Old Trees, the Living Heritage in Penang
Penang is a beautiful city full of trees. Since British colonial government started to plant trees in 1802, and introduced a variety of tropical trees in Penang, today these century-old trees that are older than some prewar old buildings turn out to be a living heritage.
Despite living in the city with trees, most of us seem to forget that Penang has the best collection of old trees in Southeast Asia.
黎意媚懂树，爱树，种树，也写树。这位理科大学植物学系毕业，曾在英国伦敦皇家植物园受训的植物学家，在2011年和两位伙伴Simon Gardner 和 Pindar Sidisunthorn 出版了《Heritage Tree Of Penang》（槟城古树）的英文大书。
Lai Ee May, a tree lover and writer. She is a Botany graduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia and a researcher at Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London. In 2011 she published “Heritage Tree of Penang” with her two partners, Simon Gardner and Pindar Sidisunthorn.
After spending four years walking in every corner of Penang, three of them have collected and documenting the characteristics, functions, values and origins over 200 species of native, to introduce old trees in Penang and generate public’s interest in botanical heritage.
“Most people does not care about trees around them, and they hardly tell names of trees because they think all trees look the same. Actually each tree has different looks in different seasons. Old trees form the beauty of a city, and they not only have medicinal value, but also are our soul companion.”
Angsana is the most common and beautiful tree in Penang. Originates from Myanmar, Angsana was planted in Penang since 1802. However, majority of these trees in both Melaka and Singapore were killed by a disease in the 1920s. On the other hand, Penang’s Angsana was not affected and continued to flourish.
Penang’s trees are classified into six types, namely street trees, garden trees, sacred trees, village trees, forest trees, and coastal trees. Lai hopes people could see the beauty of Penang through old trees.
Macalister Road is the most beautiful road in Penang. Angsana, Saga and Mahogany which were planted in the early 19th century form a green tunnel along the road. In April and May, yellowish blossoms of Angsana appear to light up the green tunnel.
Seeing lives and death
Frangipani is a beautiful flower that symbolizes death and is deeply rooted in Asian heart. Frangipani grows well with ferns in graveyards, such as Northam Road Protestant Cemetery, the earliest Protestant Cemetery in Penang where the first Governors and administrators were interred, including Francis Light.
Tree and God
瀑布路 Shree Muniswarar 百年印度庙依偎的同龄菩提树，
Most people believe that old trees have spirits. Bodhi and banyan are among those have close ties with religion. A volunteer in Shree Muniswarar said, the Bodhi tree which sticks close to the hundred-year temple in Waterfall Road look different throughout years. Tree rings could be seen and small leaves keep growing out of the tree trunk.
Tanjong tree has a spreading shape like an umbrella and its yellowish flowers release strong fragrance especially at dusk. One of the tanjong trees in Padang Kota Lama was planted by Japanese prince during his official visit to Penang in 1970.
In 2013, Penang Municipal Council has created “identity card” for old trees. Each century-old tree at York Road, Waterfall Road and Macalister Road is clearly listed its species, botanical name, serial number and location. These trees have been inspected and evaluated by specialist and also recorded into system, as well as managed by Global.
1920年代已出现在 E & O 酒店名信片里的苹婆树（Kelumpang Jari），
Kelumpang Jari was first spotted in the E&O Hotel postcard in the 1920s. The century-old tree grows up to 40m tall with beautiful red fruit. Taiwanese author Shu Guo Zhi was amazed by how long it lives with the city.
From Africa to Penang, 144-year-old baobab was first planted in Penang by Speedy in 1871. Baobab was originated in Ethiopia, Africa and its thick trunk could store up to 5000 litres water. Located at the junction of Jalan Residensi and Jalan Macalister, Baobab, the oldest plant in Malaysia which was dying few years ago has now become majestic and lush after well treated.
Shade for Houses
Ketapang is commonly grown on sandy shore and George Town streets, providing shade for houses. Its oval-shaped leaves turn yellow, red, brown and gold before dropping off up to twice a year.
First published in Penang City Eye, Nov 2015- Jan 2016, Issue 7.