flowers throughout the year, it is not easy to bump into its’ fruit that is still intact with seeds. Both fruits and petals of flowers of this species fell off by noon. I even found out from an article that the flowers and fruits started to expand early before dawn around 3 a.m and the flowers are in full bloom an hour before sunrise.

The second species of Dillenia that I encounter is Dillenia indica or much famously known as the elephant apple tree. Yes, you’re right! I was fascinated with the fruits of that tree. It’s huge and the first resemblance that flashes in my mind at that moment was the coconut fruit. The fruit is hard and heavy. The ripen fruits are yellowish in colour while the unripen fruits are apple green. Somehow, I didn’t get the chance to cut the fruit at that time but recently, I did it to satisfy my curiosity as well as part of understanding my genus much more. I’m still hunting for its’ flower somehow. My hunger to touch and capture the flower of this species will not be satisfied by just looking at other people photographs. Besides, I’ll only understand the structure of the flower part much better with a specimen on hand. Moreover, the petals are white in colour. Therefore, it’ll be highlighting the tree which has dark green leaves. Below right is my photo with the elephant apple tree taken on 28 August 2006.

Knowing the author of "simpoh"

In 1983, on 11th October, I was born in Ipoh. Somehow, I was only in Ipoh for a couple of weeks before being moved to Teluk Intan (Diamond Bay) where my father, Tan Cheng Hock worked. I was raised by my father and my mother, Neoh Cheng Ten in an oil palm estate, quite isolated from the Teluk Intan town. Teluk Intan is a town famous for its’ own PISA tower in Malaysia. My education started since kindergarden where I only opt to study for a year at Tadika Intan Methodist. I proceed my education to SRK Convent, TI and SM Convent, TI, which were one of the top listed school in Hilir Perak then. After my SPM examination, I continued my education to STPM level at St. Anthony, TI which was opposite my ex-school.

My father is the breadwinner of my family. He worked as a chief clerk and I honour him very much as he is a very dedicated and trustworthy person. He is a peaceful and caring person. Although he seldom expressed his love directly, we can feel it through his preliminary preparations when we went back home and showers of gifts. My father just retired recently but he still continues his work at his company (Sime Darby) in Sabrang Estate. On the other hand, my mother is a housewife. She is the best cook ever that I known of as she can cook Chinese, Malay, Indian and some western food too. She never gets tired of trying to improve and create new recipes in her cooking. Therefore, it’s surely always a feast when one visited my house. My mother is also a very caring and sweet person and able to handle household chores perfectly.

I left my hometown in 2003 to pursue my degree in UKM under the course of Biology for three years. I never thought that I will be able to make it to this far. Somehow by luck, I was given a chance to enroll in the course which is my second choice. In the second year of my degree year, I opted to major in Botany. This is based on my interest on getting to know plants as I enjoy their presence a lot. I did my degree project on ‘The Biology of Rafflesiaceae in Melantai, Taman Negara’ under the supervision of Prof. Madya Dr. Kamarudin Mat-Salleh. The discovery of the presence of Rafflesia and Rhizanthes in Melantai, National Park during my practical there had attracted me to continue to study about them at that moment. I grew to be fond of jungle trekking and enjoy the wilderness in the forest. Everything in the forest is really magnificent and has caught my heart. Although the track to my site is pretty tough, I have always cherished the journey and experienced. Besides, the satisfaction when I get to see Rafflesia in bloom will cast away all the tiredness.

Currently, I’m pursuing my master in UKM on Plant Systematics. I’m working on my master project, ‘A Taxonomic Revision on the Genus of Dillenia in Peninsular Malaysia’ under the supervision of Prof. Dato’ Dr. Abdul Latiff Mohamad. This is something new to me and I’m still in the process of learning about this genus which is much known as ‘simpoh’ by the locals. Fundamentally, it is not easy to recognize this genus in the forest unless there are inflorescences or one already familiar with trees in the forest. Somehow, I’m very satisfied that I’d encountered five species out of ten species on my fieldworks recently.