Penang has some wonderful trees, which is entirely fitting as the island was named for a tree – the Pinang, or Betel Nut Palm.
Many of the trees planted during the colonial era still line the older roads of Penang, creating avenues of shade and beauty. Unfortunately, the increasing demands of traffic on a small island means that road widening has to take place, inevitably involving the cutting down of trees.
There have been some passionately written blogs and posts, debating the pros and cons of tree cutting, which shows how deeply Penangites care about their trees.There was a moderately happy ending recently during the widening of Green Lane.The trees weren’t destroyed; they were removed for replanting. “It wouldn’t have happened five years ago,” said one longterm Penang resident.“We’re more concerned about our living heritage now.”
The Great Tree of Penang
This print from the Penang State Museum collection is reminder of how densely forested Penang was in the early days of the colony, when Francis Light allegedly shot silver pieces from a cannon to encourage the local people to clear the jungle. Look at the scale of the tree and how small the people are!
When chewed with betel leaves, the Pinang nut (Areca catechu, as it is known botanically) is a stimulant, creating a mild high and a red mouth! This 19th century drawing captures all the essential features of Penang’s signature tree.
This gorgeous specimen standing very tall in Penang Botanical Gardens is actually a rainforest tree. Many epiphyte species perch on such great trees, taking their nutrients from the air rather than living parasitically upon the tree.
The walk to Monkey Beach in the Penang National Park takes you past many trees whose roots you have to clamber over or swing from a rope over. Here’s one tall tree of the forest snapped during a much-needed breather on the rather demanding walk.
Penang’s fortune was founded on the spice trade. Nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon seeds were brought from the original Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia and planted here, and they flourished.
Cloves weren’t just for eating in the olden days in Europe, they were treasured as a protection against the plague, with a high price to match.
The canopy walk in the Penang National Park is a great way to experience life at tree top level. Remember to buy your tickets at the entrance to the park as they aren’t available at the canopy walk itself.
If you want a more challenging tree walk you could try Monkey Business at the newly opened ESCAPE Adventure play at Teluk Bahang, where you have to really be careful of your next step!
Source: Penang International February 2013 -March 2013
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