In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la 🎵 🎶
It’s holiday season! There are many traditions associated with the Christmas season. And many of these traditions involve plants. Evergreen trees are typically used as Christmas trees, poinsettias are well-liked for their red ornamental leaves, and holly adorn the halls with its bright red berries. However, it is worth noting that these plants do not thrive in tropical regions and are certainly not found in the Singapore landscape.
Common name: Saga
Scientific name: Adenanthera Pavonina
The Saga, with its lush green foliage and vibrant red seeds, resemble the holly in some ways.
Both plants have evergreen leaves, which means they retain their green colour throughout the year. The holly has red berries and spiky leaves and adds colour to the dark days of Yule. It symbolises peace and goodwill during the holiday season.
The saga is best known for its brilliant red seeds. The glossy heart-shaped seeds symbolise love in many cultures and are used as decoration or as lucky charms.
In the past, saga seeds were tools used to measure silver and gold in ancient India and Sri Lanka. The seeds have a uniform weight and size: four seeds make up exactly 1 gram.
The Saga, also known as the Lucky Red Seed or Red Bead Tree, is an iconic tree in Singapore’s landscape. It is a large tree that grows up to 20 metres tall. It belongs to the legume family and, like other legumes such as soybeans and peanuts, their seeds come in a pod.
The saga bears long curved fruit pods. When young, the fruit pods are green and nearly straight. As they mature, they transform into a woody brown colour, curl and twist, and eventually split open to reveal the striking red seeds.
The saga is native to India and Southern China , but has been naturalised in many countries in the tropics––throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Africa, Pacific and the Caribbean Islands. It is grown for forage, as a medicinal plant, or an ornamental tree in gardens and park. Its young leaves can be cooked and eaten, and the raw seeds are toxic but maybe be eaten when cooked.
Naturalised plants are plants that have been introduced to non-native environments and are able to grow and reproduce in the wild in their new home. All “alien invasive plants” or “non-native invasive species” are considered naturalised.
The saga is a common shade tree. It has a large spreading crown, and light feathery foliage, and are ideal for providing cover. It is hardy, fast growing, and easy to care for. They grew along the roadsides in Singapore during the 1970s and 1980s.
The leaves of saga trees undergo seasonal shedding for brief periods every 6-8 months, when the pale-green leaflets turn yellow and fall off. However, due to the significant amount of leaf litter and seeds they drop, saga trees have been deemed unfit for roadside locations. They can make roads messy and pose risks to motorists. Furthermore, saga trees are susceptible to damage in cases of strong winds.
Today, saga trees can be found in secondary forests, but few remain in our urban landscape. Several aged saga trees have become landmarks across Singapore, and serve as symbols of historical significance.
A saga tree with Heritage Tree status is at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, near the Lady on a Hammock sculpture. It is a large tree with a girth of 4.68 metres and a height of 13.1 metres. According to Nparks, this tree is believed to be well over 100 years old.
You will also find a saga tree grove at Gallop Extension. Spot the larger-than-life saga seeds by Singapore-based contemporary artist Kumari Nahappan that mark the grove. Amongst the cluster of Adenanthera Pavonina saga trees, there is one much rarer native Adenanthera malayana species whose saga seeds are black and red.
If you come across saga trees in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.
Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!