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Melastoma and flowerpecker I

on 13th June 2007

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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.

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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.

YC Wee
Singapore
June 2007

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. The fruit is not only good for birds, it is also good for humans. Go on, try it, it is sweet and pleasant tasting and I am sure the deep purple color is a good source of anti oxidants! We use to eat it during jungle training in brunei during my army days.

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