Tag Archives: Balikpapan Botanical Gardens

Alstonia angustiloba (Pohon punai)

Long time no post…

After seven years without a functioning printer, we recently acquired one*. Since then I’ve been having fun: trawling through photos from our years in Indonesia (mostly Kalimantan), selecting, re-editing, printing and framing a small number of them.

Here’s the first one: Indonesiaku Print #1 (3 Jan 2017)

Indonesiaku Print #1
Pulai (Alstonia angustiloba)

The tree in this photo is an Alstonia angustiloba, known locally as ‘Pulai’. It occurs naturally in Malaysia, and on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo. This very fine specimen stands about 40 metres tall, and is growing in the forest not far from the visitor centre at the Kebun Raya (Botanical Garden) Balikpapan (East Kalimantan). For two years I would walk by it almost every day on my solitary rambles. It became my favourite tree in the Kebun Raya, and yes … I would talk to it.

In 2019, approaching the end of my time there, I was asked what I’d like as a farewell gift. Of course I answered: “pohon pulai itu“! (That Pulai tree!). Unfazed, my colleagues readily agreed, but warned that it might take a little while to construct the box to ship it in. On my last day there was a little ceremony where I was asked to plant a new addition to the collection of the Balikpapan Botanical Garden. Surprise! it was a seedling Alstonia angustiloba. I’ll be delighted to return and watch it grow over the years to come.

Tree planting on my last day at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan

* The printer is an Epson 8550, an ‘all-round printer’, but which can produce surprisingly good quality prints of photos up to A3+ size. With good quality paper (so far I’ve been using Epson’s Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster) and matching ICC colour profiles, the results are pretty impressive for a mid-range printer. It uses just five dye inks, plus a pigment ink for regular black. Best of all, the inks go into refillable tanks (rather than disposable ink cartridges), which makes for very much cheaper printing – and much less waste.

Mimosa – the ‘Shy princess’

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Garden), five different species of Mimosa have been identified.

There are over 400 species of Mimosa worldwide, most of which originate in South and Central America. But many of them are now found in tropical regions around the globe. They generally tolerate a range of conditions, thrive in disturbed areas and poor soils – and in many places have become a serious problem as invasive weeds.

Mimosa, particularly the low creeping Mimosa pudica, is locally known as Putri malu – the ‘Shy princess’. In fact this matches the Latin ‘pudica‘, which also means ‘shy’ or ‘bashful’. The plant has this name because of its sensitivity to touch. The compound leaves retract, fold up and droop instantly when touched. Presumably this has evolved as a defence against predation. After a few minutes the leaves once again become open and erect.

It likes open, sunny positions and prefers relatively poor soils. Children of course have great fun playing with the Mimosa pudica plants, making their leaves do the bashful trick.

Mimosa pigra has flowers which resemble those of Mimosa pudica, but the plant is much taller. Indeed it can grow up to several metres tall – though those at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan are less than two metres in height.

Its stems have sharp thorns between the leaf junctions. Like the other Mimosa species, the leaves are sensitive to touch, and also curl up at nighttime.

Mimosa pigra is included in the list of the ‘world’s 100 worst invasive plant species’. In Australia, one of 20 countries where it is known to grow, it is a declared ‘noxious weed’, and boasts a number ten ranking in the list of ‘Weeds of National Significance‘.

Mimosa diplotricha is known in English as the ‘Giant sensitive plant’. The globular flowers develop into a tight cluster of seed pods. The seeds inside are adept at sticking to fur or clothing and so are easily spread.

It’s another virulent invasive plant, also originally from South and Central America, and was first seen growing in Indonesia (Java) around 1900. It has now spread to tropical areas worldwide.

This Mimosa has not been positively identified, so let’s call it Mimosa sp. It is a little taller and more ‘lanky’ than M pudica, and has bright yellow blossoms. The globe-shaped flowers of Mimosa are actually clusters of up to 100 tiny separate flowers all growing together.

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan, it may be found in or near the same situations as M pudica.

The fifth species at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan is also (as yet) unidentified – so it’s another Mimosa sp. It has only recently been discovered there, and hasn’t yet been seen to flower.

It’s characterised by its relatively stout woody growth, the slightly zig-zag shape of its stems, and the long and very spiky thorns along the stems.

Birds of the Balikpapan Botanical Garden – Part II

This is a followup to my previous blogpost, showcasing some of the wonderful birdlife which may be encountered at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Garden).

Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)

This lovely bird was remarkably unperturbed by my presence, and darted down from its branch several times to catch insects from the forest floor. After 5 minutes – and 65 photos – it flew off….

Asian red-eyed bulbul (Pycnonotus brunneus)

The Asian red-eyed bulbul is often seen getting grubs in lowland forests on the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, as well as here on the island of Borneo.

I like the creamy out-of-focus green blur in the photo below. Like a bird perched in the general idea of a forest.

Banded woodpeckers (Chrysophlegma miniaceum)

They make distinctive ‘klok-klok’ sounds as their beaks strike repeatedly against the tree trunks.

This attractive (and rather raffish-looking) pair of birds were searching for ants, termites and insects.

Greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)

These birds have a massive repertoire of songs, including perfect imitations of other forest birds. They sing sweet and loud, just beside the tracks on which I walk at the Kebun Raya – as if to attract my attention. Well, they succeed.

They are locally known as ‘Sri gunting’ (Scissor birds), because of the pair of long tail feathers.

Brown barbet (Caloramphus fuliginosus)

These birds are endemic to Borneo, where they are a ‘common resident’.

Black hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus)

This female was seen (and heard squawking raspily) at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan. Apparently they are particularly fond of eating fruit of the forest durian

Oriental dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)

It was quite distant, but nicely lit by a few minutes of bright sunshine. A 560mm lens helped too…

Green imperial pigeon (Ducula aenea)

They are locally known as ‘Burung Pergam’.

For a few weeks, they were regular visitors to some trees near the Information Centre at the Kebun Raya, as they feasted (alongside a band of Long-tailed macaques) on ripe fruit of Alseodaphne elmeri.

Sooty-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus aurigaster)

Asian glossy starlings (Aplonis panayensis)

These ones are juveniles. When they grow up they take on a very shiny green-black colour – but they retain those striking red eyes.

Birds of the Balikpapan Botanical Garden

The Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Garden) is focussed on collecting, conserving and showcasing the unique trees, orchids and other plants of Kalimantan. Across its 307 hectares, it achieves this admirably. Most of that area consists of protected lowland dipterocarpus forest, which once blanketed much of the island of Borneo. This protected forest extends into the adjacent Hutan Lindung Sungai Wain (the Wain River Protected Forest), together forming a 10,000+ hectare window into the remarkable biodiversity of East Kalimantan.

Protection of the forest of course also protects the habitat of a huge range of other life: insects, reptiles, mammals, and… birds. So here’s a selection of just some of the birdlife I have recently encountered at the Kebun Raya. (For another selection, follow this link to view Part 2 of this post).

Chestnut-breasted malkoha (Phaenicophaeus curvirostris microrhinus)

Apart from eye colour, the female (yellow iris) and male (blue) are almost indistinguishable.

Bornean Crested Fireback (Lophura ignita in Latin, or ‘Ayam hutan’ locally)

This male was strutting proudly and showing off his fine plumage.

This female Bornean Crested Fireback is less dramatic and showy than its male partner – but no less beautiful.

Buff-rumped woodpeckers (Meiglyptes grammithorax)

The male and female are almost identical, with the male distinguished by the red patch under his eye.

They were carving out quite deep holes in the trunk of a dead tree, in pursuit of termites. So engrossed were they in that task that they let me approach within about four metres.

Pied oriental hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

A wildlife photographer from Bandung (Java) visited the Kebun Raya Balikpapan recently, saying that he was very keen to see a hornbill bird while he was in Kalimantan. Not wanting to get his hopes up, I told him that they are often heard but quite rarely seen.

5 minutes later… this (female) Pied oriental hornbill.

Lesser green leafbird (Chloropsis cyanopogon)

Like its close relative the Greater green leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), it is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. The IUCN has determined that the survival of both species is threatened by habitat loss.

Javan myna (Acridotheres javanicus)

A member of the starling family, originally found only on Java and Bali, but has spread (or been introduced) to other islands and countries.

White-bellied sea eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

They are found from western India to as far east as the Solomons and New Zealand (and Australia of course), but this was the first time I’ve seen them at the KRB…

Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)

They are also known as ‘snakebirds’, because only the very long neck and head is visible when the bird is immersed.

Like cormorants, they stand with their wings outstretched to dry them after swimming.

Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis bubutus)

I have seen ‘burung bubut’ before, in Central Kalimantan, but this was the first one I’d seen here in East Kalimantan.

I was even more delighted when I saw that it had just captured a little snake, which was hanging, still alive and wriggling, from its beak. (I was of course sorry for the hapless little snake, but… well, it’s a jungle out there).

The Greater coucal is a large species of (non-parasitic) cuckoo, found from western India and southern China down south as far as Java. They are reportedly becoming scarce in Kalimantan because local belief is that a medicine made from the bird’s wings is useful for healing broken bones.

Greater green leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati)

These very attractive birds are well known in Indonesia as ‘Cucak hijau’. They have a lovely rich complex song, and are good mimics too. This one is a male.

This may lead to their extinction in the wild, because they are being heavily trapped and sold in bird markets for upwards of Rp1 million (about AU$100) each. Their owners may enter them in the birdsong competitions that are popular here. Betting and prize monies are big, and a competition winner can sell for many times the original purchase price.

20 years ago the IUCN classed them as of ‘Least concern’. But now, due to rapidly declining numbers and habitat loss, they are classed as ‘Vulnerable’.

Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica)

It was perched atop a tall dead tree stump protruding from the middle of a pond. They are frequently seen across southern Asia and on the islands of the Pacific.

Baccaurea parviflora

There are over 100 different species in the genus Baccaurea, which are mostly found from Thailand and Indonesia across to the western Pacific. At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (‘KRB’ – the Balikpapan Botanical Garden) there are 99 specimens from four identified species in the collection, as well as a number of others whose precise identity has yet to be determined.

This one is Baccaurea parviflora Müll.Arg., which is known in Banjar language (along with some other species of Baccaurea) as ‘rambai’. In the Indonesian (and Malaysian) language it’s called ‘setambun’. It’s locally common from Thailand through to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

It grows as a shrub or small tree, up to a height to 15 metres, though usually less. So it’s an understorey tree in the rainforest, way down below the height of the big canopy trees, and the even bigger emergent trees. This one at the KRB, which was planted out as an established seedling in 2008, is currently about four metres tall.

The fruit can be eaten, though it’s acidic. Apparently it’s best when cooked. The hard timber is used to make tools and boxes and the like.

There are 15 Baccaurea parviflora specimens in the collection of the KRB, all of which were collected back in June 2006 from the nearby Sungai Wain Protected Forest (Hutan Lindung Sungai Wain). The seedlings were found and brought to the KRB by the esteemed Pak Trisno.

There are a couple of slightly unusual things about this plant. It’s ‘dioecious’, meaning that there are distinct male and female plants, with both (unsurprisingly!) required for pollination and reproduction.

The flowers grow as ‘inflorescences’, directly out of the main trunk of the tree. The flowers of the female Baccaurea parviflora are located just above ground level.

The male flowers also grow on inflorescences, which can appear anywhere on the trunk of the tree.

When the dark red berry fruits form, they just lie on the ground at the base of the tree.

The large and attractively glossy leaves grow singly, and are sort-of elliptical in shape.

Monyet biasa?

Monyet biasa (‘Ordinary monkeys’), a.k.a. Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), this morning at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan.

Common perhaps, but anything but ordinary.

Mungkin sering terlihat, tapi masih monyet luar biasa.


There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants on the island of Borneo, around 5,000 of which are endemic (i.e. they aren’t found anywhere else in the world).

And amongst that number are known to be at least 1,700 varieties of orchids (anggrek in Bahasa Indonesia) – with more still being discovered each year.

The Bulbophyllum purpurascens  (above) is one of them… The ‘Purple Bulbophyllum’ (so called because of the colour of its leaves) is found in forests from Myanmar to Java, and it likes to be in a location where the flowers can hang over water. Lovely.

To my delight, I have found that the Kebun Raya Balikpapan (Balikpapan Botanical Gardens) – where I am doing volunteer work this year – houses a wonderful collection of orchids – in the newly constructed Rumah Anggrek (Orchid House). It’s so new that it’s not yet fitted out – or open to visitors.

There are different orchids blooming throughout the year, so every week there are new ones to see. And such variety – of colours, forms, and … ‘personalities’.

To my further delight, one of my tasks here is to compile a comprehensive photographic catalogue of every orchid as they flower during the year 2017. Talk about a labour of love…

The collection (of nearly 500 species) is meticulously cared for by Micha (Micha Juwari) and Jupri (Jufrianto). Their detailed knowledge of the plants is very impressive, as is their obvious love for the (often fragile and fussy) orchids in their care. They found and collected many of the plants themselves in the course of various expeditions – to remote areas like the forests around Berau, as well as in the Sungai Wain Protected Forest which is immediately adjacent to the Kebun Raya.

So, here are just some of the highlights from my first five weeks…


Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi (Breda) Blume & Rchb.f. The ‘Deer Antlered Phalaenopsis’. Like many orchids, it’s an ‘epiphyte’ – meaning that it grows on another host plant rather than in the ground, but only for support i.e. it’s not parasitic. It gets its nutrients from the air and dust, and its water from rain. It is a local plant, having been collected from the Sungai Wain Protected Forest just adjacent to the Kebun Raya.

This very striking flower is about four centimetres across. There are two other varieties – one has purely yellow petals, and one is entirely red. I’ve only seen them in photographs – but I think I prefer the contrast of having both colours together.

Dendrobium secundum (Blume). It’s also known as the ‘Toothbrush orchid’ because the shape of the flower head bears a passing resemblance to a toothbrush. However, toothpaste does not adhere well to the blooms, which are too large to fit comfortably inside one’s mouth, and the ‘brush’ is pretty much ruined after a single use.

Thelasis carinata Blume. The ‘Keeled Thelasis’ is found from Myanmar right across Southeast Asia, through PNG and to the Solomon Islands. It’s even found in Far North Queensland, where it’s known as the ‘Triangular Fly Orchid’.

Like a large percentage of the wild orchids, the flowers of this species are quite small, the big ones only around 0.5 cm long. The macro lens makes them seem a lot bigger in the photo above.

Dipodium paludosum (Griff.) Rchb.f. This gorgeous orchid is much larger than most, with each flower around 4cm across.

This one was collected from the Gunung Ketam protected forest, west of here, near the border between East and Central Kalimantan provinces.


Coelogyne pandurata Lindl. This stunning and most unusual orchid is famous as the ‘Black Orchid’, although in truth it is mostly a striking hue of greeny yellow. The rich black patterns on the ‘lip’ of the flower are however quite dramatic. It grows locally in the Sungai Wain Protected Forest.

The large flowers have a surprising honey-sweet smell. They only last for a few days, but the plant can flower two (or more) times in one year.

There’s a bit of interesting history about Hugh Low, the European ‘discoverer’ of this orchid (in 1853) here.


Eria nutans Lindl. – ‘The Nodding Eria’. This epiphyte is found in Malaysia, Thailand, Sumatra as well as in Borneo. I really liked its shy and gracefully pendulous, solitary little flower. Not at all showy, like some of the big prolific orchids – but quite lovely and delicate.

Cymbidium bicolor. This epiphyte is popular with collectors and home gardeners because, apart from being big (with 4 – 7cm blooms), prolific and splashy, it’s also quite hardy. The dangling flower stem can be up to 70cm long, and with as many as two dozen blooms on it.

Bulbophyllum vaginatum – ‘The Vagina Bulbophyllum’. No I don’t know how it got that name.

Apparently, in Java, the tiny fruits of this orchid are boiled up with fruits from some other orchids, and used as a treatment for earache.


This lovely orchid is labelled as ‘Acriopsis sp.’. The name ‘Acriopsis‘ comes from Greek, and means it ‘resembles a locust’ – but I can’t see the resemblance myself…

The nine species in the Acriopsis genus are known as the ‘Chandelier Orchids’, and are native to various lowland forest locations from Assam to Queensland.‘Acriopsis’ is the genus, and the ‘sp.’ bit means that the precise species hasn’t yet been officially determined.

My confident Google-based opinion is that it is actually an ‘Acriopsis ridleyi Hook.f.’, ‘Ridley’s Orchid’ which is endemic to Borneo and Malaysia.

I love the language that orchid specialists (and other botanists) use to describe their subjects. Surely their vocabulary is incomprehensible to anyone outside their specialIst field? For example, see this description (from Flora of China) of the Pomatocalpa spicatum (pictured above):

“Stems erect, 2-3 cm, stout. Leaves 5 or 6; leaf blade dark green, broadly lorate or falcate-oblong, 20-31 × 2.5-3.5 cm, leathery, margin ± undulate, apex unequally bilobed. Inflorescences 2 or 3, lateral, pendulous, 3.5-6 cm, unbranched and racemose or occasionally with 1 or 2 branches; rachis fleshy, ribbed, densely many flowered; floral bracts reflexed, broadly ovate-triangular, ca. 1 mm, acute, often adnate to rachis. Flowers waxy yellow, rather fleshy, dorsal sepal with 2 brown bands at base, lateral sepals with U-shaped brown spots at base and with 2 brown bands above middle, petals with 2 brown bands at base; pedicel and ovary ca. 2.5 mm. Dorsal sepal obovate, ca. 5 × 2 mm, apex rounded; lateral sepals incurved, slightly obliquely obovate, ca. 4.5 × 2.5 mm, obtuse-rounded. Petals obovate-elliptic, ca. 3 × 1.8 mm, obtuse; lip spurred at base, 3-lobed; lateral lobes erect, ovate; mid-lobe reniform-triangular or subrhombic, ca. 1.5 × 1.5 mm, fleshy, apex obtuse; spur subglobose, ca. 2 × 2 mm, inside with a ligulate bilobed-tipped appendage on back wall and a pair of calli near base of disk. Column ca. 2 mm; rostellum ovate-triangular, ca. 0.4 mm; stipe ca. 1.2 mm, narrow; viscidium ca. 0.5 mm, subelliptic, one end broadly emarginate. Fl. Apr. 2n = 38.”

No doubt that it is an accurate description, but it fails to do justice to the sheer beauty of the flower!

Thecostele alata (’The Winged Thecostele’), a lovely orchid which can be found from Northeastern India across to The Philippines, including East Kalimantan, where this one was collected for the Koleksi Anggrek (Orchid Collection). The individual blooms don’t last for many days, but they open successively, so they can continue to bloom for weeks or months.

For those who care about these things, it’s a ‘monotype’ i.e. it’s (currently) the only species in the genus Thecostele.

Bulbophyllum odoratum – ‘The Scented Bulbophyllum’. Here’s some useful trivia: this plant is just one member of the genera Bulbophyllum which, with over 2,000 species, is the second largest of all flowering plants. There’s over 600 Bulbophyllum species in PNG alone! The members of Bulbophyllum can be readily identified because of the “single-noded pseudobulbs, the basal inflorescence and the mobile lip”. Look out for that.


Dendrobium anosmum. This highly fragrant orchid is curiously named ‘anosmum’ – which means ‘without scent’. I like it better by its synonym ‘Dendrobium superbum’ – a name it was given because it is ‘superb’ – not in reference to its smell.

In Hawaii, where it is known as honohono, it is often used in the making of leis.

Dendrobium sanguinolentum – (The Blood-stained Dendrobium). There appears to be a couple of colour variations of this species, with one having flowers that are entirely pale yellow in colour. The ’standard’ ones have a little patch of crimson red on the tips of each petal, hence the ‘blood-stained’ name.

Calanthe sp. The ‘sp.’ in the name means that the Kebun Raya hasn’t yet obtained a definitive determination of which species it is within the Calanthe genus. There are over 200 species of Calanthe, distributed almost worldwide.

This one opens up to form a large spray of white flowers, but I actually like it even better before the ‘bulb’ of flowers opens up. Elegant shape, full of life, vitality and potential.

Acriopsis liliifolia. Another Acriopsis (‘Chandelier Orchids’), this one definitively identified as the liliifolia species – the ‘Lily-leaved Acriopsis’). It’s a lowland orchid, likes damp places, and blooms prolifically. The flower-stalks may branch several times, and have up to 200 flowers. Perfect dainty little blossoms.

500 metres per hour…

If you take a short cut through the forest, it’s only about 500 metres’ walk from the Visitor Centre at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan to the Orchid House (Rumah Anggrek).

But this morning it took me nearly an hour. There were lots of distractions along the way…