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Vegetation of Peninsular Malaysia

  • Academy of Sciences Malaysia


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Vegetation of Peninsular Malaysia
L.G. Saw
Forest Research Institute Malaysia,
Kepong, Malaysia
Peninsular Malaysia is at the southern extremity of the Asian continent and covers an area
of 131,598 km2. It separates the South China Sea from the Straits of Malacca. The region
is generally hilly or mountainous and over 40% of the land is above 150 m a.s.l. with 23%
over 300 m (Wyatt-Smith, 1963). The mountains run in a series of ranges in a north-south
direction (see map on inside front cover). The largest of these, the Main (Titiwangsa) Range,
is a continuous granitic range extending from beyond the Perak-Thailand border to the
Negeri Sembilan-Melaka boundary near Tampin. The highest peak of the Main Range is G.
Korbu (2,182 m). Other important ranges include the Perlis limestone ridge along the west
Perlis-Thailand border; the west Kedah and Province Wellesley range; the Bintang range; the
Keladang Saiong range running about 160 km parallel to Sg. Perak and between the Bintang
and the Main Range; the Benom range of west-central Pahang rises to its highest peak on
G. Benom (2,130 m) extending south to G. Ledang (1,276 m) in Johor; the Tahan range
in central Pahang with G. Tahan (2,188 m), the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia,
culminates on the Pahang-Kelantan border in the north and extends into central Johor to the
south; and nally a dissected long granitic block in Terengganu forms the boundary with
Kelantan and Pahang. The four main rivers are Sg. Pahang (500 km) and Sg. Kelantan (250
km) draining into the South China Sea (Tjia, 1988), and Sg. Perak (390 km) and Sg. Muar
(190 km) draining into the Straits of Malacca.
Forest cover in Peninsular Malaysia is still relatively extensive in spite of widespread
land conversion starting in the early 20th century with coffee plantations and tin mining
followed by the large scale plantations of rubber and, in the later part of the century, oil
palm. Forest cover now stands at 40.7% of the total land area (Table 1). This gure has
now more-or-less stabilised. Within these forested areas, the National/State Parks and the
Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries are the best protected areas with no logging allowed. For the
Permanent Reserved Forests (PFR), there are two categories: the production forest that is
subjected to forestry management for timber production (this constitutes 21.3% of the land
area), and the protection forest where, once an area is listed, it will not be subject to logging.
The protection forests consist of both primary forest areas, such as Virgin Jungle Reserves
(VJR), and areas that have been logged but subsequently identi ed for conservation or for
environmental protection purposes. These include High Value Conservation Forest (HVCF),
mainly for the protection of plant and animal species, areas with steep slopes, mountain areas
above 1,000 m and amenity forests (for recreation). Such areas cover about 14.4% of the total
area in Peninsular Malaysia.
Table 1. Forest cover and protected area systems according to different land use categories
for Peninsular Malaysia (Anon., 2008).
Categories Area (million ha) Percentage
Permanent Reserved Forests
Protection forest 1.90 14.4
Production forest 2.80 21.3
National/State Parks 0.58+4.4
Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries 0.31*2.4
Total Forest Cover 5.36 40.7
Other land use (agriculture
and built-up areas)
7.80 59.3
Total Land Area 13.16 100
+ A total of 0.04 million ha is located within PFR
* A total of 0.19 million ha is located within PFR
Factors Affecting Vegetation
Climate, soil, and soil water are the main interacting environmental factors that in uence the
distribution of plants and vegetation. Peninsular Malaysia located within a narrow latitudinal
range of between 6°43’ N and 1°15’ N has a climate that is rather uniform throughout the
year. It is generally regarded as perhumid (i.e., wet throughout the year) with short dry
periods. The only exception is in north-west Peninsular Malaysia that experiences a few
dry months each year. Two annual alternating monsoons determine the rainfall patterns: the
north-east and south-west monsoons. The annual north-east monsoon brings a greater amount
of rain in comparison to the south-west. The annual mean rainfall in Peninsular Malaysia is
approximately 2,540 mm. In the wettest parts, annual rainfall exceeds 2,750 mm (Tjia, 1988),
with the heaviest rainfall occurring on the foothills of Terengganu (average 4,000 mm per
The mean annual temperatures in the lowlands vary within 1.6°C of 26.7°C. Elsewhere
ambient temperature limits the distribution of many plants and animals but in Malaysia,
the only major in uence on temperature is changes in temperature resulting from change in
altitude, with a temperature drop of 6.5°C with every 1 km increase in altitude. For example,
the daily temperatures at Cameron Highlands, Pahang (at 1,450 m a.s.l.) average a minimum
range of 13–14°C and a maximum range of 22–23°C. This is on the average at least 10°C
cooler than the lowlands. At these lower average temperatures, the vegetation is very different
from that of the lowlands. Most rainforest formations developed over altitudinal changes
(with the exception of alpine vegetation) are found in Peninsular Malaysia (Table 2).
Soils are another key determining factor in vegetation development. Soils in Peninsular
Malaysia are generally acidic, predominantly weathered from igneous rocks (granite) into
oxisols and ultisols. The alluvial soils that accumulate in river valley systems are also mainly
soils washed down from hills. Soils in Peninsular Malaysia are generally deep compared
to those in Sabah and Sarawak (Ashton, 1995). The major forest formations are all found
on these soils. Podzols occur in places where parent materials are predominantly of quartz.
These materials are low in clay and bases and also in minerals that might weather into these
products. Such soils that develop from sandstone bedrocks or in raised sandy beaches running
parallel to the sea coast (permatangs) are rather common on the East Coast of Peninsular
Malaysia. Limestone formations in Peninsular Malaysia are not extensive. Most limestone
hills are tower karsts, rising abruptly and most reaching about 500 m with Gua Peningat,
Pahang, reaching 713 m. Other soil parent material or rock formations that can in uence
plant distribution are quartzite and ultrama c rocks. Quartzite is not extensive in Peninsular
Malaysia and the small area of ultrama c rock in Peninsular Malaysia has no in uence on
vegetation because it is overlain by alluvial soils.
Table 2. Forest formations of tropical moist forests (after Whitmore, 1984) with modi cations
for Peninsular Malaysian vegetation types.
Climate Soil water Soils Elevation Forest
Vegetation types in
Peninsular Malaysia
Dry land Zonal soils
a. to 300 m
b. to 800 m
c. to 1200 m
evergreen rain
a. Lowland
dipterocarp forests
b. Hill dipterocarp
c. Upper hill
dipterocarp forests
1500 m
Lower montane
rain forest
Montane oak-laurel
2188 m
Upper montane
rain forest
Montane ericaceous
Heath forest Heath forest
Limestone Lowlands Vegetation over
Limestone vegetation
Lowlands to
Vegetation over
Vegetation over quartz
Water table
high (at least
Coastal Beach
Mangrove forest
Brackish water
Beach vegetation
Mangrove forest
Brackish water forest
Peat swamp
Peat swamp forest
(muck and
Lowlands Freshwater
swamp forest
Freshwater swamp
Moderate annual
Lowlands Semi-evergreen
rain forest
White meranti-gerutu
The amount, type and persistence of water in soils (soil water) are another important
in uence in vegetation formation. In most soils, water is freely draining and no water
logging occurs. When water accumulates periodically or permanently, speci c vegetation
types develop. Freshwater swamps develop in at and low-lying areas of steams and rivers,
where periodic ooding often occurs during the rainy seasons or where there is backing up
from tidal in uence. When water input is directly only from the rain in terrain that is at,
peat accumulates from the very slow decay of vegetation and peat swamp forest develops.
Mangrove swamps occur in river mouths and deltas where ne marine alluvium accumulates
with daily tidal in uence. Further inland in river mouths under tidal in uence with saltwater
intrusion, the resulting vegetation is brackish water swamp. Finally, along the coast, where
constant salt water and wave action shapes the beach and sea fronts, beach vegetation
Forest types for Peninsular Malaysia were systematically described by Symington (1943)
in the Foresters’ Manual of Dipterocarps where he used the Dipterocarpaceae to de ne the
different forest types. This was a very practical classi cation because dipterocarps dominate
the upper emergent stratum of the lowland forests and are of primary importance to foresters.
Wyatt-Smith (1963) in his Manual of Malayan Silviculture for Inland Forest further re ned
the classi cation based on the numerous ecological plots he set up. He further described
many forest subtypes, in particular, for lowland forests where there is greater forestry interest,
as well as other non-forest ecosystems. Based upon structure, physiognomy and oristic
composition, forests can be more generally classi ed into forest formations irrespective of
ora (Webb et al., 1967; Saw, 2004). This is a convenient classi cation because it allows
for comparison of different forests found elsewhere. For the forests in Peninsular Malaysia,
forest formation classi cation based on Wyatt-Smith’s forest types is provided in Table 2.
Forest pro les also provide a good diagrammatic representation of the structure of forests.
Figure 1 provides the forest pro les of the four main lowland forest types. A generalised
vegetation type map is provided in Map 1. This map provides vegetation-type distribution in
Peninsular Malaysia based on elevation and wetlands for extant forests in 1990 (NRE, 2008)
and the land areas of the major forest types based on the map are provided in Table 3.
Table 3. Generalised habitat types and extent of major forest types in Peninsular Malaysia in
1990 (NRE, 2008).
Vegetation type Altitudinal
range (m)
Original extent 1990
Million ha % Million ha %
Wetlands <300 1.187 9.0 0.955 7.2
Lowland dipterocarp <300 9.160 69.5 3.739 28.4
Hill dipterocarp 300–750 1.475 11.2 1.441 10.9
Upper dipterocarp 750–1,200 1.099 8.3 1.094 8.3
Lower Montane 1,200–1,500 0.188 1.4 0.184 1.4
Upper Montane >1,500 0.064 0.5 0.063 0.5
Total 13.173 100 7.476 56.7
Climatic Forest Vegetation Formations
Lowland evergreen rain forest
This is the main forest formation found in lowland areas of Peninsular Malaysia with
perhumid (aseasonal) climate and mean diurnal temperatures ranging from 20°C to 34°C,
annual rainfall of >2000 mm, and with no distinct dry season. The forest formation develops
on well-drained soils not subject to water-logging. Typically soils are acidic, mainly oxisols
Map 1. A generalised vegetation map for Peninsular Malaysia based on topography and
wetlands (reproduced with permission from NRE, 2008).
and ultisols. Forests develop at elevations ranging from sea level to 1200 m.
This forest is conventionally regarded as having three tree layers, although the layers
may grade into each other (Fig. 1) with (i) the upper layer of individual or grouped giant
emergent trees sometimes as tall as > 70 m, some of the biggest trees have a clear bole of 30
m and reach 1.4 m diameter at breast height (dbh); (ii) the main stratum at about 24–36 m;
and (iii) the lower layer with smaller, shade-tolerant trees and immature trees of the upper
two layers. Ground vegetation is often sparse, and comprises mainly small trees, shrubs
and understorey palms; herbs are scattered. Very few tree species are deciduous or semi-
deciduous; the evergreen nature of the canopy predominates. Boles are usually cylindrical.
Characteristic features of this formation are buttresses; cauli ory and rami ory; and leaves
that are often large and pinnate or variously dissected. Lianas (big woody climbers) are
frequent. Shade and sun epiphytes are occasional to frequent.
Tree species diversity is among the richest in the world. Large ecological plot studies have
enumerated 817 tree species ! 1 cm dbh per 50 ha in Pasoh FR, Negeri Sembilan (Manokaran
et al., 2004) and in Sarawak the diversity is even greater with 1,171 species recorded in 52 ha
in Lambir Hills NP (Plotkin et al., 2000). The family Dipterocarpaceae dominates the upper
or emergent storey and can comprise 50% of the individuals of this storey.
In Peninsular Malaysia, based on changes in species composition that occur with altitude,
Symington (1943) and Wyatt-Smith (1963) recognised a further three sub-forest types within
the lowland evergreen rainforest formation, namely, lowland dipterocarp forests (0–300 m
elevation, Plate 1A & 3A), hill dipterocarp forests (300–750 m) and upper hill dipterocarp
forests (750–1200 m, Plate 1B). Symington (1943) included the upper hill dipterocarp forests
in lower montane forest, however, here, following Whitmore (1984), it is included as part of the
lowland rainforest formation. There is no sharp differentiation between these forest types; the
main difference is the shift in the oristic composition of the dominants in the upper and main
tree storeys. In coastal hills, the hill dipterocarp elements may occur at lower elevations. The
more dominant species in the lowland dipterocarp forests include mainly the Dipterocarpaceae
( Anisoptera, Dipterocarpus, Dryobalanops, Hopea, Parashorea and Shorea). Other common
large trees are Dyera costulata ( Apocynaceae), Gluta spp. ( Anacardiaceae), Heritiera spp.
( Malvaceae), Intsia palembanica ( Leguminosae), Koompassia malaccensis ( Leguminosae),
Palaquium spp. ( Sapotaceae) and Sindora spp. ( Leguminosae). In some alluvial forest areas
the gigantic Koompassia excelsa trees ( Leguminosae) can be seen towering above the rest
of the forest canopy. The main storey trees include members from Burseraceae, Guttiferae,
Myristicaceae, Myrtaceae (particularly Syzygium) and Sapotaceae. In parts of the East Coast
and Johor, Dryobalanops aromatica grows in gregarious groves on deeper soils edging
sandstone formations. The understorey tree layer mainly comprises saplings of the upper storey
and shrubs and climbers from such families as Annonaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Flacourtiaceae,
Melastomataceae and Rubiaceae. Palms ( Palmae) have a dominant presence in this stratum
and species such as Arenga westerhoutii, A. obtusifolia, Eugeissona tristis (on low ridges)
and Oncosperma horridum are common, while Licuala, Iguanura and Pinanga sometimes
dominate the forest oor together with the non-climbing rattans, Calamus and Daemonorops
spp. The dicotyledonous herbaceous ora is generally poor at lower elevations. However,
monocotyledons, such as Zingiberaceae, occasionally Marantaceae and forest Cyperaceae
(especially Mapania), Orchidantha ( Lowiaceae) and Tacca integrifolia ( Taccaceae) can be
common in many forest areas. In more moist valleys and steep stream banks some genera
such as Argostemma ( Rubiaceae), Begonia ( Begoniaceae), Henckelia ( Gesneriaceae) and
Sonerila ( Melastomataceae) can become common.
In hill dipterocarp forests, many of the common lowland dipterocarp species are also
Figure 1. Pro le diagrams of the major climatic forest formations in Peninsular Malaysia based on altitude (adapted from Wyatt-Smith, 1963).
(a) Lowland dipterocarp forest, at 150 m a.s.l., Jengka FR, Pahang. (b) Upper hill dipterocarp forest, at 790 m a.s.l., G. Jerai, Kedah. (c) Lower
montane oak-laurel forest, at 1,520 m a.s.l., G. Berembun, Cameron Highlands, Pahang. (d) Montane ericaceous forest at 1,830 m a.s.l., G.
Berembun, Cameron Highlands. The rst two, (a) and (b), belong to the lowland evergreen rain forest formation dominated by Dipterocarpaceae
(open crowns), the formation incorporates many forest types of different stature and oristic composition but nevertheless exhibits three tree layers
throughout its range from the lowland to the upper hill zone. The third section (c) shows the two tree layers of lower montane forest formation,
whilst the last is of the single-layered upper montane forest formation.
found but here some species begin to disappear and are replaced by other species. The most
common and dominant tree species is Shorea curtisii (Plate 1B) which tends to be gregarious
and shows a distinct preference for ridges. It often grows in association with the understorey
palm Eugeissona tristis. On ridges, except for E. tristis, the undergrowth vegetation becomes
very sparse or non-existent (Wong et al., 1987).
In upper dipterocarp forests, the family Dipterocarpaceae that is a characteristic feature
of the lowland and hill dipterocarp forests is represented by only a few species. The forest
is often characterised by the presence of Agathis borneensis ( Araucariaceae) and Shorea
platyclados. Other tree species include Calophyllum spp. ( Guttiferae), Dipterocarpus costatus,
D. retusus, Gluta spp., Shorea ciliata, S. ovata and S. submontana. The characteristic tree fan
palm, Livistona speciosa ( Palmae, Plate 3B), is sometimes common on upper ridges of the
Main Range. Under the cooler and wetter environment, the herbaceous ora becomes richer
than at lower elevations. Similar families and genera that are found in the lowlands now
become more common but their species, however, are different. Altitudinal zonation within
the lowland rainforest formation has not been well-documented for understorey species but
in some groups like the begonias, lowland species are replaced by others in hill and upper
hill forest (Kiew, 2005).
Semi-evergreen rain forest (White meranti-gerutu forest)
This forest type occurs in the extreme north-west of Peninsular Malaysia and covers Perlis,
the islands of Langkawi (Plate 2A) and part of mainland Kedah north of G. Jerai, Bukit Perak
and Padang Sanai, but excluding Bukit Perangin and Bukit Koh Mai hill mass.
The climate here has a distinct annual dry season of two to three months during December
to March. While the total annual rainfall is between 2000 and 2300 mm, the average for
January and February is below 50 mm. Soils are well-drained and not subject to water-
logging, comprising various soil types, but mainly oxisols and ultisols. This forest type is
found in the lowlands to about 300 m elevation.
Structurally, it is a strictly three-layered lowland dipterocarp forest. The upper canopy
reaches a height of about 35 m, the main canopy about 24 m and the understorey about 12 m.
It includes both evergreen and, in the upper canopy, deciduous trees in a mixture but with a
de nite tendency to gregarious occurrence. Deciduous trees may comprise up to one-third of
the taller trees, although not all are necessarily lea ess at the same time. Buttresses continue
to be frequent in both evergreen and deciduous species. Bark tends to be thicker and rougher,
and cauli ory and rami ory are rarer. However, the forest is less dense, the upper canopy
slightly lower, the form of trees poorer, and scramblers and woody climbers more frequent.
Bamboos are present and are more common in areas that have been disturbed. Epiphytes are
occasional to frequent and include many ferns and orchids.
The pronounced dry season is re ected in species composition, which predominantly
includes Burmese and Thai species. The characteristic features of this forest type are the
dominance of the white meranti group of Shorea while other Shorea groups are lacking.
Common species include Shorea assamica subsp. globifera, S. henryana, S. hypochra and
S. roxburghii. Other common and characteristic dipterocarps are Anisoptera costata, Hopea
ferrea, H. helferi, H. latifolia, Dipterocarpus baudii, D. dyeri, D. kerrii, D. grandi ora, D.
obtusifolius, Parashorea stellata and Vatica cinerea. Other common species include Dillenia
obovata ( Dilleniaceae), Parkia timoriana ( Leguminosae), and Pentace curtisii ( Malvaceae).
Large trees of Intsia palembanica and Koompassia malaccensis are occasionally present. In
areas that have been subjected to disturbance, Schima-bamboo forest develops, typi ed by
Schima wallichii ( Theaceae) and Shorea roxburghii and by the bamboos Gigantochloa latifolia
and G. ligulata ( Gramineae). Other common species in this forest include Anisoptera costata,
Cassia javanica subsp. nodosa ( Leguminosae), Cratoxylum cochinchinense ( Hypericaceae),
Crypteronia paniculata ( Crypteroniaceae), Derris microphylla ( Leguminosae), Elaeocarpus
robustus ( Elaeocarpaceae), Garcinia hombroniana ( Guttiferae), Ilex cymosa ( Aquifoliaceae),
Lagerstroemia oribunda ( Lythraceae), Litsea grandis ( Lauraceae), Parinari spp.
( Chrysobalanaceae), Peltophorum dasyrhachis ( Leguminosae), Syzygium gratum, Terminalia
calamansanai ( Combretaceae), Vatica cinerea and Vitex pinnata ( Labiatae). The herbaceous
ora is generally very poor due to the drier climate.
Lower montane forests (Montane oak-laurel forests)
There is an increase in cloudiness and rainfall as elevation increases. Temperature decreases
with increasing elevation at a rate of about 0.65°C per 100 m but this varies from place to
place, with season, time of day, water vapour content of the air and other factors. Cloud line
is at about 1200 m. Lower montane forest develops on well-drained soils mainly at elevations
between 1,000 and 1,500 m. Soil composition changes with elevation from that of the lowland
forest, in general becoming more humic with available nutrients diminishing, especially
where peat develops. The peat layer in lower montane forests is, however, generally thin.
In Peninsular Malaysia on mountain ranges such as those of the Main, Bintang, Keledang,
Benom, Tahan and Terengganu Ranges, lower montane forest occurs just above the upper
dipterocarp forest. It generally has two tree layers (Fig. 1) and reaches 15–33 m high, the
upper canopy is fairly even with emergents absent. Trees have a relatively short bole, rarely
exceeding 40–50 cm dbh, and are not strongly buttressed; cauli ory is uncommon, and the
leaves are mainly medium-sized mesophylls, compound leaves are less frequent. Large lianas
are not common, although smaller climbers may be found. Vascular epiphytes and ferns are
abundant. Rattans, stemmed palms and tree ferns dominate the shrub layer and herbaceous
plants are more abundant in the ground layer.
The ora is also as rich as the lowland forests. Kiew (1998), for example, listed over 900
species of seed plants from the mainly lower montane forest of Fraser’s Hill, Pahang (Plate
2B). Although large emergent dipterocarps are not normally found in these forests, there
are at least 11 dipterocarp species known from such elevations (species of Dipterocarpus,
Shorea and Vatica). Other common characteristic species are representatives of the Fagaceae
( Castanopsis, Lithocarpus and Quercus) and Lauraceae. Others include species of Acer
( Sapindaceae), Adinandra ( Theaceae), Agathis, Calophyllum, Canarium, Dacrydium,
Engelhardtia ( Juglandaceae), Garcinia, Gordonia (Theaceae), Podocarpus ( Podocarpaceae),
Syzygium, Santiria ( Burseraceae) and Toona ( Meliaceae). Species of climbers, e.g.,
Aeschynanthus ( Gesneriaceae) and herbaceous plants, such as Argostemma, Cyrtandra
( Gesneriaceae), Filetia ( Acanthaceae), Henckelia, Phyllagathis ( Melastomataceae), Sonerila
and terrestrial orchids, Calanthe, Hylophila, Liparis, Malaxis, Nephelaphyllum, Spathoglottis,
etc. ( Orchidaceae), are very common. Gingers, such as Alpinia, Amomum, Camptandra,
Etlingera, Geostachys, Globba, Plagiostachys, Hornstedtia and Zingiber (Zingiberaceae),
are also common in this forest. The mountain shtail palm, Caryota maxima, and the
bamboo, Schizostachyum grande ( Gramineae), are often associated with this forest at its
lower elevations. On some mountain ridges, the endemic scrambling bamboo, Maclurochloa
montana (Gramineae), may be common (Wong, 1995). Some palms may also be common,
for example species of Licuala, Iguanura, Nenga and Pinanga.
Upper montane forests (Montane ericaceous forests)
This formation develops above 1,500 m, above the cloud line, and experiences lower
temperatures than does lower montane forest. Moisture is particularly high both from high
rainfall, e.g., Cameron Highlands (Plate 3C) averages 2,650 mm annually (Wyatt-Smith,
1963), and frequent mist from clouds. Peaty soils begin to form above 1,000 m and high
rainfall in this zone results in increased leaching of soils, podzolization, soil water-logging,
and high acidity (pH 3–3.5). At the lower temperatures, biological activity and chemical
weathering are also retarded. Soils here also tend to be shallower than those at lower
elevations. Due to the Massenerhebung (mass elevation) effect, the upper montane forest
develops at lower elevations on isolated peaks, e.g. G. Belumut (770 m), G. Ledang (753 m)
and G. Jerai (915 m) and on such sites, lower montane forest may not be prominent.
The forest canopy is about 1.5–18 m high, attened and compact, comprised of a single
tree layer and the ground ora (Fig. 1). Emergent trees are usually absent. Tree trunks are
often crooked and gnarled, often without buttresses. Leaves of trees and shrubs are often
microphylls, pinnate leaves are very rare, and cauli ory is absent. Lianas are absent, bole
climbers are very few, but in contrast the tree trunks are covered by bryophytes (mostly by
leafy liverworts), lichens and vascular epiphytes, particularly orchids and ferns. The forest
oor is thickly covered by mosses (for example Sphagnum) or by leafy liverworts.
The more common tree families in this vegetation type include Araliaceae, Araucariaceae,
Clethraceae, Cunoniaceae, Ericaceae, Fagaceae, Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Pentaphylacaceae,
Podocarpaceae, Sapindaceae, Symplocaceae and Theaceae and the more common species
include trees like Dacrydium ( Podocarpaceae), Daphniphyllum ( Daphniphyllaceae), Eurya
( Theaceae), Ficus ( Moraceae), Gordonia (Theaceae), Ilex, Leptospermum ( Myrtaceae),
Lindera ( Lauraceae), Lithocarpus, Melicope ( Rutaceae), Podocarpus, Prunus ( Rosaceae),
Quercus, Syzygium, Schima, Ternstroemia ( Ternstroemiaceae), Tristaniopsis (Myrtaceae) and
Weinmannia fraxinea (Cunoniaceae); climbers like Crawfurdia (Gentianaceae), Frecynetia
( Pandanaceae), Nepenthes ( Nepenthaceae) and Rubus ( Rosaceae), and shrubs, such as species
of Rhododendron and Vaccinium ( Ericaceae), and herbs like Argostemma ( Rubiaceae),
Ophiorrhiza ( Rubiaceae); Piper ( Piperaceae), Psychotria ( Rubiaceae) and terrestrial orchids,
e.g., Corybas (Chua & Saw, 2001; Stone, 1981). Palms, although not diverse, in some areas
dominate the forest oor, e.g., Pinanga perakensis and P. polymorpha, but rattan species are
not common although a few species are upper montane forests specialists, e.g., Calamus
viridispinus. Tree ferns ( Cyathea, Cyatheaceae) are conspicuous. In some mountain areas,
as in lower montane forests, some scrambling-bamboos, such as Holttumochloa magica
( Gramineae), may dominate summits and ridges. Pandanaceae can also be very common, in
Peninsular Malaysia for example, Pandanus klossii, a tree pandan is very much a component
of the montane vegetation. Epiphytes too are particularly diverse in this habitat with ferns,
including lmy ferns and species of Grammatidaceae and a great variety of orchid species.
Within this forest formation, there is also a shorter facies on the more exposed ridges and
crests called the el n or mossy forest (Stone, 1981). Trees here are even shorter, more stunted
and gnarled on exposed summits and ridges than in valleys and gullies where trees can be
better formed and taller. However, species composition is about the same but with some
shift in dominance of speci c species (e.g., on Ulu Kali greater abundance of Dacrydium
comosum, Leptospermum and Nepenthes and lacking Pandanus klossii).
Edaphic Vegetation Formations
Heath vegetation
Heath vegetation forms over sandstone or over raised sandy sea beaches, the latter known as
permatang (Wyatt-Smith, 1963) and these old raised sandy sea beaches often run parallel to
the sea coast (Plate 3D). The soils are derived from siliceous parent material that is inherently
poor in bases, highly acidic, lacking buffering capacity due to a shortage of sesquioxides, and
are also commonly coarsely textured. A thin peat layer may form above the podzolic soil. The
soils become temporarily waterlogged after heavy rain. Rivers draining heath forests, e.g.,
Sg. Tahan, are tea-coloured owing to the presence of organic colloids. They are usually acidic
(pH < 5.5) and with low oxygen content.
The heath forest is very simple in structure in comparison to the lowland forest formations.
From aerial photographs, the at canopy is highly distinctive owing to its pale tone and its
very ne texture, the result of tree-crown structure and small leaf size. The main storey
comprises large saplings and small poles in a tidy and orderly manner, often in dense stands.
The main canopy is low and variable depending on the depth of the soil and availability of
water, but in areas with more developed soils it can be over 25 m tall. It is also uniform and
usually densely closed with no trace of layering. Single emergents may occur and usually
indicate extreme site conditions. There are more trees with microphylls than mesophylls and
many leaves are distinctly sclerophyllous. Trees of large diameter are rare; buttresses are
smaller, but stilt roots more common. Deciduous species are absent. Big woody climbers
(including climbing palms) are rare but slender, wiry, independent climbers are frequent.
Epiphytes are frequent. Due to the very poor nutrient availability, myrmecophytes (ant
plants) and insectivorous plants are abundant especially in the more open and stunted heath
forest. The ground cover may have a bryophyte layer. In areas where soils are thin, shrub
vegetation (padang) only a few metres tall dominates and on extremely shallow soils with
constant water-logging, the vegetation consists of only sedges and low shrubs.
Species in heath forest are different from forests at a similar altitude with perhaps less
than half the species in common. Although species diversity is much lower than in the lowland
forests, it is nevertheless species rich. For example, in Sarawak where this forest type is called
kerangas forests, Brunig (1974) recorded altogether 849 tree species, 133 shrubs, 96 herbs,
100 epiphytes and 55 lianas. In Peninsular Malaysia, the raised sandy coastal heath occurs
mainly in the East Coast and in a small area on the West Coast in Perak at Tanjong Hantu FR,
Dindings. Some of the larger and more common trees found in the coastal heath forests include
Gluta spp., Hopea grif thii, H. semicuneata, Irvingia malayana ( Irvingiaceae), Madhuca
utilis ( Sapotaceae), Mesua ferrea ( Guttiferae), Sindora echinocalyx and Shorea materialis.
Pole-sized trees include Eurycoma longifolia ( Simaroubaceae), Garcinia hombroniana, G.
nigrolineata, Guioa spp. ( Sapindaceae), Morella esculenta ( Myricaceae), Syzygium spp.,
Tristaniopsis obovata ( Myrtaceae) and Vitex pinnata. Most of the heath vegetation on the
East Coast has been destroyed by burning and open grazing. Only two small semi-natural
stands remain at Jambu Bongkok FR and Menchali FR, Terengganu.
Heath forests in Peninsular Malaysia, associated with sandstone massifs on sandstone
outcrops or plateaux are found on a number of coastal mountain outcrops, all of these are
outside of the Main Range. These include mountain peaks in the Endau-Rompin State Park
(Johor-Pahang boundary, Plate 4A), G. Ledang and G. Panti, Johor, and G. Jerai, Kedah, and
the most prominent of all, the padang on G. Tahan, Pahang (Plate 4B), right in the heart of
Peninsular Malaysia (Wong et al., 1987; Ridley, 1915; Soepadmo, 1971). In Terengganu, the
sandstone massifs do not form plateaux but are common on some of the coastal hill ridges,
e.g., Bt. Bauk. When the sandstone formation extends into higher elevations, the montane
ora extends to lower elevations. In many respects, the upper montane and heath forest have
many features of structure and physiognomy in common (Whitmore, 1984). Both have pole-
sized trees, even forest canopy and similar species composition. These heath formations on
sandstone massifs are more similar to those found in Borneo than those of the coastal sandy
heath. There is also greater variation in the forest or vegetation structure than is seen in the
coastal heath formation, mainly due to greater variations in soil depth and microhabitats
of gullies, hillocks and ridges. In the Endau-Rompin Park, for example, common species
found there include Calophyllum spp., Cotylelobium lanceolatum ( Dipterocarpaceae), Gluta
aptera, Leptospermum javanica and Tristaniopsis merguensis. Ground vegetation includes
Leucopogon malayanus ( Ericaceae), and the ferns Dipteris conjugata ( Dipteridaceae),
Matonia pectinata ( Matoniaceae), Gleichenia microphylla ( Gleicheniaceae) and Sticherus
( Gleicheniaceae) (Wong et al., 1987). At about 1,500 to 2,000 m, the padang vegetation at G.
Tahan comprises many species from the upper montane forest. On these padangs, there are
many facies of heath ranging from windswept Leptospermum 30–60 cm tall on open areas of
rock with crevices shallow soil, to 3–5 m tall in gullies, and up to 15 m along streams.
Finally, a particular facies of the sandstone-derived heath is the gregarious stands of
Livistona endauensis found just edging the heath forest on the sandstone massif of Endau-
Rompin (Wong et al., 1987) and coastal hill forest in the south Terengganu hills. These
Livistona palm forests (Plate 4C) occur on ridges on better drained soils of the sandstone
massif, but where they are found on the margins of the heath forest they occur in lower
Limestone forests
In Peninsular Malaysia, limestone hills are mostly found in the north in Perlis, Kedah
(including the Langkawi Islands), Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Perak and Selangor (Chin,
1977). The southernmost one in Johor is so small that it is shaded by the tree canopy.
In Peninsular Malaysia, limestone outcrops occur in lowland areas. The limestone tower
karsts have a diversity of habitats and soils. The structure and physiognomy of the vegetation
on the limestone hill depends on the microhabitats and develops from a combination of
the soils, substrate and climate (Plate 4D). Around the base of the hills and in ravines, the
accumulated alluvial soils are base-rich and fertile and often will support large trees of the
neighbouring forests up to 30 m tall; the rocky substrate near the base of the hill supports
mainly pole-sized trees interspersed by larger trees. In sheltered areas, in a microhabitat of
high humidity, lush herbaceous plants are common, e.g. aroids, gesneriads, begonias, balsams
and terrestrial orchids. Further up the slope are the sheer cliffs, where soil accumulate in
cracks and crevices and a few pole-sized trees, strangling gs and shrubs can root. On the
summit, a deep mat of peat-like humus sometimes develops held together by tree roots which
anchor them onto the limestone. The summit vegetation has a structure similar to that of
heath forest. Trees are frequently microphyllous and cauli ory and rami ory are rare (Wyatt-
Smith, 1963).
Limestone communities comprise distinct oras. Over 1,200 species of plants have
been recorded on the limestone hills of Peninsular Malaysia of which a large number are
endemic (about 21% of the limestone ora) and a small proportion strictly calcicole (at
least 125 species or about 10% of the limestone ora) thereby being restricted to limestone
(Chin, 1977). Common trees and shrubs include Cleidion spici orum and species of
Bridelia and Cleistanthus ( Euphorbiaceae), Callicarpa angustifolia ( Labiatae), Dehaasia
pauci ora ( Lauraceae), Pentaspadon curtisii ( Anacardiaceae), Podocarpus polystachyus
and species of Buxus ( Buxaceae), Diospyros ( Ebenaceae), Ficus and Schef era ( Araliaceae),
etc. Dipterocarps are uncommon on limestone hills, although Shorea glauca and Hopea
bilitonensis have been recorded. The most characteristic plants of the limestone vegetation
are the small herbs and rock-face species e.g., species of Impatiens ( Balsaminaceae) and
Gesneriaceae ( Chirita, Epithema, Monophyllaea and Paraboea). Pandanus species are also
common. Orchids are particularly rich on limestone hills, both as epiphytes and as calcicoles,
such as Paphiopedilum niveum, and species of Bulbophyllum, Calanthe and Cleisostoma. In
Langkawi Island, Perlis and Perak, the strictly calcicole cycad, Cycas clivicola ( Cycadaceae),
is common on the summit clinging precariously in crevices of cliffs. On Kelantan limestone,
Cycas macrocarpa is common on hills, where it occurs mainly in crevices where there
is accumulation of soil. A number of palm species are restricted to limestone hills; these
include two species of Maxburretia, M. rupicola (endemic to the Bt. Takun and Batu Caves,
Selangor) and M. graciles (on limestone hills of Langkawi Island and Perlis), and Licuala
kingiana (Perak). Following disturbance, the palms Arenga westerhoutii and Caryota mitis
often dominate the lower slopes of the limestone hills.
Beach vegetation
Beach vegetation forms above the high tide zone (Plate 5A). Two kinds of beach vegetation
are recognised. One is on accreting coasts where new sand is deposited and plant cover often
consists of low herbaceous creeping plants (the pes-caprae association so-called because
Ipomoea pes-caprae, Convolvulaceae is particularly common). The other is inland where
shrubs give way to a tree community with simple canopy structure of generally medium-
sized trees, mainly with mesophylls. Here climbers are common but large lianas are rare, and
herbs are generally lacking.
Along the accreting sandy beaches Casuarina equisetifolia ( Casuarinaceae) is the
predominant species succeeded by Calophyllum inophyllum, Cycas litoralis, Dendrolobium
umbellatum, Erythrina variegata and Peltophorum pterocarpum ( Leguminosae), Podocarpus
polystachyus, Syzygium grande, Pandanus odoratissimus, Pouteria obovata ( Sapotaceae),
Scaevola taccada ( Goodeniaceae) and Terminalia catappa ( Combretaceae). Between the tree
belt and the high tide mark, there is usually a narrow herbaceous community of Canavalia
cathartica and Vigna marina ( Leguminosae), Cyperus stoloniferus and Remirea maritime
( Cyperaceae), Euphorbia atoto ( Euphorbiaceae), Ipomoea pes-caprae subsp. brasiliensis,
Ischaemum muticum and Spinifex littoreus ( Gramineae) with Vitex trifolia subsp. littoralis as
a common creeping shrub and scrambler (Wyatt-Smith, 1963).
Along the receding and gravel beaches, notably on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia,
the herbaceous community and usually also the Casuarina equisetifolia fringe are absent. In
these cases, the littoral or strand forest consists of a narrow, often single belt of trees which
includes Barringtonia asiatica ( Lecythidaceae), Calophyllum inophyllum, Cerbera manghas
( Apocynaceae), Dendrolobium umbellatum, Guettarda speciosa ( Rubiaceae), Hernandia
nymphiifolia ( Hernandiaceae), Hibiscus tiliaceus and Thespesia populnea ( Malvaceae),
Pongamia pinnata and Sophora tomentosa ( Leguminosae), Scaevola taccada, Syzygium
grande and Terminalia catappa. Herbaceous plants such as Tacca leontopetaloides and
Crinum asiaticum ( Amaryllidaceae) can be quite common.
The beach vegetation of small coastal islands is no different from those found on the
mainland. However, many of the smaller islands tend to be very rocky and the absence of
sandy beaches results in the absence of sandy beach vegetation (Wyatt-Smith, 1953; Corner,
1985). Inland on larger islands, relics of the original vegetation remain but sometimes a
few species may dominate due to lack of competition. Overall species diversity is reduced
compared to the mainland vegetation. Species such as Pisonia grandis ( Nyctaginaceae) and
many strangling Ficus are particularly common on these islands (Corner, 1985). On some of
the East Coast islands, on the side facing the east exposed to the north-east monsoon, wind-
pruned vegetation is common where the annual strong winds shear off the vegetation at the
beach fronts. Sometimes, the plants possess a peculiar oblique, condensed, one-sided habit,
often gnarled, all about the same height, very short, sometimes less than a metre near the
beach and progressively taller inland, for example on Redang Island, Terengganu.
Marine alluvial (mangrove) swamp forests
The mangrove swamp forest grows on muddy shores, lagoons and muddy estuaries of tidal
rivers (Plate 6A). Mangroves fringe a large extent of the West Coast coastline especially in
Perak, of which the Matang mangrove is the largest, followed by those in Johor and Selangor.
On the East Coast, the annual monsoons prevent development of large areas of muddy shores
in many of the rivers draining out to the South China Sea. Mangroves here are con ned to
sheltered river mouths and estuaries.
Soils range from sandy to ne, newly deposited silt and heavy clay. The forest structure
is very simple, 5–25 m tall in height depending on the community with a comparatively
even and unbroken canopy with a very species-poor understorey layer. Trees with special
breathing roots (pneumatophores) or stilt roots are common. Leaves are mesophylls,
cauli ory and rami ory are absent, viviparous germination is common. Large lianas and
climbers are absent.
About 60 tree species are recorded from the mangrove swamps of Peninsular Malaysia,
making it one of the richest in the world (Saenger et al., 1983) in part due to the range
of ecotypes in a complex zonation of different communities (Watson, 1928). Thus Ceriops
decandra ( Rhizophoraceae), Avicennia alba and A. rumphiana ( Avicenniaceae) are pioneer
species on stiff clay and in the less sheltered parts of the river; Avicennia marina and Bruguiera
cylindrica ( Rhizophoraceae) form almost pure stands on stiff clay; Rhizophora apiculata
(Rhizophoraceae) lines the banks of creeks in almost pure stands with a mix of Bruguiera
parvi ora and Rhizophora mucronata while species further inland include Brownlowia
argentata ( Malvaceae), Bruguiera sexangula, B. gymnorhiza (Plate 6B), B. hainesii, Heritiera
littoralis ( Malvaceae), Intsia bijuga ( Leguminosae), Xylocarpus granatum ( Meliaceae),
Oncosperma tigillarium (a palm that often forms groves) and the ferns Acrostichum aureum
and A. speciosum (Parkeriaceae).
Brackish water vegetation
On the inland edge of mangrove and the upper tidal limit of estuaries, brackish water
vegetation forms. The soils here are predominantly heavy alluvial clay. Structure is very
simple consisting of stands of Nypa palm and associated communities. Pure stands of Nypa
fruticans ( Palmae) are common in Peninsular Malaysia, while Phoenix paludosa (Palmae)
grows in some areas just behind the Nypa stands on drier ground that is still subject to periodic
ooding (Plate 6C). In some areas, Livistona saribus (Palmae) grows in almost pure stands
just behind the Nypa stand (e.g. in Kemaman, Terengganu) and also extends further inland
into freshwater swamp habitats. Other species include Artocarpus teysmannii ( Moraceae),
Brownlowia argentata, Cerbera odollam, Excoecaria agallocha (Euphorbiaceae), Ficus
microcarpa, Intsia bijuga and the palm Oncosperma tigillarium. The large climbing rattan,
Calamus erinaceus, is also a distinctive feature of this vegetation type.
As for all types of swamp forest, the brackish water habitat in recent years is highly
threatened by development especially in areas that are close to urban centres. For example,
the Phoenix paludosa stands on both the East (Paka, Terengganu) and West Coasts (Yan,
Kedah and Butterworth, Penang) have mostly been destroyed.
Peat swamp forests
The peat swamp forests develop in areas that are permanently water-logged and where the
incoming water is from rain, i.e., it is mineral de cient. The peat soils can vary in depth from
a few to about seven or more metres deep and because of the waterlogged conditions they are
anaerobic. The water in drainage channels is almost black in appearance and is always very
acidic. Well-developed peat swamp is usually characterised by a domed or convex surface,
consequently ooding by adjacent rivers is only restricted to the margins. The peat consists
of dark reddish-brown to black, semi-decomposed leaves, branches, twigs and tree trunks.
The underlying material over which peat deposits accumulate consists of either sulphidic
marine clay or riverine alluvium and sand. Peat swamp forests are found in SE Pahang, Johor,
Selangor and Perak and are now highly threatened by development, particularly by draining
and clearing for pineapple or oil palm plantations.
These forests have a three-layered tree structure with emergent, middle and understorey
trees. Stem density is high with smaller sized trees compared to those of the lowland dipterocarp
forests. Trees often have stilt and aerial roots, while some have spreading buttresses. Leaves
are mainly mesophylls, pinnate leaves are occasional. The ground vegetation is poor often
consisting of seedlings of the trees but including Pandanus species and groves of the palm,
Eleiodoxa conferta ( Palmae). Large climbers are rare.
Peat swamp forests in Sabah and Sarawak are more developed than in Peninsular
Malaysia. In Sarawak, there exists a catena of forests from the edge to the centre of each
peat swamp. Anderson (1963, 1964) divided these into six types that are distinct in structure
and physiognomy. Such differentiation is not very obvious in the peat swamp forests of
Peninsular Malaysia.
Only relatively few species are speci c to the peat swamp forest habitat, e.g., Gonystylus
bancanus ( Thymelaeaceae), Shorea platycarpa, S. uliginosa and the sealing wax palm,
Cyrtostachys renda (Palmae). However, a large number of species from the inland forests
extend into this habitat. This may be due to the relatively young age of the peat swamp
forests, less than 11,000 years (Whitmore, 1984). Anderson (1963) recorded only 317 species
of owering plants in this forest type in Sarawak and Brunei. Among the tree species found
in the peat swamp forests in Peninsular Malaysia are Austrobuxus nitidus ( Picrodendraceae),
Blumeodendron subrotundifolium ( Euphorbiaceae), Bhesa paniculata ( Celastraceae),
Campnosperma auriculatum and C. coriaceum ( Anacardiaceae), Cratoxylum arborescens,
Diospyros maingayi, Durio carinatus ( Malvaceae), Ficus spp., Gonystylus bancanus,
Koompassia malaccensis, Lophopetalum multinervium (Celastraceae), Litsea grandis,
Myristica gigantea ( Myristicaceae), Nephelium maingayi ( Sapindaceae), Parastemon
urophyllus ( Chrysobalanaceae), Pouteria maingayi, Polyalthia glauca and P. sclerophylla
( Annonaceae), Pometia pinnata ( Sapindaceae), Shorea platycarpa, S. teysmaniana, S.
uliginosa and Stemonurus scorpioides ( Icacinaceae) (Ng & Shamsudin 2001; Wyatt-
Smith1963). In disturbed areas or logged-over areas, Macaranga pruinosa ( Euphorbiaceae)
and Cratoxylum arborescens can form pure stands. Palms, such as Cyrtostachys renda and
Eleiodoxa conferta, can be common. The only dominant rattan found in this swamp forest is
Korthalsia agellaris.
Freshwater swamp forest
Freshwater swamp forest develops over soil that is subject to regular to occasional ooding
from river systems. Flooding can occur each day or monthly instead of seasonally, by the
backing-up of river water at high tide. The uctuating water level thus allows periodic drying
of the soil surface. The alluvial soils are overlain by a few centimetres of peat or muck but
are inundated by mineral-rich freshwater of fairly high pH (6 and above). Such swamps occur
mainly at sea level but can occur at higher elevations where conditions for swamp formation
in river systems are suitable. The freshwater swamp forest is found in ood plains throughout
the country that are subjected to regular ooding. Such habitats are similar to the brackish
swamp forest in being highly threatened by development in recent years. Much of the
freshwater swamp forest of south Johor and Singapore described by Corner (1978) is already
destroyed due to development and conversion to oil palm plantations. The freshwater swamp
forest of Lumut district, Perak, that contains some of the rarest trees (e.g., Dipterocarpus
semivestitus and Vatica avida) are now con ned to remnant areas.
The freshwater swamp forest is a heterogeneous community, varying from low scrub with
scattered 20–30 m tall trees to a forest similar to that of peat swamp forest. Where ooding
is brief, the forest approaches the lowland dipterocarp forest in structure and composition.
Stilt roots, knee roots and plank-like sinuous buttresses are common features of some tree
species found here. Often such forest may be dominated by thickets of the spiny clustered
palm Eleiodoxa conferta. In the permanently ooded areas submerged plants, like species of
Cryptocoryne ( Araceae), may form colonies.
Common tree species include Alstonia spatulata ( Apocynaceae), Artocarpus teysmannii,
Calophyllum spp., Campnosperma spp. (in particular C. coriaceum), Castanopsis spp.,
Dialium spp., Dillenia reticulata, Dipterocarpus costulatus, D. oblongifolius, Dryobalanops
oblongifolia, Ficus spp., Hopea mengarawan, Ilex cymosa, Intsia palembanica, Koompassia
malaccensis, Lophopetalum spp., Madhuca spp., Gluta spp., Mezzettia spp. ( Annonaceae),
Ochreinauclea maingayi ( Rubiaceae), Palaquium spp., Parastemon urophyllus, Pometia
pinnata, Shorea hemsleyana, S. macrantha, S. platycarpa, S. bentongensis, Sindora
wallichii, Syzygium spp., Tristaniopsis spp., Vatica lobata and V. pauci ora. Often a number
of large palms are also common, most noticeable are the two endemic palms, Pholidocarpus
kingianus and P. macrocarpus (Plate 6D). In some areas, there can be colonies of Livistona
saribus in swamp vegetation edging rivers.
Corner (1978) listed a number of belts of swamp vegetation communities, each with their
dominant species. He used the vernacular names of the dominant group so that the putat-belt,
inland just behind the brackish water forests in the tidal freshwater zone, is characterized
by Barringtonia conoidea, B. racemosa and B. acutangula. It sometimes forms thickets on
incipient mud-banks. The rassau-belt follows behind the putat-belt as the mud band widens
and is dominated by the rassau tree pandan, Pandanus helicopus (Plate 5B) together with
Gluta velutina. The belt with Polyalthia sclerophylla ( mempisang), Elaeocarpus macrocerus
and Hors eldia irya ( Myristicaceae) follows behind the rassau-belt as the rst formation
on the stabilised mud banks that are limited to the freshwater tidal region. The jejawi-belt,
characterized by Ficus microcarpa ( jejawi), grows behind the rassau and mempisang belts
and are chie y in the lower and variably brackish region. The pelawan belt is dominated
by Tristaniopsis whiteana ( pelawan) that occupies the rm, raised river-banks especially
in the freshwater tidal zone. Finally the banks of tributaries under the forest canopy are
saraca-streams fringed by Saraca cauli ora ( Leguminosae) with Pentaspadon motleyi
( Anacardiaceae) and various dipterocarps.
Riparian vegetation
The riparian community is rather complex because it is a mix of plant associations depending
on the size of the stream or river, ow of the water current, and the substrate of the stream
or river bank. The nypa-rassau-saraca stream communities have been described above. The
upper reaches of streams in steep terrain are often rocky. The periodic ooding of the banks
of larger streams by the fast owing water current washes away loose soil and even large
stones, leaving behind large boulders breaking the torrential ow. As the stream drains to
gentler slopes, it widens with the greater volume of water and a mix of rocky boulder banks
and banks with sandy or pebbled deposits create different habitats. Often larger streams and
rivers cut into the terrain resulting in earth banks, an additional habitat for plants. As the
stream meanders into yet gentler terrain, some areas may even ow into fresh water swamps
as described earlier. Ultimately, the river joins the larger river system that drains into the
other brackish water and mangrove swamps and eventually into the sea.
Rheophytes, plant species that grow in and by torrential rivers, show remarkable
similarities in habit and morphology that allow them to adapt to the strong water current
(van Steenis, 1981). For example, they are rmly anchored to the river bed, bank, rocks
or rapids by strong deep roots; their leaves are either small or substantially dissected or
frequently narrow to linear, and they produce basal shoots easily and often have a tufted habit.
Examples of rheophytes that grow on the rocky banks and spits of the Sg. Tahan, Pahang,
include Aglaia yzermannii ( Meliaceae), Antidesma salicinum ( Phyllanthaceae), Calophyllum
rupicola, Dysoxylum angustifolium ( Meliaceae), Ficus pyroliformis and Homonoia riparia
( Euphorbiaceae) (Whitmore, 1984). Piptospatha ( Araceae) that grows on rocks in torrential
saraca streams is an example of an herbaceous rheophyte.
A common river bank dipterocarp is the neram ( Dipterocarpus oblongifolius), a species
restricted mainly to the rivers east of the Main Range (Corner, 1978). Its adaptation to the
riparian environment is seen in its water-dispersed fruits, and the seedlings and saplings that
have narrow, linear leaves whereas the adult trees have the typical elliptic leaves of other
Dipterocarpus. Due to the lower canopy and moister environment, epiphytes are particularly
rich on river-bank trees, for example, Henderson (1935) recorded at least 87 species of
epiphytes (mostly orchids and ferns) on a single tree of D. oblongifolius.
Other common riverine species include Saraca cauli ora, S. declinata, Tristaniopsis
whiteana, species of Meliaceae, Syzygium salictoides, Neonauclea pallida subsp. malaccensis
( Rubiaceae), and herbs such as, Croton caudatus, C. rheophyticus ( Euphorbiaceae) and
Hedyotis rivalis ( Rubiaceae), and on earth banks, species of Araceae, such as, Schismatoglottis
and Rhaphidophora beccarii. In many places the pandan, Pandanus monotheca, and the fern,
Dipteris lobbiana ( Dipteridaceae) line the water’s edge (Plate 7A) in both shady and more
exposed areas (Wong et al., 1987). Submerged in the slow- owing streams, Cryptocoryne
(Araceae) and Barclaya ( Nymphaeaceae) species sometimes form carpets on the stream bed.
Finally a number of herbaceous species specialise in growing on the boulders as
lithophytes. Some of these are actually delicate plants that cannot survive the ooding and
water currents. They, however, grow on the rock face facing away from the stream ow or
on sheltered rock faces high above the regular ood level (Kiew, 2005). Many species of
Begoniaceae, Gesneriaceae and some ferns are such specialists.
Other Aquatic Vegetation
Aquatic vegetation in natural lakes
There are only two large natural lakes in Peninsular Malaysia, Tasik Bera and Tasik Chini
both in Pahang. Tasik Bera is the larger of the two lakes covering 6,150 ha while Tasik Chini
has only 902 ha of open water and swamp (Plate 7B). Both these lakes are connected to the
Sg. Pahang and experience counter ows into the lakes during high waters of the Sg. Pahang.
In recent years, large parts of the lakes dry up completely during dry periods (Ra dah et al.,
The aquatic vegetation of both lakes is very similar. Tasik Bera is composed of four
major habitat types (Lim et al., 1982; Ra dah et al., 2010): (i) the open water with oating
Utricularia punctata ( Lentibulariaceae), the submerged Blyxa aubertii var. echinosperma
( Hydrocharitaceae) and Hydrilla verticillata ( Hydrocharitaceae) and around the margin by
Nymphoides indica ( Menyanthaceae) and Nymphaea pubescens ( Nymphaeaceae) that root in
the mud but have oating leaves; (ii) the Lepironia articulata ( Cyperaceae) reed swamp with
Eleocharis ochrostachys ( Cyperaceae) and other sedges; (iii) the rassau fringe of Pandanus
helicopus that dominates the lake and stream margins; and (iv) the Syzygium swamp-forest
stands that are basically freshwater swamp.
In the past, Tasik Chini was subjected to great water level changes that favoured lotus,
Nelumbo nucifera ( Nelumbonaceae) for which the lake became famous but the aquatic ora of
Tasik Chini has altered greatly since 1995, when a dam was built across Sg. Chini effectively
preventing changes in water level. This led to the drowning of the Syzygium swamp-forest
and the drastic decline of the lotus population (Gregory, 2006). Then the S American water
weed, Cabomba furcata ( Cabombaceae), was introduced and with the sewage ef uent from
resort development it has proliferated out of control at the expense of native species like
Utricularia (Chew & Siti-Munirah, 2010).
Seagrass beds
Seagrasses are the only owering plant group that live in seawater. They are, however, only
found in sheltered coastal waters in association with shallow inter-tidal pools, semi-enclosed
lagoons, coral reef ats and also sub-tidal zones (Japar Sidik et al., 2006; Phang, 2000; den
Hartog, 1970). The inter-tidal seagrass community is not entirely submerged, but is inundated
twice daily with the rise of the tides. In general, coastal areas between mangroves and corals
(from the low tide level to the coral fringe) form the habitat for seagrasses. There are 14
species recorded for Peninsular Malaysia (Japar Sidik et al., 2006; Phang, 2000) in three
families: Cymodoceaceae ( Cymodocea, Halodule, Syringodium, and Thalassodendron);
Hydocharitaceae ( Enhalus, Halophila, and Thalassia); and Ruppiaceae ( Ruppia). Ruppia
and Thalassodendron are less common because they are inland species fringing into brackish
waters. Japar Sidik et al. (2006) reported 78 seagrass beds scattered throughout Malaysia.
The most important areas are found off the south and east coasts of Peninsular Malaysia
where the coast is least urbanised.
Other Vegetation Types
Quartzite vegetation
About two- fths of Peninsular Malaysia consists of granitic rocks (Tjia, 1988). Within the
granitic terrain, quartzite ridges occasionally protrude as exposed sheer cliffs. On such quartz
dykes and quartzite outcrops, mineral soil is often very thin and nutrient poor, soil moisture
is extremely low and dry humus or peat generally develops over a shallowly sandy soil. The
largest is the Klang Gates quartz dyke (Plate 8B), 16 km long and jutting some 200 m above
the surrounding plain northeast of Kuala Lumpur (Tjia, 1988).
The vegetation structure varies considerably, depending on the habitat. At its base, the
vegetation is that of the lowland evergreen rainforest formation and associated community.
On exposed rocks, the vegetation comprises mainly shrubs, sedges and grasses. In sheltered
valleys and shaded gullies where soils are deeper pole-sized trees can be common. The
dominant plants on the exposed ridge of Klang Gates include shrubs and trees of Aleisanthia
rupestris ( Rubiaceae), Baeckea frutescens ( Myrtaceae, Plate 8C), Eurycoma longifolia, Ficus
deltoidea, Ilex praetermissa, Rhodoleia championii ( Hamamelidaceae), and the endemic
grass Eulalia milsumii ( Gramineae). In shaded sites, often under trees, ferns such as Davallia
denticulata and D. heterophylla ( Davalliaceae), Oleandra pistillaris ( Oleandraceae) and
Syngramma dayi ( Adiantaceae) may be common (Kiew, 1982). Other interesting plants
include Acrymia ajugi ora ( Labiatae), Parastemon urophyllus ( Chrysobalanaceae), Begonia
sinuata ( Begoniaceae), Henckelia primulina, Capparis versicolor ( Capparaceae), Vaccinium
bancanum ( Ericaceae), Fagraea auriculata and Rhododendron longi orum. In total, Kiew
(1982) recorded 175 species on the Klang Gates, of which, 6 species are endemic to this
Disturbed vegetation and regenerated forests
Primary or virgin forest areas that remain relatively undisturbed are areas under National/
State Parks and Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries. These areas constitute only about 6.8% of
the total land area in Peninsular Malaysia (Table 1). Forest areas under the jurisdiction of
the Forest Department are managed under a sustainable management system. In Peninsular
Malaysia, forest areas are designated as protection or production forests. Production forest
in Peninsular Malaysia constitutes about 2.8 million ha (about 21.3% of the land area in
Peninsular Malaysia or just over half the forested area) and most of these forest areas have
since been logged at least once (Chin et al., 1997). The protection forest covers about 1.9
million ha or about 14.4% of land area (Table 1).
The lowland dipterocarp forests have suffered the greatest decline from land clearing
activities. Their original range covered about 69.4% of the total land area in Peninsular
Malaysia, but is now reduced to 28.3%, lost mainly to agriculture, mining and urbanisation.
Forest areas in Peninsular Malaysia are now con ned mainly to land above 300 m elevation.
With production forest in the hills, the more dif cult terrain has resulted in more challenging
forest management conditions. During logging operations there is greater damage resulting in
over 50% of the trees being uprooted or with broken trunks, lopped crowns, broken branches,
gashes along trunks or torn roots (Wan Mohd. Shukri et al., 2005, 2006, 2007). This has
resulted in second growth forests being highly variable and the stands skewed towards non-
dipterocarps (Appanah, 2000). Studies now indicate that recovery of the second growth
after logging is poor and not as predicted by the Selective Management System (SMS). The
clumped distribution of dipterocarps, e.g., Shorea curtisii and S. platyclados, results in greater
damage in spite of higher dbh limits put on dipterocarp extraction. Subsequently in the ensuing
harvesting cycle, there will be a shift in tree composition towards non-dipterocarps, and some
post-felling data indicate that Syzygium, Swintonia ( Anacardiaceae), Elateriospermum tapos
( Euphorbiaceae), species of Myristicaceae and Lauraceae will dominate the forest making
up to over 30% of the species composition (Wan Mohd. Shukri et al., 2005, 2006, 2007).
Bamboos ( Gigantochloa and Dendrocalamus) and some palms (e.g., Arenga obtusifolia,
A. westerhoutii, Caryota mitis and Eugeissona tristis) may become dominant in some sites
and may hinder tree regeneration. In addition, Ashton (2008) further suggested that some of
the slow growing tree species will not reproduce suf ciently to sustain numbers being cut
before reaching reproductive size. This will result or has resulted in a decline in the heavy
hardwoods in the long-term in these managed forests. It is likely that in the future primary
indigenous vegetation types will exist only in the totally protected areas.
Logging also increases the extent of the forest margin resulting in an explosion of
Macaranga within about ten years after logging (Primack & Lee, 1991), as well as the large
forest herbs like wild bananas, Musa species ( Musaceae), and gingers, such as Etlingera
species. They persist until shaded out by regenerating forest.
At the other extreme is open ground, the result of clear-felling, shifting cultivation or
abandoned cultivated land or tin-mining. Here conditions for seedling establishment are
extremely harsh with full exposure to light, heat and water stress (unless the area is water-
logged) and nutrient-poor soil, because without a protective layer of leaf litter or vegetation,
the top soil and nutrients will quickly be eroded away by heavy rain. The rst plants to
invade these areas are herbaceous weed species, such as grasses ( Gramineae), Hedyotis or
Spermacoce species ( Rubiaceae), Hyptis species ( Labiatae) or species of Compositae, and
in water-logged areas, sedges ( Cyperaceae) and Ludwigia species ( Onagraceae). Over the
years, their roots stabilise the soil and the dying leaves and stems increase soil fertility and
gradually they will be followed by a succession of woody shrubs, like senduduk Melastoma
malabathricum ( Melastomataceae), Chromolena odorata ( Compositae), Lantana camara
and Stachytarpeta species ( Verbenaceae), which if left undisturbed will after about 15 years
be succeeded by secondary forest or belukar species. Belukar species are pioneer tree species
that are light demanding, fast growing and have low canopy height compared with forest
(hutan). Species diversity is very low and almost none of these species can grow in primary
forest. Belukar (jungle) is dense with thick undergrowth and a tangle of many climbers
compared with the open undergrowth of primary forest. Common belukar tree species include
species of Adinandra, Alstonia, Archidendron ( Leguminosae), Eurya, Ficus, Glochidion
( Euphorbiaceae), Macaranga, Mallotus ( Euphorbiaceae), Neolamarckia (Rubiaceae) and
Trema ( Ulmaceae). Aggressive climbers include species of Uncaria ( Rubiaceae), Merremia
( Convolvulaceae) and the exotic Mikania species (Compositae). Once belukar forms a
complete canopy, understorey conditions are ameliorated by shade and increasing soil fertility
as a litter layer develops. Provided the belukar is suf ciently close to primary forest, forest
trees can invade and after a further 40 to 50 years, they will shade out the belukar species and
the forest will gradually return to its original state.
However, frequently this succession is interrupted, for example, by re, or is halted, for
example, by grazing. Fire encourages the growth of lalang, Imperata cylindrica ( Gramineae),
which can survive burning because its rhizome is deeply rooted. In dry weather its leaves dry
and are easily burnt and so the lalang eld is established as a re climax. Grazing and grass-
cutting along roadsides also prevents the development of the shrub layer and favours the
spread of creeping grasses such as Axonopus compressus (Gramineae) and other low-growing
herbs. Dicranopteris linearis ( Gleicheniaceae) thickets can also halt succession because they
blanket that ground and so prevent the establishment of light-demanding shrubs.
Many of the weedy herbs and shrubs are exotic species that have, in most cases, been
introduced accidentally or are garden escapes, a process that continues today (Kiew, 2009).
However, not only do these exotic species form only a small fraction of the ora (probably
less than 5% of species) but in almost all cases they are unable to compete with forest species
and cannot gain a foothold in forest. Their continued existence therefore depends on human
The forests and other natural vegetation of Peninsular Malaysia are disappearing at an
unprecedented rate. The conservation of these habitats should be given greater attention
and priority. Although Peninsular Malaysia is still about 40% under natural forest cover, the
main concern is the condition of these remaining forests. As already discussed, after timber
harvesting cycles most of these forests may not re ect the original structure and species
composition. The need to conserve all forest/vegetation types of the country is crucial if we are
to keep intact at least some representation of what nature has taken millions of years to form.
Representative conserved areas should not only be limited to just the known forest types in
restricted protected areas but should be distributed throughout the country. The current totally
protected areas as represented in National and State parks, and Wildlife sanctuaries are not
suf cient to represent such distribution. Plant distribution is not just limited by the climatic
and edaphic factors as described in this chapter. The geological past also has a tremendous
in uence on plant distribution. To conserve both the representative forest and vegetation
types in the country together with unique geographical differences in the local ora, it makes
sense to set up a conservation network throughout the country. For forests, relatively small
areas of good forests even if they have been previously logged, can conserve important
representation of the former forest types and local species variation. A major conservation aid
towards this end will be for all forest reserves in the country to have within the reserves, areas
identi ed for conservation purposes. Such ideas were already implemented under the Virgin
Jungle Reserve system (Wyatt-Smith, 1963). Where virgin areas are lacking, good patches of
logged-over forests can provide such a function. The initiation of High Conservation Value
Forest in recent years under the forest certi cation scheme can be used for this purpose. It
is, however, imperative that identi cation of such sites be done quickly and steps taken to
protect the remaining sites that are suitable for conservation.
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L.G. Saw
Plate 1. A, lowland dipterocarp forest, Endau-Rompin State Park. B, hill dipterocarp forest,
Maxwell Hill, the glaucous crowns on the ridges are Shorea curtisii.
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
Plate 2. A, semi-evergreen forest, Machinchang FR, Langkawi. B, lower montane forest,
Fraser’s Hill.
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M.Y. Chew
Plate 3. A, lowland dipterocarp forest, Pasoh FR, note the emergents and middle canopy
layer. B, upper montane forest, G. Brinchang, Cameron Highlands. Rhododendron wrayi
with white blooms (foreground) and thickets of bamboo, Holttumochloa magica. C, stands
of Livistona speciosa on ridges of upper hill dipterocarp forest. D, heath vegetation on raised
sandbanks, Jambu Bongkok, Terengganu.
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
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M.Y Chew
Plate 4. A, heath vegetation on sandstone, Endau-Rompin State Park. B, heath vegetation,
G. Tahan. C, Livistona endauensis stand on sandstone massif, Endau Rompin State Park. D,
limestone hill, Batu Caves.
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
M.Y Chew
Plate 5. A, beach vegetation, Langkawi. B, freshwater swamp forest, rassau (Pandanus
M.Y Chew
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
Plate 6. A, mangrove forest, stand of Rhizophora apiculata, Matang FR. B, mangrove forest,
stand of Bruguiera gymnorhiza, Tioman Island. C, brackish water vegetation, Nypa fruticans
in the foreground, Phoenix paludosa in the background, Marang, Terengganu. D, freshwater
swamp forest, Pholidocarpus kingianus, Seri Iskandar, Perak.
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
L.G. Saw
Plate 7. A, riparian vegetation, rheophytes on stream banks. B, aquatic vegetation in natural
lake, Tasik Chini.
M.Y Chew
L.G. Saw
Plate 8. A, Syzygium swamp in Tasik Bera. B, quartz ridge, Klang Gates. C, Baeckea
frutescens on quartz ridge, Klang Gates.
L.G. Saw
M.Y Chew
This research was conducted to determine tree species composition and its relationship with edaphic factors at Kota Damansara Forest Reserve (KDFR), Selangor. Ten study plots of 25 m × 20 m each were established randomly covering a total area of 0.5 ha. In each plot, all trees with diameters at breast height (DBH) of 5 cm and above were tagged and measured whilst topsoil samples at 10 cm depths were taken for their physical and chemical properties. A total of 205 trees from 46 species and 22 families were recorded in KDFR. As for species diversity, the forest showed a Shannon-Weiner Diversity Index (H’) of 3.43 and an evenness value of 0.89 which portrays the uniformity of tree species distribution in the study site. The soil analysis in this study demonstrated that KDFR was dominated by sandy clay texture with organic matter content ranging from 3.94% to 14.24% and acidic soil pH of 3.86. Redundancy analysis indicated that Cinnamomum iners, Cratoxylum arborescens, Myristica cinnamomea, and Syzygium grandis were closely related to soil chemical properties such as nutrients of Ca, P, K. Data and information from this study are crucial as a guideline for future ecological research in tropical forest areas.
Full-text available
The Asian elephant has been listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List since 1986. In Peninsular Malaysia, the elephant population continues to decline, threatened by habitat degradation. Distinguishing their potential habitats is important in mitigating the impacts of forest fragmentation. This study aimed to predict the potential habitats of elephants in the fragmented forest landscape of Ulu Jelai Forest Reserve and to identify its characteristics. Habitat suitability was evaluated using several environmental variables––elevation, slope, land use, lithology, distance to river and distance from urban areas. The results showed that the distribution of suitable habitats mainly occurred in the eastern region of the study area. Elephant habitat prediction, using maximum entropy modelling, indicated that their most suitable habitat was located in a forested area that was greatly influenced by altitude and river proximity, while urban and agricultural areas cause forest fragmentation and restricted suitability. The prediction of wildlife habitats using maximum entropy modelling is a favourable and effective tool for improving the management and conservation planning of wildlife in the region.
Full-text available
Tasek Bera is an alluvial peat swamp ecosystem located 3°5’ N, 102°38’ E in the southwest of Pahang State, and about 25.6 km from the nearest town of Bahau, in adjacent Negeri Sembilan State (Fig. 1). It measures 34.62 km at its longest and 25.28 km at its broadest point, and has an area of 61.50 km2 in a watershed measuring 613.83 km2. The watershed of this swamp lies on the plains between the main and eastern ranges of Peninsular Malaysia, within the 250 ft a.s.l. contour (Fig. 2). The plains forming this watershed are complex undulations and gently rolling hills, traversed by several small streams and rivers. The Sungai Pahang (’Sungai’ is Malay for ‘River’)-Tasek Bera complex is less than 100 ft a.s.l. The watershed is composed predominantly of argillaceous strata which weather to pale-coloured, firm, heavy textured soils representing ‘various stages of dissection of an ancient erosion surface’ (Leamy and Panton 1966).
The terms ‘rain forest’ and ‘tropical moist forest’ are often used as synonyms; although neither has a standard definition, the latter is more inclusive than the former. Schimper first used the term rain forest in 1903 (Schimper, 1903) and defined it as a forest that is “evergreen, hygrophilous in character, at least 30m high, rich in thick-stemmed lianas and in woody as well as herbaceous epiphytes”. Sixty or so years later, Baur (1964) extended this definition somewhat to “a closed community of essentially but not exclusively broadleaved evergreen hygrophilous trees, usually with two or more layers of trees and shrubs with dependent synusiae of life forms such as vines and epiphytes. It includes the characteristic vegetation of the humid tropics, even when this has a somewhat seasonal climatic regime, as well as those of moist elevated areas of the tropics”.
A brief description of this wildlife reserve in Peninsular Malaysia. Describes the vegetation, and the 6 endemic plant species, before discussing the future of the Ridge as a protected area.- R.Land
Seventeen species are reported as new weeds for Peninsular Malaysia, namely Ageratum houstonianum Mill, Crassocephalum crepidioides (Benth.) S.Moore and Tithonia diversifolia (Hemsl.) A. Gray (Compositae), Brugmansia x candida Pers. (Solanaceae), Coccinia grandis (L.) J.Voigt and Melothria pendula L. (Cucurbitaceae), Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora (Burb. & Dean) N.E.Br. (Iridaceae), Cuphea ignea A.DC. (Lythraceae), Epilobium billarderianum Sér. subsp. cinereum (A.Rich.) Raven & Engelhorn (Onagraceae), Hemigraphisprimulifolia (Nees) Fern.-ViIl. (Acanthaceae), Pennisetum polystachion (L.) Schult. (Gramineae), Polygala paniculata L. (Polygalaceae), Polygonum perfoliatum L. (Polygonaceae), Potentilla indica (Andr.) WoIf. (Rosaceae), Ranunculus cantoniensis DC. (Ranunculaceae), Richardia brasiliensis Gomez (Rubiaceae) and Saginajaponica (Sw. ex Steud.) Ohwi (Caryophyllaceae). Several others, Asystasia gangetica (L.) T.Anderson subsp. micrantha (Nees) Ensermu (Acanthaceae), Cleome rutidosperma DC. (Cleomaceae), Clinopodium gracile (Benth.) Kuntze (Labiatae), Cuphea carthagenensis (Jacq.) J.F.Macbr. (Lythraceae), Justicia procumbens L. (Acanthaceae), Oxalis corniculata L. and O. barrelieri L. (Oxalidaceae), Persicaria capitata (Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don) H.Gross (Polygonaceae), and Youngia japonica (L.) DC. (Compositae), have become widespread. Two are of particular conservation concern because they threaten native habitats: Acacia mangium Willd. (Leguminosae) is invading Trengganu heath forest and increasing fire risk to this vulnerable vegetation type, while Pennisetum polystachion, an aggressive grass, is becoming dominant on Klang Gates Ridge and endangering rare and endangered species.