Thursday, March 22, 2007

Scorpion Trail Ride

With the skies heavy and threatening, I took a compass and went exploring in the forest. (Yes, I'm crazy like that.)

Back at this trail. There is a fork further down I wish to check out.

Asian fig tree.

The fig "fruit" is actually a tiny bouquet of flowers turned inside-out, such that the reproductive structures are enclosed in a fruit-like protective case. The male and female flowers are arranged inside this structure to allow pollination by fig wasps, which enter through a tiny hole.

Each fig species relies on a totally different fig wasp to perform this function. In return for the fig wasp's services, the fig tree produces galls in which the fig wasp can lay its eggs and its young can grow in safety. Once the fig "fruits" have been pollinated and have matured it is feasting time for the birds, bats, squirrels and monkeys of the forest who unwittingly distribute the fertile seeds to other areas.

Upon reaching the trail fork, it started raining. This used to be a really wide dirt trail a decade ago. Now it is fun little singletrack with dips thrown in. There seems to be another way to get here: keep your eyes peeled just before the lowest part of Chestnut Trail.

After a log-hop (you can see the gouges made by the chainring of previous riders), the trail meanders back into the forest.

For an unofficial trail, its quality is rather good; mud holes are few and far in-between.

I guess people used to live here.

An abandoned truck finds second life as a flower pot of sorts.

The rain patters down as I examine the swollen leaf stalks of a Mahang or Ant Plant (Macaranga triloba). An excellent example of ant-plant mutualism, this plant provides a home for ants in its hollow, swollen leaf stalks; in return, the ants protect the plant from herbivores and leaf-eating insects. Heil M, Fiala B, Maschwitz U, and Linsenmair KE discovered that over periods of time, trees deprived of ants suffer quite dramatically in comparison to those with an intact defensive colony. Ant-free Macaranga triloba plants lost an average of nearly 50 % of their total leaf area.

The protection afforded by the canopy is great. Though it is raining, hardly a drop touched me. For some reason though, the monkeys and squirrels are frisky this afternoon — overhead, branches regularly crack, and leaves sometimes fall down in swathes.

After a short downhill down a tight singletrack, I emerge from the trail behind this sign. Upon turning around to read what it said, my blood ran a little cold: those were not frisky monkeys and squirrels causing branches to snap and leaves to fall overhead — those were 7.62 mm GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) rounds raining down from a nearby firing range. No wonder the "thunder" sounded a little off. Oops... I guess I used up one of my nine lives back there :-P

Counting my lucky stars, I got out of the area ASAP. 'Decided to visit the only notable colony of Nepenthes mirabilis by the Bukit Timah mountain biking trail. Here, a flower stalk begins to bloom. Many bikers and hikers pass by this remarkable plant and are none the wiser to its presence.

Unlike the Nepenthes ampullaria colony by Upper Peirce Reservoir, which adapted the habits of a detritivore, the Nepenthes mirabilis remains carnivorous. This species is found all over south-east Asia, right down to Australia.

Heading back to Echo Valley, or Dairy Farm Quarry. The next best thing to diving into piles of leaves is flying over a leaf-covered trail :-)

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