Singaporeans giddy/put off by potent perfume of ‘devil tree’ blooming islandwide

Alstonia scholaris trees bloom along Upper Bukit Timah Road. Photo: Michael Kor via Flora of Malaysia and Singapore/Facebook
Alstonia scholaris trees bloom along Upper Bukit Timah Road. Photo: Michael Kor via Flora of Malaysia and Singapore/Facebook

Large sprays of pale apple-green flowers are blooming across Singapore, beautifying roads by day and shrouding the city-state with a powerful musk when dusk falls. 

While some Singaporeans welcome the rare blossoming of trees best known by their scientific name of Alstonia Scholaris, which have been in full bloom for some days, others find the heady scent a tad too much.

Blooming in the estate. The blooming is not only seen but smelled. I could smell them at night from home which is about 700m away!” Facebook user Tse Horng Khoo wrote to the Nature Society group Saturday, including photos of the flowers spotted in the unnamed housing estate where he lives.

Responding to Tse, Theng Jenn Chiang said: “The smell is too overpowering at my place.”

Descriptions of the scent seem to vary from one sniffer to another, with some saying it is akin to jasmine flowers, while others say they smell of pepper and cinnamon. 

Singapore’s National Parks Board, however, has officially described the scent as something else

“Individual flowers lightly-scented, but fully-blooming tree emits strong heady fragrance sometimes described as reminiscent of burnt sugar.”

The flowers bloom occasionally in Singapore, usually after “distinctly dry cool weather,” the board said. Temperatures in Singapore dipped unusually low, falling to 21C during much of December.

But there’s more to the Alstonia scholaris than its flowers. Its seed is known for hallucinogenic properties, and its timber was used to make school blackboards. The tree’s bark has been used to treat malaria.

In some parts of India, the tree has been regarded as the devil’s abode, mainly due to the flowers’ intoxicating fragrance, hence the name Devil Tree.

The plant’s other names include the Indian Pulai, White Cheesewood, and Blackboard Tree.

Beside’s Singapore, the plant is also native to other Asian countries including India, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In recent days, its flowers were also spotted – and smelled – in Thailand, where it’s called the duck feet tree.

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CITY: SINGAPORECATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: ENVIRONMENT

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