Tale of the two Ceram Palms in my garden

on 1st March 2016

I planted three Ceram Palm (Rhopaloblaste ceramica) seedlings in my small garden nearly 40 years ago. One was subsequently removed when the house was renovated but the remaining two grew to a height of about 12 metres.

On the night of 22rd January 2016, strong wind blew one palm down. It crashed through my fence and landed across the road. Fortunately it missed a parked car. I was oblivious to what happened until the police kept on ringing the doorbell. The two police personnel directed traffic and informed the NParks.

After a long wait (there were many tree falls then) the tree-clearing agent arrived. He parked his taxi nearby, took out his portable chainsaw from the boot, cut the heavy trunk into pieces and cleared the road (above).

I have always believed that palms are sturdy plants, capable of withstanding heavy storms. They are unlike tall trees that shed their branches or even collapse during strong wind. This experience shattered my confidence in tall palms. There and then the fate of the remaining palms was sealed. A few days’ later workers came, set up scaffolding around the remaining palm (above) and sawed the trunk piece by piece (see video below). The entire operation took more than 4 hours.

These two old palms regularly attracted birds that rested on the back of their fronds. They were the tallest palms/trees in the neighbourhood and passing birds invariably used them as a transit stop.

The pair of House Crows (Corvus splendens) that nested in one or the other palm every three months during 2003-4 got me hooked on birds (Wee, 2005). Observing these nesting, I unintentionally provided the first local evidence of the Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) parasitising the nest of the House Crow (above). This fact was already well known for the region but local birdwatchers were generally not interested on common species like the crow.

Birds that regularly visited these palms include the Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) (above), Common Hill-myna (Gracula religiosa), Pink-necked Green-pigeon (Treron vernans), Pied Imperial-pigeon (Ducula bicolor) (below), Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot (Loriculus galgulu), Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), Banded Woodpecker (Chrysophlegma miniaceus), Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) and

Now that the Ceram Palms are no more, I need to plant other palms, but more slender and shorter species – for easy maintenance. I will miss the many birds that used to stop by.

YC Wee
February 2016

Wee, Y.C., 2005. Look, what came out of the crow’s nests. Nature Watch 13(1): 22-25.

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

8 Responses

  1. Luckily the collapse didn’t hurt anyone. Trees can be replanted; do not despair. See it as an opportunity to start something new and attract new types of fauna! Perhaps the age of the palms was a factor in causing their collapse? I notice also that the trunk of the palm that collapsed onto the road has a lot of lichen on it. “When lichen is prevalent on palms and other plants, it is a symptom of low plant vigor.” [Source: Maybe the palm was already ailing, so it would have died sooner or later.

    P.S. What are the white doves above called?

  2. Have just replaced the old palms with Lipstick Palms, those attractive palms with reddish leaf bases. They will take time to grow and flower.. and fruits. Yes, give me an opportunity to study the birds and other fauna that will visit.

    Lichens appear as the palms age. They just grow on the trunk surface and cause no harm. It would appear that the base of the palm rotted, causing it to collapse under strong wind.

    The doves are Pied Imperial Pigeons.

  3. Thanks for the info YC! Good to see the site back up! Eager to see what your new flora will attract and how it will settle in your garden among the existing plants – please update as things progress.

    Any idea why the base of the palm rotted? Does this occur with age? What is the lifespan of most palms?

    Along this line, I notice that most rain trees on our roads are now quite old. Many now cause falling-branch problems. And a lot of casuarina trees have also been removed (and are no longer planted) because of the tendency to shed branches as well. Maybe a post can be done on the common trees of Singapore?

    I also notice that angsana trees are no longer being planted as well. Any idea why this is so? Also realised that we have quite a number of mango trees, especially in or along HDB estates.

  4. I have no idea at all why the palm rotted at the base, although age must have contributed to it. As to how long palms last, have not the foggiest.

    Angsana was first planted during Singapore’s early years as it gave excellent shade. But then as more and more were planted a disease suddenly appeared that nearly wiped them out. Decades later, with the ability to provide “instant trees” by rooting thick stems and transplanting them where needed to provide shade to new roads, etc., they became popular once again. But these instant trees were unstable, in the absence of a deep tap root, and collapsed during storms. So angsana became unpopular once again…

    The story continues with other species when something or others made them undesirable…

  5. Very interesting! Did not know that! Given your expertise in plants I hope to see more articles on them. 🙂 (Also, I must thank you again for your excellent advice on getting firecracker plants to attract sunbirds – now a pair of male & female sunbirds visit my balcony every day without fail!)

  6. After so many years of plants, birds and other aspects of nature provide new challenges that I find refreshing. I can provide plant perspectives when dealing with birds. Good to know that you have company who, eventually may decide to build their nest around your plants.

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