One forgets that one is actually in the city once inside Universiti Malaya’s Rimba Ilmu, writes Stephanie Choo
BESIDES the peaceful atmosphere, there’s lots to see and learn at Rimba Ilmu. I had the chance to go on an educational walk through its plant collections with Dr Sugumaran Manickam, senior lecturer and coordinator of the university’s botanic garden.
Rimba Ilmu (The Forest of Knowledge) was established in 1974 to conserve the richness of rainforests, for research on tropical plants and their usefulness and to educate all in the importance of the forest in maintaining climatic balance and environmental quality.
Formerly a rubber plantation, the serene lush landscape that mimics a rainforest garden is now home to over 1,600 species of plants. The collections, which occupy part of the 80-hectare land, showcase species of various groups — medicinal plants, citrus and citroid, palms, bamboos, ferns, gingers, tropical fruits and timber species.
The plants are mainly indigenous to our land and the rest are native to tropical Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands, South America, Africa and Madagascar. The display labels identify and communicate useful information on the plants.
“Tall trees of the rainforest don’t just produce useful timber for us. They also form important canopy and habitats for most of the forest plants and animal life,” explains Dr Sugumaran.
He added that giant and matured cengal, keruing, meranti, resak, kapur and balau, some reaching 90m high, are popular hardwood trees that are subjected to extensive logging. These dipterocarps and many more valuable plants of our rainforests and natural heritage will become increasingly rare.
An attractive specimen, Johannesteijsmannia lanceolata, popularly known as Daun Payung in Malay or Joey Palm greets visitors at the entrance area. This species is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and is the rarest of all species of umbrella palms.
Further down the trail, before the citrus and citroids area, and the fern enclosure, is a patch of Johannesteijsmannia magnifica palms. Their bold and majestic leaves squeak wonderfully when they hit against each other when strong winds pass through them. With about 100 species, surely there is more to discover about palms in this place.
A study is being conducted to evaluate the anti-cancer properties of the species Phyllantus watsonii and preliminary results are promising. The herb is endemic to Sungai Endau, Rompin.
There are about 300 species of medicinal plants displayed in the medicinal area. Rimba Ilmu is open to researchers like biochemists who conduct scientific research on herbs and identify their healing and beneficial substances.
Among the 40 to 50 species of bamboo, one is deemed the world’s largest. The Giant Bamboo or Dragon Bamboo, botanically named Dendrocalamus giganteus, flourishes bluish-green large culms that are 25 to 30cm in diameter.
And within the bambusetum is a very rare species not to be missed — the Maingaya malayana, which is a rare monotypic genus endemic to Peninsula Malaysia and localised in Penang and Perak.
PLANTS WITH SPECIAL STORY
In the midst of the countless notable plants, is a tree called Petaling that used to be a common tree in Petaling Jaya its name. The tree, Ochanostachys amentacea, bears beautiful glossy dark green ovate leaves and can reach up to 50m high.
EXHIBITION, CONSERVATORY AND HERBARIUM
A comprehensive Rain Forests and Our Environment exhibition is located at the main building, where you will get useful information on the rainforest, the forest biodiversity, the forests’ contributions towards human society and the environment as well as the threats that hinders survival of the forest.
The conservatory’s collection of rare plants and orchids include some of the rarest and most threatened species. This scientific facility supports the garden’s research interest on rare and possibly endangered species. Rimba Ilmu also houses the university’s herbarium.
LOCATION AND OPENING HOURS
Rimba Ilmu is situated in Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. The botanic garden is open on Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 4pm. The place is closed on weekends and Federal Territory holidays. Guided tours can be conducted upon request at any time of the week, including weekends subject to the availability of guides. For details, visit rimba.um.edu.my or email the coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.