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Singapore's First Flower Trees: The African Tulip

June 30, 2021

Singapore's First Flower Trees: The African Tulip

Have you paid much attention to Singapore's roadside trees? They commonly line the roadside to beautify our pavements and turn our urban city green.  But if you looked closer, you'd find one specific tree that only blooms bright red-orange flowers at any time of the year. You probably know it from old Singapore textbooks or informative local botany websites as the Flame of the Forest or the African Tulip tree.

Even though it's a prevalent tree to find around Singapore, much like the Bougainvillea flower, it wasn't always part of our local landscape. Going back to its roots will reveal its rich history in Singapore's heritage and uncover some of its surprising uses you never knew about. So what're you waiting for? Read on to find out all the mysteries behind the common African Tulip Tree.

Deeply Rooted In Singapore’s Green History

The African Tulip Tree originated from (you guessed it!) Uganda, Africa. So how did it end up 7,946 km away from home to here in Singapore?

To answer that question, we need to turn the clock back more than a century to 1910. Back in the day, the African Tulip Tree was brought from Africa into Singapore to be planted as roadside trees. It was thought to be a good addition due to its fiery red flowers, its tall stature and shade, and its ability to propagate and adapt to its surroundings quickly.

Over time, this Flame of the Forest earned its iconic name. It eventually did disappear from Singapore's roadsides as they were replaced with better, sturdier trees with stronger branches that wouldn't break easily due to strong wind and roots that can grow deeper into the ground. But because the African Tulip Tree has so successfully acclimatized to Singapore's weather conditions, it's now at almost every corner of Singapore, commonly found in parks and under HDB flats.

The Surprising Uses Of The African Tulip

If you think that the African Tulip Tree is only known for its vibrant red flowers, think again. From medicinal uses to toys for children, the Flame of the Forest is an astounding tree that doesn't disappoint Singapore nostalgics. Do we have you at the edge of your seat yet? Good! Let's go into this impressive list of uses for the African Tulip Tree.

Medicinal Uses

It's not just an ornamental tree. The leaves of the African Tulip Tree are reported to be effective in treating malaria. And although Singapore's been declared malaria-free since 1982 by the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is still a prevalent illness in Africa. So this tree's antibacterial properties in its bark and leaves are commonly used in traditional medicine in Africa to treat malaria, as well as wounds and burns.

Besides healing, herbal decoctions of tree's bark have also shown an ability to lower blood sugar. And If you need a laxative, this decoction can also help with gastrointestinal problems too.

That's not all. The Flame of The Forest is also used in everyday items. Guess which ones?

Grown For Practicality

The African Tulip Tree can grow up to 6 ft a year in Singapore. Peel away the bark, and you'll reveal soft wood in its lumber. When processed, it's viable as paper to write on and even as hollow drums to play whimsical music.

A Pistol Toy For Children

Perhaps the African Tulip Tree's most bizarre use is its flower buds as water pistols for children. The cluster of banana-shaped flower buds of this tree has a unique trait that's a blast from the past of the old Kampong days in Singapore.

Its nectar is thin and watery and swells in the bud as it grows, making it the perfect squirt gun. With just a little bit of applied pressure, it can shoot up to an incredible 10 feet with accuracy.

Once the "charge" is empty, the curved shape of the flower bud is then recycled as little toy boats, which children use to race in drain water.

With all its practical and fun uses, the next time you see an African Tulip Tree, you'll have a whole new appreciation for it, bark, leaves, flower, and all.

Have Your Very Own Tulips At Home

Mesmerized by the flowers of the tropical African Tulip Tree? Select from a vibrant range of colourful Tulip bouquets from our Singapore online store and buy your very own Tulip collection at home today!