The flowering Pulai trees (Alstonia scholaris) of January

In January 2010, we were agog over the peppery smell of flowering Pulai trees across the island, and particularly in western parts of Singapore. I would learn that these were exotic Indian Pulai Alstonia scholaris planted as wayside trees and not the native Common Pulai Alstonia angustiloba of my youth.

These ‘interlopers’ had stood somewhat anonymously in many neighbourhoods and only now revealed themselves as they burst into view with profuse flowering. I blogged the revelation that was – I became better aware of the several trees around my block and all over the Western Park Connector!

The smell was overpowering in some places and too strong for some. At the time, Clarence wrote in the comments that

“There are several of these trees in my estate but unfortunately many residents think that the smell of the flowers is too pungent. When I come home from school in the evenings during the blooming season, I see the doors and windows of many neighbours closed when they are usually open. A couple of weeks ago, the town council sent some people to heavily trim the trees. Somebody must have complained of the overpowering smell!”

An old friend Richard Frazier from India found me through a google search and added,

Alstonia scholaris is planted extensively here [New Delhi] as a roadside tree. Many are flowering now–some started a month ago. Many Delhi natives find the scent a nostalgic marker for the onset of winter–generally regarded as a pleasant season. … A common name is devil or Satan tree–the most I have found on that etymology is that some people take the scent as oppressive (maybe narcotic?) and avoid the tree.”

So we now know the native Common Pulai is not as common as the exotic Indian Pulai, and that becomes evident every January. In some years this flowering is less profuse but I can always rely on my nose to alert me – you just need one tree in your neighbourhood to signal an island-wide or region-wide flowering event!

Besides my neighbourhood tree, flowers fall on the road on my breakfast table at Changi Village during cycling trips, whic is lovely! My friends actively share the news too, particularly Amy Choong, Ng Kai Scene, Quek Kiah Shen, Lim Cheng Puay and Adrian Loo – this year in fact Kai Scene reported a flowering tree in Rajadamri Rd, Bangkok on 31 Jan 2015.

This is a profuse flowering year and I am sure people will be talking about the smell too. let your friends and me know by sharing photos and comments on Twitter with the words “flowering” and
. Or let me know here in the comments, or post your photos on the Singapore Flowering Facebook page at

Let’s enjoy the flowering! Keep a look out for Alstonia scholaris and you will soon begin to see the other flowers and life which persist in the sliver of nature alongside our urbanised landscape.

Photos from Changi Village, 01 Feb 2015

Sure sign it’s that time of the year – flowers on the table!2015 02 01 08 12 35

Hello old friend.2015 02 01 08 12 29 HDR

Flowers kept dropping into Kok Min Yee’s breakfast which came later!2015 02 01 08 25 22 HDR

Oh, what a beauty! Behind the hawker centre on the way to the bridge to the beach.

2015 02 01 09 39 45

Pasir Panjang Heritage poster, c. 2006

I chanced upon this photo of the Pasir Panjang Heritage Trail poster while searching for photos for the animal behaviour class. I like this poster by Airani aka Ladybug which was used at several of exhibitions (2006 – 2010). The programme itself is in it’s 13th year.

2014 09 20 15 48 11

The guiding team swings into action once again on Sun 15 Feb 2015. Meanwhile, recruitment for shorter walks in Kent Ridge for the NUS community has begun.

You can see the elements of the walk in the poster – flora and to a lesser extent, the fauna, heritage and geography and bit about the environment. I’ll have to revive the 101 workshops for those topics soon – my last session for guides was conducted seven years ago!