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ecosystem

Saving the Underground Farmers: Soil Ecosystems

Have you ever noticed the earth that you step on?

It is where we get materials essential to our survival. It is soil that supports the growth of plants, the producers of the food chain and the sources of fibre, fodder, and fuel.

At first look, it seems static and lifeless. In fact, soil hosts millions of life forms including bacteria, fungi, insects and other invertebrates, that all interact and perform complex activities. Some of these consume other life forms, others compete for space and resources, and certain organisms form collaborative relationships to access resources.

image of earthworm and soil
Earthworms are important members of the underground soil community affecting physical structure of soil

Underground life forms collectively form the soil biota and continuously re-construct the soil environment. These underground farmers are important to ensure healthy development of a plant, as the roots of the plant are a part of the soil ecosystem.  

The Mutualistic Relationships between Plants, Soil Microbes and Fungi

The underground parts of plants carry out nutrient and water uptake from the soil. The root system of a plant is involved in plant-microbe interaction whereby the plant provides carbons and shelter to the microscopic soil organisms (microbes). The microbes in turn supply minerals and trace elements in a modified form that can be used by the plant.

An example of such interaction is that of legume plants (peas, beans) and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The bacteria in the soil convert nitrogen from the air into a form that legume roots can absorb from the soil.

Plants also develop symbiotic associations with soil fungi, that is, the relationship benefits both the plants and the fungi. These fungi reside near to or within the root cells of the plants.

Soil fungi use the organic nutrients and sugars that are produced by the plants. In return, they benefit plants by improving the plants’ ability to absorb nutrients and water, and their resistance to unfavourable conditions like pollution and diseases.  

The Alteration of Soil Structure and Composition

Over recent decades, large-scale industrial farming and land conversion have resulted in great change of soil structure and composition. The clearing of trees, shrubs and grasses, the digging and overturning of topsoil using machinery, as well as application of chemical insecticides, herbicides and fertilisers have had disastrous impacts on the underground food web.

The soil environment has become less conducive for the organisms to survive. The soil microbial communities lose connection with plant roots that provide carbons and shelter, and in turn the plants’ capacity for taking up water and nutrients declines. The soil ecosystem is losing its viability and robustness. 

Promoting healthy soil ecosystems

In order to revive the fertility of soil, we need to bring back the carbon to the soil. This is important for ensuring food security and sustainability of agricultural activities.  Here are two ways we can do this:

  • Plant different varieties of plants–each plant variety releases a unique set of biological compounds to the surrounding of its root system, and signals different underground microbe community and fungi. The greater the plant variety, the greater the variety in soil microorganisms which improves soil water-retention capacity and nutrient availability.
    Besides soil improvement, more plant varieties result in a greater variety of insects, including predatory insects that feed on pests. The predators help control pest numbers and thus reduce physical damage to the crop plants. 
Soil ecosystem consists of life forms that live within the soil but it also provides food to above-ground organisms
Image credit: USDA (CC-0)
  • Limit the use of chemical fertilizers—The application of NPK fertiliser has to be reduced, so that soil microbial communities have the chance to thrive and re-connect with the plant roots. Instead of relying on chemical input, plants have to derive these essential elements from the underground microbial communities and in return, channel their carbons to the soil. The increase of soil carbon would boost the soil communities, improve nitrogen uptake and also help maintain the structure of soil.  The removal of excess fertiliser reduces the formation of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) in waterlogged or compacted soil.

Summary

If we understand soil and the life it teems with, we can grow healthier plants and do so in a sustainable manner. We can avoid the excessive chemical and water use that is a growing concern.

Plant growth is influenced by the health of the soil and it also influences life around it and beneath it. Having more plants of different varieties helps conserve underground ecosystems. As the soil carbon (provided by plants) increases, the soil microbial community is revived, and the underground farmers can improve the structure and composition of the soil to support more plants.

Reference:

Jones, C. (2018). Light Farming: Restoring carbon, organic nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils . Retrieved from Amazing Carbon Web site: http://amazingcarbon.com/JONES-LightFarmingFINAL(2018).pdf

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Oikos: An introduction to ecology

Sometime in the 19th century, Ernest Haeckel, a naturalist, came up with the word ‘ecology’ to draw attention to something that he thought was important: the ‘entire relations’ of an organism. By this, he meant that it was not enough to study one plant or animal species at a time. He believed it was important to study not only the organism but also its relationships with other living organisms and how it interacts with non-living things like climate, water, soil and light.

This came from the idea that an organism’s home (habitat or surroundings) has a great influence on its form (what a plant or animal looks like) and its behaviour (how it grows, moves, communicates and so on).

Tropical rainforest trees have shallow roots access nutrients found closer to the surface, unlike temperate trees that have deeps roots for nutrients found deeper in the soil.

Ecology is derived from the Greek ‘oikos’ which means home or household. It is the study of the relationships that exist among living things and between living things and their environment. This includes both non-living things like water, soil, climate and minerals, and other organisms that are of the same or different species.

All plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms form a complex web of relationships—an ecosystem—that supports their survival. Interactions occur at many levels and there are different types of relationships.

A group of the same species living in an area make up a population. Think, for example, of the myna birds you see anywhere near your home: together they make up your neigbourhood’s myna population.

Photo by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

Ecologists can study populations of organisms, examining their behaviours, their adaptations to their habitats, and how their numbers change over time and geographic regions. Some ecologists will spend years studying individuals in a population. They will record their births and deaths, diets, movements, and the impact they have on their surroundings.

Plants or animals also interact with other species in their habitats. A community is a set of several, different species that occupy a given area.

Take a simple house garden. Its trees, flowering shrubs, grass, worms, birds, bees, butterflies, snails, moss and mushrooms form a small community. As a community, they interact with each directly (bees feeding on flower nectar) and indirectly (worms dig through soil and this makes it better for plants to grow later).

Communities can be as small as that of a thinly-populated backyard garden or be found within huge national forests.

Interactions within communities involve processes like pollination, decomposition, and feeding. These benefit the organisms and also provide many services for us. Ecosystem services include:

  • food and fuel provision
  • fresh water supply
  • pest and pathogen control
  • soil improvement
  • climate regulation

Ecologists study such relationships and their outcomes, exploring how ecosystems are formed and how they are sustained. Thus, ecology studies contribute to a wide range of fields and practices including agriculture, conservation, natural resource management and sustainable development.

Here are some of the questions that ecologists try to answer:

  • How do behaviour and physiology change in response to the physical environment?
  • How do organisms use the resources in their habitats?
  • How will ecosystems respond to human activities?
  • How can we restore degraded ecosystems?

As the world deals with changing environmental conditions, pollution, food security and species loss, ecology helps us understand ecosystems and how to protect them—for our own well-being and that of the planet.


References

Egerton, F.N. (2013), History of Ecological Sciences, Part 47: Ernst Haeckel’s Ecology. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 94: 222-244. doi:10.1890/0012-9623-94.3.222

https://www.britannica.com/science/ecology


You can learn more about ecology and ecosystems closer to home here:

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Biodiversity in Cities

In recent years, ecologists have begun to take a second look at plants and animals appearing in cities. There seems to be more ‘nature’ in urban areas than one would expect. Cities are supposed to be human territories—steel, brick and concrete—not exactly welcoming to wildlife. But urban places display a variety of species and habitats – biodiversity—in places we did not plan for them.

This makes us ask some questions:

Why are these plants and animals surviving in human settlements while others disappear? How and when did they move in? How many of them can survive in our cities?

Urbanized areas often share characteristics like:

  • hard surfaces (roads, pavement)
  • roads and buildings that break up natural, vegetated spaces
  • bright light at night, loud sounds, water and soil pollution

All of these are known to make it difficult for ‘natural’ habitats to survive near cities.

But there are also ‘built’ green spaces like public parks and private gardens that cultivate a wide range of native and exotic plants. These can form the bases of food chains that attract consumers (like ants, grasshoppers, bees, beetle, squirrels) and their predators (lizards, birds, and monkeys), without our approval. If left uninterrupted, patches of wild ecosystems can be established within these built spaces.

But exactly which species of birds, bees and trees settle in cities? Where in a city are you more likely to come across wildlife? And, how come I can see kingfishers in one district but not another?

Another attribute of cities is the diversity of the habitats (or shelters) they can, unintentionally, form. Within one city, you can find

  • abandoned lots-turned-grasslands
  • waterways
  • old buildings that create dark and cool shelters
  • long stretches of roadside vegetation
  • food gardens
  • golf courses
  • remnant forests

Each of these will have unique structural features, creating different kinds of habitats.

gliding lizard

For instance, reptiles that inhabit open spaces within their original forest habitats will probably adapt well to places in cities that have widely spaced trees and vegetation.

Wildflowers too benefit from the abundant sunlight and absence of competition (bigger plants) in urban patches. These are conditions not found beneath dense, natural forest canopies.

A more familiar example is the ubiquitous city pigeon. Have you ever wondered why this bird in particular flocks in cities worldwide? One reason might be the similarity between its original habitat – rocky cliffs – and the hard, ledged surfaces of city buildings that offer it space for nesting.

There is also another feature of cities that might be important for supporting biodiversity – the greater amount of food available. For species that are not very particular about their diet, gardens, cafeterias, litter, bird feeders, ornamental trees and nutrient-rich waterways offer abundant food resources.

So what does this mean for us?

One reason that ecologists are interested in urban wildlife is the benefits associated with biodiversity.

In natural ecosystems, there is abundant tree and vegetation cover, and processes like pollination, seed dispersal and decomposition that are carried out by large and small animals. All of these contribute services like food production, climate and water supply regulation.

These benefits (also known as ecosystem services) are important for us. If cities can support biodiversity, then they can help in species conservation and contribute these services that keep our environment healthy.

Urban biodiversity still poses many questions for ecologists to explore.

  • How much green space is enough for biodiversity conservation?
  • What ecosystem services can we expect from urban biodiversity?
  • How are urban plants and animals different from those in natural habitats?
  • How and why do biodiversity patterns vary among cities and geographical regions?

Answering these questions will take time and require that we pay closer attention to the other lives unfolding parallel to ours. 


Resources for further reading:

Müller, N., Ignatieva, M., Nilon, C. H., Werner, P., & Zipperer, W. C. (2013). Patterns and trends in urban biodiversity and landscape design. In Urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services: Challenges and opportunities (pp. 123-174). Springer, Dordrecht.

Schilthuizen, M. (2019). Darwin comes to town: How the urban jungle drives evolution. Picador.

Related articles

Visit @ubi_my and @Urban Biodiversity Malaysia for more on Malaysia’s urban biodiversity

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What is rewilding?

The term rewilding has been thrown about a lot quite recently but in many cases, the term has been misused to just be about planting trees. Here I explain how ecologists view rewilding, as well as important concepts required to understand rewilding. This is somewhat a summary of a review paper by Perino et al. (2019). If you want to read something more technical you can find the details of that paper in the references below.

Rewilding is not only about introducing wild things to where they can’t be found anymore. To quote Dave Foreman:

“I meant rewilding to instead be about wilderness restoration – restoring wildness with native species and processes. So, let us all remember that rewilding comes from wilderness recovery (or restoration).”

In other words, the goal of rewilding is to restore functions to ecosystems through the reintroduction of native species. This is the main difference between rewilding and ecological restoration, which focuses on the restoration of ecosystem functions without the emphasis on reintroducing native species. This does not mean that ecological restoration is worse; in locations where invasive species are impossible to eliminate or native species cannot be reintroduced, ecological restoration is a more viable option.

What is an ecological function? An example would be a butterfly, which as an adult serves as a pollinator for flowering plants, while, as a caterpillar, it functions as prey for insect-eating birds and a host for parasitoid wasps.

Restoring ecological functions drives 3 processes (simple terms are in bold, scientific terms are in brackets):

  • Food chains (Trophic complexity)
  • Disturbance (Stochastic disturbance)
  • Movement (Dispersal)

Plants, fungi and animals with a lot of ecological functions create a complex web of interactions. Among these interactions are food chains. This is the process in which energy is stored and moved throughout the ecosystem. The more complex the food chains or food webs, the more stable and resilient the ecosystem will be. This is why rewilding efforts can start with first reintroducing predators back into ecosystems. For example, in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, wolves were reintroduced back into the park first, to regain ecosystem balance.  By doing so, you add another level to the food chain and the lower levels of the food chain are regulated by the predators on the upper levels.

We tend to think of disturbance as a bad thing, but that is not always the case in a dynamic system. Random disturbance events help to make ecosystems more diverse and stable by ensuring that no one organism can dominate. For example, in rainforests, large trees will grow and block sunlight from reaching the understory. If the large trees do not die – through falling over, disease, lightning strikes or fire – then there will not be any new space for younger trees to grow. So a forest is not a permanent collection of trees, but it is in a constant state of change in which large trees fall and new trees fill the gaps. This prevents a single tree species from taking over in a rainforest, as many different species fill the niches that become available after a tree fall.

Random disturbance events help to make ecosystems more diverse and stable by ensuring that no one organism can dominate.

Movement is crucial for maintaining the food chains when disturbance happens. Ecosystems are often patches of resources that animals, fungi and plants can use. Usually, this results in patches with different compositions of species. For example, if there are many species in a single large patch, it can help to rescue populations in other smaller patches through the movement of organisms between patches.

This is why creating networks of patches that enable movement between patches is important. It helps to maintain the food chains in all the connected patches by buffering the random disturbance.

On a large scale, preserving ecological functions pays humans back in the form of ecological services. The previous example of a butterfly supplies the supporting service of pollination. This is necessary for the provisioning services which create food and raw materials for people.

Overall ecological services can be categorised into 3 benefits:

  1. Non-material
  2. Material
  3. Regulating

Non-material benefits are things like improvements to human health and wellbeing that can be gained through interactions with nature. Non-material benefits also extend to profits from services such as tourism.

Material benefits are things that you can harvest from nature, such as wood or food. Malaysians have a very close relationship with many species of plants that are used in our culture and cuisine.

Regulating benefits are things that are controlled by having nature around. These include natural disasters like floods and landslides, regulation of heat and climate, and reduction of dust and pollution.

When you have many ecological functions, all these interactions create an ecosystem. Ecosystems, by definition, are living and non-living components interacting in a shared space. The goal of rewilding should always be to restore ecosystems, and that is why we have to be careful about how we use this term and not use it as a buzzword that means only planting trees.

In the next article, I give an example of a successful case of urban rewilding in relation to food chains and interactions, and the lessons we can learn from it, especially from a functional ecology perspective.

References:

  1. https://rewilding.org/what-is-rewilding/
  2. Perino, A., Pereira, H. M., Navarro, L. M., Fernández, N., Bullock, J. M., Ceaușu, S., … & Pe’er, G. (2019). Rewilding complex ecosystems. Science, 364(6438), eaav5570.

This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

See also

Rewilding, the case of urban Birdwing butterflies

Here I explain how you can think about ecosystems and how to restore them. The case study of the Golden Birdwing Butterfly, which can be found in the urban forest patch that is Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden located inside the University of Malaya. Merely reintroducing a species does not produce long lasting results. Butterfly farms […]

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Gliding lizards and how disturbance helps biodiversity

Draco gliding lizards are interesting tropical animals. They have ‘wings’ that fold out from their ribs and allow them to glide from tree to tree. They also have a small flap under their chins that acts as both a flag to communicate and like the tail of a plane to stabilise their flight. When I read about them as a kid, they always struck me as incredibly exotic animals that would be really hard to find.  It turns out that they are quite well adapted to living in our cities.

There are 11 species of Draco in Peninsular Malaysia. In the natural world, they tend to be found in forest clearings where there is space between trees and not too much dense vegetation. These gaps between trees are usually created by tree fall events. In a mature rainforest, trees fall very often, either due to old age, disease, or unstable soil. Rainforest trees are often connected to other trees by vines or lianas, so when one tree goes down, it can pull down others and crush anything smaller in its path. This is a natural disturbance that creates gaps in the otherwise dense canopies of the rainforest. Young trees and saplings use this opportunity to fill the gap and start the cycle over again.

Liana have long, woody winding stems that climb up vertical structures like trees, thus extending from the ground to high canopies

Many species are known to take advantage of these forest gaps, including gliding lizards. The constant disturbance of tree falls creates more diverse patches of forest, where trees of different species and ages are always going through tree falls and regrowth, nothing staying permanent. This, in turn, creates space for all sorts of gap species that are adapted to these environments. The layperson may view change and disturbance as something undesirable or negative, but these are necessary processes to keep the ecosystem in balance.

In cities, humans are the main force of disturbance. We cut weeds and shrubs and maintain clear gaps between trees. While this may not be good for animals that prefer some shelter, the lack of dense vegetation seems to be a boon for gliding lizards. They can bask in the sunlight created by our sparsely planted trees and glide in between them with ease. Scientists call this pre-adaptation – an organism is predisposed to survive in certain habitat structures, allowing it to take advantage of new habitats with similar features.

A lot of our urban species have, by luck of the draw, found a place for themselves in our urban spaces. So perhaps we should ask the question of how we should use disturbance as a tool for biodiversity and healthier ecosystems, instead of maintaining landscapes just for the sake of maintaining aesthetic practices.

References:

Whitmore, T. C. (1984). Tropical rain forests of the Far East. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Grismer, L. L. (2008). A revised and updated checklist of the lizards of Peninsular Malaysia. Zootaxa, 1860(1), 28-34.

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Species Guide: Plants for Food

Ulam Raja

Common name: Cosmos, wild cosmos

Local name: Ulam raja

Scientific name: Cosmos caudatus

Distribution: Pantropical

Conservation Status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised species

Description

The name of the plant means ‘king of ulam.’ Its scientific name is Cosmos caudatus. Therefore, it is also known as cosmos in English. This plant is indigenous to tropical America, and was intro­duced by the Spaniards into the Philippines, pos­sibly because it was used by them as a vegetable at sea. Now it is pantropical, including Southeast Asia, where it is cultivated but also occurs in a naturalised state.   

This erect, herbaceous plant can reach up to 2 metre high. It has grooved, purple-tinged stem with opposite leaf arrangement. The leaves are pinnatifid, and emit strong fragrance when crushed. The plant bears inflorescence at the tip of stem. The flowering stem is 5-30 cm long. The cluster of flowers consists of yellow tubular flowers and pink, spreading petal-like flowers. The inflorescence is slightly scented.

Culinary use

The leafy part of Ulam raja is commonly consumed with rice, budu, sambal belacan, tempoyak and cincalok. Its grassy taste is accentuated by a subtle peppery tinge. It is believed that by consuming this plant one can enhance his or her blood circulation as well as protect their bones.

Planting

It is good to plant it in pot or bed as the plant grows vigorously. Just sow the seeds at soil surface or fine texture mulch. It prefers sunny places and fertile, moist, well-drained soil. This annual is quite short-lived as it dies after flowering and seed production. However, the plant will self-sow and re-grow in the same plot.

Propagation: Seeds

ulam raja 
Cosmos caudatus
The author is measuring the diameter of flower clusters.
Photo by Shang Ming

Benefits to biodiversity

The flowers of Ulam raja attract a variety of day flying pollinators. These include several species of butterflies such as Tawny costers (Acraea terpsicore), Chocolate albatross (Appias lyncida), Julia heliconians (Dryas iulia) and Sulphurs (Eurema spp.) as well as long tongued bees such as stingless bees and honey bees. As with most composite flowers, it likely harbours thrips as well.

As a low shrub, it also helps to provide shelter for small animals and create ground cover to protect against soil erosion. It can be planted in mixed beds with native plants, but because of its rigorous growth it has a tendency to crowd out other native plants.

Related websites:

  1. https://www.yellowpages.my/article/ulam-the-original-malaysian-salad.html
  2. http://www.globinmed.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62969:cosmos-caudatus-kunth&catid=8:botanical-information&Itemid=113
  3. https://tropicalselfsufficiency.com/cosmos-cosmos-caudatus/
  4. https://tropicalgardener.wordpress.com/tag/cosmos-caudatus/

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Species Guide: Plants for Food

Pegaga

Flower cluster and umbrellalike leaves of pegaga. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Asiatic pennywort, Indian pennywort

Malay name: Pegaga

Local name: Gotu kola (India)

Scientific name: Centella asiatica (L.) Urb.

Distribution: East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised

Description

Pegaga is originated from the Asian and East African regions such as India, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. It spreads out to many countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, China, Japan, West Indies, South America and Australia. It is a perennial creeping herb commonly found in moist places. The plant spreads quickly by the roots, producing long stolons up to 250cm in length. These root are at the nodes and form large carpets of growth. The green leaves are of kidney-shape or disc-like, with a deep basal sinus. The margin of leaves are rounded-tooth i.e. crenate or smooth, sometimes with scattered hairs on upper part of leafstalk. Flowers are inconspicuous and formed in short clusters.

Precaution

The plant is toxic in large overdose or as a result of long-term application. Pegaga is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth for up to 8 weeks. It may cause nausea and stomach pain. Rarely, Pegaga may also cause liver problems if taken by mouth.

Culinary uses

It is widely used in salads and cooked as a vegetable. Besides serving the whole bunch raw with sambal, the stem and leaves can also be made into a refreshing juice. Traditionally it is believed to help ease symptoms of hypertension and migraine. Please click on the following link to get recipe of Pegaga salad with carrot.

Planting

Pegaga survives well on sandy loam to sandy clay. Most species survive well in open areas while others need some shade. Propagation can be done through either seeds or cuttings. If circumstances are favourable, the first harvest can be obtained 2 – 3 months after planting. Fresh leaves harvested as a vegetable are tied together in small bundles and need to be consumed quickly, as they wilt rapidly.

Biodiversity Benefits

Pegaga form dense mats of short plants that are a good low maintenance ground cover. Due to its natural habitat Pegaga is resistant to flooding, therefore it can also be used as a pond or an aquarium plant. This provides shelter for aquatic or amphibious animals.

Related websites:

  1. https://www.yellowpages.my/article/ulam-the-original-malaysian-salad.html
  2.  http://www.globinmed.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62727:centella-asiatica&catid=8:botanical-information&Itemid=113
  3. http://www.globinmed.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79424:centella-asiatica-2&catid=199&Itemid=139
  4. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Centella+asiatica
  5. https://www.bibliomed.org/mnsfulltext/140/140-1505496493.pdf?1586245919

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Species Guide: Plants for Food

Temulawak

Flower cluster of Javanese turmeric
Photo credit: Kalpana Kalpana (CC BY-SA 3.0 License)

Common name: Javanese turmeric

Malay name: Temulawak

Local name: –

Scientific name: Cucurma zanthorrhiza

Distribution: East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Naturalised.

Description

Temulawak is a unique variety of ginger that grows in tropical Asia. This plant is very much like usual ginger, but has the characteristic yellow tinge and taste bitter. As the name suggests, Java ginger originated from Indonesia, more specifically from Java Island. Currently, most of the Temulawak is cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines.

Temulawak is a herbaceous, perennial plant.  It consists of a cluster of erect pseudostems up to 2 metres tall from an underground rhizome. Each pseudostem is made up of up to 8 leaves with blades that can be 40 – 90cm long and 15 – 21cm wide. The purplish, spike-like cluster of flowers sprout horizontally from the rhizome next to the leaf shoot, with 15 to 35 bracts (hardened, specialised leaves) arranged spirally, each containing a flower. The layers of bract turn purplish as they spiral up. This is different from the flower of ginger, which have greenish, spadix-like (resemble flower cluster of aroids) bracts with pale yellow, tubular flowers.

Precaution

Java ginger seems to be safe for most people when used for a short time, up to 18 weeks. Nonetheless, it may cause stomach irritation and nausea when used in large amounts or for long periods of time. For pregnant and breast-feeding individuals, please stay on the safe side and avoid using it. Besides, don’t use Java ginger if you have liver or gall bladder problems, as it can increase the production of bile and worsen your condition. If you have gallstones, get medical advice before using it.

Culinary Uses

It can be eaten fresh and has a sourish, bitter taste. According to an article written by Juliana Harsianti, Temulawak is mostly used by beating the rhizome of this ginger and putting it into the dish being prepared. The rhizome of Temulawak contains curcuminoid, which is possibly useful to neutralise toxins, relieve joint pain, increase the secretion of bile and lower blood cholesterol.

The common use for this herb is to improve appetite, especially for children. To make a Temulawak potion, mash the rhizome and brew with tamarind and palm sugar, keep it boiling until only half the water remains.

Planting

The plant prefers slightly shady conditions and demands a moist, fertile soil which is rich in humus. Place the dried rhizome into the soil, covered up and don’t forget to water it. Fertilise the soil with compost to get health plant growth.

Biodiversity Benefits

Curcuma species are known to be pollinated by several species of bees and butterflies, as well as attracting ants and beetles that are known to feed on the pollen. There are records of Hoeybees (Apis spp.) and Blue banded bees (Amegilia spp.) visiting these flowers. Dense plantings of gingers can be used to create natural screens or hedges. These provide shelter for small mammals, birds and frogs.

Related website:

  1. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Curcuma+zanthorrhiza
  2. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-532/javanese-turmeric
  3. https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/javanese-turmeric/
  4. https://uses.plantnet-project.org/en/Curcuma_xanthorrhiza_(PROSEA)
  5. https://www.koop-phyto.org/en/medicinal-plants/turmeric.php
  6. https://www.99.co/blog/indonesia/cara-menanam-temulawak/
  7. http://ijprb.com/vol%2009%20(1)/7.aswani.pdf

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Species Guide: Plants for Food

Selom

Divided leaves of selom. Photo by Goh Shang Ming

Common name: Java waterdropwort

Local name: Selom

Scientific name: Oenanthe javanica

Distribution: East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia

Conservation status: Least concern, Cultivated, Native

Description

Selom is a native plant found in the rainforest in Malaysia. Selom is an erect, perennial plant growing from 10 – 150 cm tall. The plant has creeping stolons by which it spreads vigorously, often forming large clumps. It bears small, white flowers in clusters. Selom often grows wild in swampy places such as the edge of wetland and rice field. However, there has been cultivation of Selom nowadays in response of market demand. It is rich in Vitamin C and minerals.

Culinary use

Selom was once a staple of Malay diets, freshly harvested leaves and stems were often served with a mix of Ulam raja, Pegaga or Tenggek burung as ulam. If you are a food lover, you should not miss the Northern Laksa or Laksa Utara in Peninsular Malaysia. The dish is normally presented together with fresh leaves of Selom.

Other than that, the tender stems and leaf stalks of Selom are used fresh as salad, to garnish steamed rice and other dishes, or boiled and chopped as greens.

In the malay language, salad is known as kerabu

Planting

Selom is considered a plant that is easy to grow. It thrives in various type of soil. However, it is best to grow the plant in fertile, moist soil with high organic content. To plant selom in seed bed or nursery, the soil must be plowed before planting.

Propagation: Seed, cutting

Instead of planting with seed, planting with cutting is faster to get the yield. Young plant needs sufficient water to grow well. It is good to water the plant two times per day, morning and dusk. The cutting start to develop roots within 2 to 3 weeks. After 4 to 6 months, reduce the times of watering. You can harvest the plant after 3 to 4 months of planting in soil.

Disease

The most common found disease of the plant is Sooty mould. Therefore, take precautions on the sanitation and implement good farming practices e.g. keeping a distance among plants and removing unhealthy plants.

Benefits to biodiversity

As a small plant that grows in moist places, Selom makes for excellent shelter for small wetland animals such as frogs. It can also be planted near ponds to act as a shelter for fry and small fish. The small white flower clusters are attractive to pollinators like butterflies as well as short- and long- tongued bees.

Related websites:

  1. https://myagri.com.my/2017/12/selom/
  2. https://avrdc.org/water-dropwort-oenanthe-javanica/
  3. http://tropical.theferns.info/viewtropical.php?id=Oenanthe+javanica
  4. https://animhosnan.blogspot.com/2010/12/selom.html
  5. https://www.mstar.com.my/lain-lain/jamu-selera/2014/07/02/kerabu-selom

Categories
How-to

How to start a wildflower garden

The simplest method is to not do anything and let a patch regrow with wild plants. You can remove any unwanted or dangerous plants through weeding, but there is not much maintenance involved with these patches. A wildflower patch that needs to be tended by humans is an oxymoron.

If you want a bit more control over which wildflowers grow in your patch. You can harvest seeds from existing patches of wildflowers and scatter them into your plot. Wildflowers from the dandelion family (Asteraceaa) have dandelion like seeds that you can blow into your patch. Others have small seeds, fruit or pods that you can harvest when the turn mature and brown. Just break the pods and release the seeds onto the surface of your patch.

Transplanting wildflowers is a bit risky since they wilt very fast. Try to not expose the roots of the plants and collect it with its surrounding soil.  Make sure that your patch is moist and watered regularly during the first few days to ensure that your plants don’t dry out. Some wildflowers grow by runners and can be planted similar to transplanting.

Not all your flowers might survive, but that’s perfectly fine. All plants require the correct amount of shade and the correct soil type. In other cases some of your plants will be outcompeted by other wildflowers or eaten by herbivores. These are all good learning opportunities to understand the ecology of these flowers better.

Try to allow a mix of different wildflower species to grow in your patch. This will make it more resilient and beneficial to the soil, as well as more useful to wildlife that forage for food in the patch.


This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant