Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Plantation

Photo credit: Wang Luan Keng

Description

Not long after Singapore became a significant trading port during the early 19th century, cash crops were introduced and plantation agriculture took off in Singapore beginning 1834. One of the most important crops was gambier (Uncaria gambir), which was usually grown together with pepper (Piper nigrum). The booming spice trade also encouraged the planting of nutmegs. Large patches of forests were cleared to make way for the shifting cultivation of gambier because gambier grew best in newly-cleared forests. New patches are cleared once the soil in a plantation is exhausted of nutrients, leaving behind degarded grasslands and shrubs.

As time passed, other plantations of crops such as cocoa, coffee, cinnamon and sugar cane were also set up in Singapore. Coconut cultivations could also be seen replacing coastal forests. In the mid-1800's, Gutta Percha (Palaquium gutta) was also introduced due to its use in coating submarine telegraph cables.

However, it was the Para Rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) cultivation that truly expanded in the first half of the 20th century due to the increasing demand of rubber in manufacturing tyres. By 1935, approximately 40% of land area in Singapore was occupied by rubber plantations. These include areas such as Seletar, Nee Soon and Bukit Timah.

Though much land had been converted into agricultural plantations in the 19th and 20th centuries, there are no major stands of plantations in Singapore today though small stands can still be found on Pulau Ubin. However, one can still find remnants of plantations such as rubber trees of uniform sizes among the secondary forests in Singapore. Abandoned rubber plantations on Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong are still dominated by rubber trees are in transition to becoming a tall secondary forest.

Keywords

Plantation

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