Dillenia suffruticosa, also known as Simpoh Air

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Dillenia suffruticosa bush [wyc]

Simpoh Air (Dillenia suffruticosa) is a large shrub growing into a small tree (above). It is often seen growing in degraded soil in rural Singapore. The plant is easily recognised by its dense, large, cabbage-like leaves that are toothed. Young laves are reddish (below), slipping out from the basal leaf sheath. The leaves were once used to wrap tempeh, the fermented soya bean cake that originated from Indonesia. They were also once used by hawkers to wrap various foods.

Dillenia suffruticosa yg-l SBG [wyc]

Flowers are large, with five yellow petals and arising from a stalk (below). In the bud stage, the flowers are enclosed within five fleshy, green sepals. The flowers bloom one at a time, beginning at 3 am and becoming fully open an hour before sunrise.

Dillenia suffruticosa fl [wyc]

Flowers do not produce any scent or nectar. Pollination is by bees (below) that are attracted by the pollen. Small beetles and flies also help in pollination as they scramble over the flowers.

Dillenia suffruticosa fl-bee SBG [wyc]

Once the flowers are pollinated, the petals fall off, usually at around 4 pm. By nightfall the sepals begin to fold back, the developing fruit looking very much like a flower bud. With time the sepals turn red (below; note also the reddish young leaf).

Dillenia suffruticosa fl-yg-fr-yg-l [wyc]

The fruit takes 35 days to set. It splits open into 7-8 segments at around 3 am, appearing like a pink star with white borders (below). Each fruit segment is packed with brownish seeds covered with scarlet pulp, technically known as aril.

Dillenia suffruticosa fr [wyc]

By sunrise most of the seeds would have been removed by birds. The scarlet aril is eaten while the hard seed passes through the digestive system, thus dispersed some distance from the plant.

Birds that visit the plant for the fruits include: Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) LINK and Olive-winged Bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus) LINK; Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) LINK 1, LINK 2 and LINK 3; Purple-throated Sunbird (Nectariniua sperata) LINK; Pink-necked Green-pigeon (Treron vernans) LINK; Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) LINK and Long-tailed Parakeet (Psittacula longicauda) LINK 1 and LINK 2.

The large leaves are often used by the Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) to build its nest LINK and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) to take leaf bath LINK.

YC Wee
25th January 2017

Corner, E. J. H. (1988). Waysides trees of Malaya. Vol. 1-2. Malayan Nature Society, Kuala Lumpur. 861pp.


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