KANGAR: ANY traveller making his way to Perlis on the old trunk roads will find himself entering the amazing world of Malaysia’s unique and diverse flora.
As one exits the small enclave of Kodiang, Kedah and makes one’s way up to Perlis, a hidden tropical gem like no other that entices the senses and leaves you breathless in wondrous delight can be seen.
There are lines and lines of trees, towering majestically in full glory, on the right and left of the trunk roads.
From afar it looks like a long archway into a magical Elven palace straight from pages of J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular books, tucked deep in the enchanted woods and hidden from mortal sight.
Such glorious beauty brings to mind the words of poet Joyce Kilmer:
“A tree looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
Many travellers who appreciate nature would stop their cars by the side of the road to admire the verdant view.
The trees lining the roads in Perlis are one of the most sought- after species called “jati” or teak.
Teak, the tall deciduous tree (Tectona grandis) from the family of Verbenaceae (verbana family), is native to India and Malaysia and is now widely cultivated in many tropical areas.
Teakwood is durable and can be worked on easily, relatively speaking. It is said that good teakwood pieces that are over 1,000 years old are sought after for their high value.
Products made of teakwood are regarded as superior, to many other wood products.
Teakwood is usually made into furniture, flooring, and for general construction work.
Compared to many other types of wood, teakwood is also highly prized.
But what is the reason behind its popularity and high value?
Perlis Forestry Department Director AG Shafie AG Ahmadni said the answer lies in the natural oils and rubber found within the teak.
“There is an abundance of natural oils and rubber locked in the tight grain of the wood,” he told the New Sunday Times.
Shafie said all woods contained oils that protect the tree.
“Teak, however, can retain these oils and its rubber even after being felled and processed. Because of this, teak has greater natural weather-resistant properties than any other type of wood.
“The oils and rubber protect the heart of the wood from invaders like fungi and parasites. This is why teak is highly sought-after,” he said.
Shafie said teak was first planted in Perlis in 1953 at Mata Ayer forest reserve.
Regarded as the pride of Perlis, teak was planted in huge numbers at tree farms across the state before being introduced to more open areas.
In the 1990s, the state decided to plant teaks along many of its roads.
“There are several factors why teak was chosen for this project. The number one reason was to provide shade for drivers.
“As the northern region can be a hot zone, teak trees provide wonderful natural shade. By mass planting teaks on the roads and in our towns, we can also bring down the temperatures and cool down the surrounding areas,” he said.
Shafie said the state’s wide open fields also made it prone to crosswinds that could be dangerous to motorists. By planting teak trees along the road, he said the impact of such weather phenomenon could be minimised.
“The teak trees lining the road also acts as a green wall from crosswinds, providing safety to vehicles on our roads.”
He said that the teak trees lining the roads also acted as a green belt connecting different enclaves in the state.
“These teaks absorb all the harmful carbons from the lorries and heavy vehicles using our roads and release oxygen into the air and this goes a long way to keeping the people of Perlis healthy.
Shafie added that the teak trees had also become a tourist attraction.
“The trees are a unique feature to the state and attract nature lovers and visitors who appreciate the greenery. They have contributed positively to tourism in the state,” he said.
Teak trees that have reached a certain maturity also generate income and fuel the state’s economy.
He said mature teak trees were monitored regularly to ensure they did not endanger motorists, especially in severe weather conditions.
“Old trees can easily uproot and fall on the road in heavy storms and strong weather conditions. This is one of the problems of maintaining teak trees along the road.
“The department monitors the development of the trees and records when they were planted. Once a tree reaches a certain age, the department will give out tenders to have the trees cut.”
He said through the cutting and selling of mature teak trees, the department prevented incidents resulting from fallen trees and generated income for the state.
“One teak tree that we plant costs about RM30. And the cost of cutting and selling a mature tree by tender is roughly about RM125.”
He said Perlis previously earned RM400,000 after taxes from the cutting, processing and selling of 3,200 teak trees.