The Malays call the plant sendudok while the early colonial botanists misleadingly named it Singapore rhododendron or straits rhododendron. The plant is neither a rhododendron nor confined to Singapore. In fact it is found throughout Southeast Asian.
The scientific name is Melastoma malabathricum, the genus is from the Greek words melas, meaning black and stoma or mouth, alluding to the ripe fruits that splits open looking like an open mouth exposing the blackish pulp (left bottom). The specific name means from Malabar, India.
This is a common plant of the wasteland. Its pretty purple flowers with bright yellow stamens attract one’s attention (above top). The fruits are sweetish and the black pulp stains the mouth of children that once sought after them. These fruits are also eaten by monkeys, squirrels and birds that in turn spread the seeds all over the open country.
Carpenter bees can often be seen pollinating the flowers. The bees’ wingbeats cause the anthers of the stamens to vibrate in tandem and this results in the latter discharging their pollen on to the bees. These pollen are then transferred to the stigma of the next flowers the bees visit.
This is an excellent plant to grow to attract birds. It is easy to grow. Just dig out any seedlings that sprout in your garden or anywhere else and either nurse them in pots or directly transplant them to wherever you want top grow them. They grow fast, flowering and fruiting within months. Flowering is continuous, meaning that you get fruits throughout the year. However, the flowers last only a day.
But with flowering comes fruiting. And then the birds they attract. I have yet to compile a list of birds visiting the plant but the most attractive bird that comes a few times a day is the colourful Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) (above). You know it is visiting when you hear its tik-tik-tik calls.
The flowerpecker goes straight to the ripe fruit, takes a beakfull and moves to the nest fruit in the same bush or another bush. Normally shy and moving rapidly from plant to plant, it tends to be less shy and less impatient when going for the fruits.
The plant is a short shrub but if allowed to grow unchecked, it can develop into a small tree. However, proper pruning can easily keep it short and bushy. This is definitely an excellent plant to grow in any garden that wants to attract birds.