THE Straits Rhododendron is a flowering
shrub which grows to slightly over one metre tall. It is a pioneer species in land clearings
in the lowlands. With lallang
and other weeds, it is among the first plant species to
sprout up in areas cleared for cultivation or construction. It also flourishes in bright
sunshine on the fringes of forests and plantations.
This hardy shrub bears berry-sized fruits which split when they ripen to
reveal a deep blue pulp dotted with numerous tiny seeds. The fruit is edible and is slightly
sweet. It leaves an ink-blue colour on the tongues of those adventurous enough to try it.
When I was a boy, I had to walk part of the way to school through an old rubber estate. Whenever
they were available, I would pop several of these fruit into my mouth ... an occasional titbit
to supplement breakfast. Some of my schoolmates also ate the fruit, and we would stick our tongues
out at each other to amuse ourselves. That was then one of life's simple pleasures.
Birds, especially bulbuls, feed on the ripe fruit and spread the seeds with
their droppings. That is how the Straits Rhododendron, or sendudok
in the Malay language,
so quickly establishes itself in open or waste ground. I have also seen butterflies "drinking" the
juice of the fruit.
This common shrub is still a source of pleasure for me even though I have
stopped eating its fruit a long time ago. Its magenta or light purple flowers attract