Handkerchief Trees: Magnificent Brownea Varieties
As one enters the Main Gate of the Gardens, there are some plantings of Brownea to greet you. The large spreading bushes on each side of the road are Brownea rosa-de-monte (often called Brownea ariza). This species has the flowers of the purest red of the three in the Gardens. The red of the petals contrasts with the yellow stamens and styles. The pinnate leaves have 4-9 pairs of leaflets each with a rather pronounced tip. The twigs are distinctly hairy and the pods are a velvety green when young.
As one continues along the path from the Main Gate, opposite the new location for the Gazebo is a huge tree of Brownea grandiceps. Its age is reflected in the breadth of its crown, not its height, for it barely exceeds 5 m. Brownea grandiceps is recognisable from its long pinnate leaves with 12-18 pairs of leaflets and the pendulous bunches of young leaves are pale green, splashed and mottled in a reddish brown. The spotted handkerchieves are impressive enough, but the inflorescences are even more of a sight - dense, salmon-pink balls of 20 cm or more across.
The third species is Brownea capitella (sometimes considered a subspecies of Brownea coccinea). There are two plants on Lawn D. This species is less spreading than the other two with some branches ascending. The leaves have 5-7 leaflets and are uniformly pinky brown when young. The inflorescences, which occur on the old twigs as well as the ends of the branches, are less densely packed than the other two species, but the flowers are somewhat larger giving a more lax look to the lanterns. The petals have a more magenta hue. The dark brown pods are not hairy.
Fourthly there is Brownea coccinea, which has small, bright red inflorescences and hairless green twigs. There is one old tree at the edge of the Gardens’ Rain Forest on Maranta Avenue. In contrast to the red lanterns of Brownea, the final group of handkerchief trees produces white ball-like inflorescences. These are the species of Maniltoa. The genus is native to tropical Asia and the Pacific, with the majority of the 20 or so species occurring in New Guinea. Until recently it was assumed that we only had one species of Maniltoa growing in the Gardens, Maniltoa browneoides, though the tree next to Burkill Hall, with its pink flush leaves had caused some head-scratching. Some careful observation and checking of herbarium specimens and books indicated that we have at least four species in the collection.
Paul, The Wise Gardener
Copyright 2003 by National Parks Board of Singapore for its invaluable assistance