Penang’s Voodoo Lily (Armophophallus prainii, കാട് ചേന)

On a recent hike in the greater Penang Hill region, I stumbled upon rather alien looking plant. A long tongue sticking out of a lily like vase. A whole clump of about a dozen of them in full bloom!  On a quick internet search and a tip from my friend Peter, I was  found out that it was the Voodoo Lily (Armophophallus prainii). Not too sure how common they are in Penang, but this was my first time seeing them in about 13 years hiking the hills of Penang! They are related to a more well known cash crop, the Elephant Foot Yam (ചേന) which is a tropical tuber crop grown across South Asia.

It is not often that you come across something as alien as this, so enjoy the photo of these uniquely shaped flowers.




Don’t normally take photos with flowers, but when I do, its a Voodoo Lily!




PART 2: Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment?

This post will be a continuation of the last post, Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment? and it will explore the ever increasing threat of encroachment in Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve’s southern end. Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve is a forest reserves in  the central hills of Penang.  When the Tun Sardon Road was built, it  cut through  this forest reserve,effectively slicing it into two separate chunks, the bigger northern tract of the  forest reserve and the smaller southern tract which has been badly fragmented. In today’s post we will be exploring a small part of the northern edge and the southern chunk of the forest reserve.

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A google earth image of the forest reserve, with Jalan Tun Sardon slicing across it. The red pin points show the places where active clearing or tree felling is currently happening.

Most people often stop by Anjung Indah to get fresh air or to buy durians before heading down to Balik Pulau or to Relau. However most don’t realize that one of Penang’s most embattled forest reserves is at either side of this pit stop. If we were to walk up the slope behind the Anjung Indah carpark and the Thai Restaurant, and further into the forest reserve you would probably see that clearing had come up right to the forest reserve edge about 6-7 years ago (adjacent land is privately owned).

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Hillside clearing which happened 6-7 years ago right at the forest reserve boundary. Trees perched precariously above the steep slope.

Further in a small section of the slope within the forest reserve has collapsed. This area was clear cut 6-7 years ago when a path was made through the forest before works came to a halt. Land clearing activities in this side of the slope has been dormant for the last 5 years, however the slope has yet to recover and stabilize fully.


Part of the slope which caved in, at the periphery of the forest reserve

Moving on to the southern section of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve, one can notice that this area is now a hotbed of clearing activity,both legal and illegal. Improper demarcation of land boundaries has meant that parts of the fragmented southern tract of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve has been heavily encroached upon.


A signpost indicating the southern part of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve.

If you were to cross the Tun Sardon road from Anjung Indah  and walk into the southern half of the forest reserve, you will  walk on a wide cement trail and pass a maze of fragmented forests and farms. Forestry Department signposts have been left idle while the surrounding forests have been cleared out.

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Forest reserve boundary,showing the border between a private piece of land (indicated by the gate) and what was supposed to be a forest reserve. However the forest which was supposed to be on the right side is long gone.


Evidence of agricultural activity in Forest Reserve land. Rehabilitation or encroachment?


Even Forest Reserve signs have fallen to the ground.

Going on straight from this area and climbing up the road which goes gently up the  Bukit Pondok Upeh  slope, one would also notice that small pockets of the forests have been cleared to plant ginger. This small farm which would only be about 1-2 years old, was seen further up along the trail. Tree stumps from clearing activity are still very apparent in this patch.


About two years ago this small patch was a secondary forest, now a new ginger farm has sprung up in this area.


All that remains of the forest in this patch are the stumps of trees which were felled to make way for the ginger farm. Ginger fetches a good price in the markets below and thus it is no surprise why they are being cultivated with increasing intensity.


New ginger farms have replaced the forest.

Ever increasing farming is an increasing threat to our shrinking forests. Will we let this forest reserve fade away from memory?


This picture sums up Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve today. A forest  being squeezed out of existence.

Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment?

The past one year we’ve seen many cases of clearing activity for development in hillsides around the island, and it mostly involves cases of land which were formerly privately owned orchards and farms which are converted into residential property. But how are our forest reserves in Penang doing?

Going up the hills of Paya Terubong, I was able to see the fate of two forest reserves, namely Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve  (not the same hill as Bukit Relau @ Bukit Botak) and Penara Bukit Permanent Forest Reserve, which are battling another form of threat, small scale farming encroachment.

Both these forest reserves are located in the upper reaches of Paya Terubong’s Bukit Penara hill and are shown in the below map.

Bukit Relau and Bukit Penara.jpg
Map 1. The demarcations in the map are not an accurate measurement of forest reserve size but are drawn based on the area of remaining forest which constitutes the forest reserves. There is a possibility that the forest reserves were bigger than shown,as many parts of these two reserves have been cleared for farming.

As can be seen from the map, a jigsaw puzzle of farms seem to eat up the spaces between both reserves, effectively cutting them off from each other. And they are expanding. We will be looking at 3 zones, namely Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3 within this area to see how this is happening.
Zone 1
The satellite image below shows Zone 1 (from Map 1), which is at the fringes of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve
bukit relau zone 1.jpg

Over 6 years, a huge swath of secondary forest at the fringes of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve have been cleared for agriculture.

While its unclear if they have intruded into Forest Reserve land or are still outside the borders, having a farm at the borders of  a forest reserve increases the chance of human-wildlife conflicts and of course poaching. Here’s how Zone 1 looks right now;

bukit relau forest reserve.jpg

bukit relau forest reserve 2.jpg

Zone 2
In Zone 2 as well, expanding farms pose a threat as well, in this case, a long beans farm, manned by foreign workers, which seem to eat up a huge slope near Zone 1
beans farm.jpg
Long beans Farm in Zone 2, eats up right to the tree line. Status of this farming land is unclear.

Walking into the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve from Zone 2, one can clearly see evidence of wood collecting from the forest. Part of the trail is totally covered by a pile of cut wood as shown below;

firewood collection.jpg

Its quite evident that Bukit Relau Forest Reserve is facing increasing stress from all sides due to increased farming activity.

Zone 3
Now we’ll move on to Zone 3, which forms part of Penara Bukit Forest Reserve. Penara Bukit Forest Reserve covers most of Bukit Penara’s upper slopes and houses a known colony of the rare parasitic plant, Exorhopalia ruficeps.

Penara Bukit too, much like Bukit Relau Forest Reserve, is surrounded on most sides by farms and orchards and thus, it is no surprise that some parts, like Zone 3, have been encroached upon by orchards and farms. Here are some shots from the edges of Penara Bukit Forest Reserve in Zone 3.

bukit penara fst reserve.jpg
Marker pole to denote forest reserve boundary but only orchard trees on either side.

bukit penara hill cut.jpgHints of agricultural activity (Bunga Kantan plants) behind forest reserve marker in Zone 3

bukit penara.jpgForest Reserve boundary markers left on the ground.

These two forest reserves are just an example of how farming activities are eating up into our forest reserves. These are many other cases, some which are undocumented and thus unknown to the public.

It is about time that forest reserve boundaries are demarcated again and action is taken against those that trespass into our natural heritage illegally. Let’s protect our forests, water catchments and natural areas from destruction.