90-year-old flower tree

A flower on the tree.

Returning to the kampung for Raya (Eid) a few days ago, my sister Mi took a photo of this flower and asked the siblings group for its name. No one knew.

The flower tree sat next to our uncle Ayah Chik Hassan’s house, in the middle of the path to our house, further at the back of the land. Ayah Chik’s house was relatively new. It sat on a lot previously occupied by a grand chengal (a premium Malaysian hardwood) kampung house owned by Tok Nyan Putih, our great grandmother – the mother of our father’s father.

I was privileged to be living, from the time I was very small, with my grandmother Mak Pesah, whose house with my grandfather Che Abas, was on the same big plot of land as Tok Nyan Putih’s.

The tree’s leaves, with a flower and several flowers buds visible.

During Tok Nyan Putih’s time, the flower tree was near the back stairs of her house, just outside what I called a “taman larangan” (forbidden garden), a fenced garden into which only Tok Nyan entered, and sometimes I, and even that only on her invitation.

Now Tok Nyan’s house was gone and replaced by Ayah Cik’s house. And the flower tree was still there.

In our siblings group chat my youngest brother Idi shared that he had been trying for three years to cut down the flower tree, to make it easier for his light truck to pass through. But clearly he had not been successful. The flower tree still stood there proud, and flowering.

Idi further advised us not to disturb the tree, if we want to avoid being chased by a parang (machete). That added an element of mystique to the tree. Apart from its flowers’ outstanding fragrance, which was at its best, hauntingly, in early mornings.

Chempaka Telur flower bud. Looked like a coconut, hence its western name Magnolia Coco(nut).

Idi later admitted that the parang story was just an added flavor to his story haha. But the part about not able to cut down the tree was real.

I googled for the name of the flower. After lots of false leads, I made a hit. The flower name was “Chempaka Telur” and also known more specifically as “Chempaka Telur Putih”.

Mi’s daughter with the Chempaka Telur flower plucked by Ayah Chik.

The Chempaka Telur tree was said to originate from southern China and Vietnam. It even went to England in year 1786, taken there by a Lady Amelia Hume. The buds were shaped more like baby coconuts, hence the English name Magnolia Coco (Coconut Magnolia).

The flowers were small and very fragrant. They usually lasted only one day and opened in the evening, with the tepals (outer petals) falling by morning.

So it turned out that the seemingly ordinary flower tree near the back stairs of my Tok Nyan Putih’s house, and now next to my Ayah Chik’s house – was an exotic flower tree, originating from thousands of kilometers away and had traveled thousands more kilometers to England over 200 years ago.

Knowing this, the next morning, Mi and I went to Ayah Chik’s house and asked him to tell us about the tree.

Ayah Chik cutting off creepers from the tree.

He said the Chempaka Telur tree was already there from the time he was very small. That made the tree easily 90 years old, or more. The tree had survived many floods over the years, some submerging it totally. It did not require any watering or special care. Just some pruning and cutting off creepers.

And he passed a remark “Ayoh Cik saye (sayang) pohon ni. Biar la dia dok (duduk) ssini (di sini)”. (Ayah Chik love this tree. Let it continue to be here).

So THIS explained why Idi faced stiff resistance when he wanted to cut down the tree for the past three years!! huhu. And after knowing the story of the 90-year-old tree, and reading about it, if I was in Ayah Chik’s place, I would have also vigorously defended the tree from being leveled to the ground. These young people, no regards for history, hehe.

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