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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

MAJESTIC: The Kapur tree towers over the jungle floor.
By Cynthia Hazebroek

DESPITE the heavy rain in the early morning, a group MNS members went to Camp Permai to be part of a unique event that only happens every three to seven years.
This extraordinary happening is mast fruiting — where almost all dipterocarp trees of all species are bearing fruit.
It has been suggested this may be to ensure that animals which eat the dipterocarp fruits (wild pigs, squirrels, beetles etc) cannot eat all the fallen fruits and a good portion can grow into seedlings.
It is thought that this fruiting could be triggered by the cyclic El Nino event. The seedlings will replace any trees that died due to, for instance, dry weather or were toppled over by strong winds.
An interesting fact is that at this moment, at Semenggoh the majority of trees, not only the dipterocarps, are fruiting and the orang utans are very happy that lots of food is available for them!
Experienced botanist Dr Katharina Pierce gave an introduction to several different species of the tree family Dipterocarpaceae. Assisting her was William Beavitt, who gave us a detailed list with several of the species we could see while we were on the marked trail.
Normally the loop trail takes about 1 1/2 hours, but since we made a number of stops to look at the trees, it took us about four hours. We really enjoyed this walk in the beautiful forest.
Dipterocarp forest comprises 85 per cent of Sarawak’s natural forest area (Sarawak Forestry 2009), but how many species of dipterocarp tree can we recognise?
Dipterocarpaceae comprises a family of 17 genera and approximately 500 species worldwide of mainly tropical lowlandrainforest trees. The largest genera are Shorea (196 species), Hopea (104 species), Dipterocarpus (70 species), and Vatica (65 species). They occur mainly in tropical Asia, with a few species only in Africa and South America.
The family name comes from the genus Dipterocarpus, which can be translated as ‘two winged fruit’. We were shown several shapes and sizes of these fruits, including some with as many as five wings.
Many dipterocarps are large forest trees that emerge above the main canopy, typically reaching heights of 40 to 70 metres tall, some even over 80 metres (in the genera Dryobalanops, Hopea and Shorea), with the tallest known living specimen (Shorea faguetiana) just over 88 metres tall.
The species of this family are of major importance in the timber trade.
In Sarawak the hill mixed dipterocarp forests are richly diversified and contain the greatest number of economically important trees including Meranti (Shorea spp), Kapur (Dryobalanops spp), Keruing (Dipterocarpus spp) and Mersawa (Anisoptera spp).
We were impressed to see so many fruits laying on the forest floor near the entrance and also during our walk on the trail. The trees were fully covered with fruits and it must take a lot of energy for the trees to produce these.
Our first stop was at a display, made by Beavitt, which showed us very large fruits with 25-centimetre long wings and the leaves of a tall Dipterocarpus tree.
In the far distance we saw the whole tree in bloom: an astounding and impressive sight. One of the members mentioned that the Ibans called it the ‘lonely man tree’ because it is usually the tallest tree in the forest and if you get lost, just climb the tree to see above the rest of the canopy to find your way back.
In this way you can spot rivers that usually take the Ibans back to their longhouses. You must be a good climber to do this and don’t think this is a suitable tactic for us city folks.n this way you can spot rivers that usually take the Ibans back to their longhouses. You must be a good climber to do this and don’t think this is a suitable tactic for us city folks.
LITTLE TREES: Shorea sp sprout in a pandan leaf.

The second stop was at a flowerpot were the rangers had made a small display — one of the fruits was an enkabang (Shorea splendida). This fruit is still used by the Ibans, and today you can find the butter made from the seeds in the Sri Aman market, according to one of our group members.
Pierce said it’s also used for chocolate Easter eggs, since they are hollow and probably wouldn’t melt because of the high melting point of the oil. In the local market, you can find shampoo made from this fruit!

Suddenly the rain stopped, and since it was not sunny but overcast the temperature was really pleasant but very humid.
This trail took us also to a site were you could see thousands of seedlings growing under the canopy and it was really pretty to see the light green leaves.
We had to cross a rope bridge to reach the waterfall. The path was quite steep and you had to hold on to ropes — this was fun.
The whole group took lots of photographs and saw a big blue-eyed tree lizard (some 30 centimetres long, including the tail). We also saw interesting large spiders in their webs.
The loop trail took us straight back to the canteen, where a delicious lunch was waiting.
I must say that I learned a lot and what makes Sarawak unique is all these wonders right at our doorstep.

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