Not all heroes wear capes – some wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and they can be seen walking in a park in search of seeds and fruits to conserve.
Ms Yeoh Yi Shuen, 23, is one of them, helping to conserve some of Singapore’s most precious resources.
The manager at the Native Plant Centre at the National Parks Board (NParks) spends a third of her office hours doing fieldwork, collecting fruits, seeds and propagules (parts of plants that can become detached and give rise to new plants, such as buds and spores).
The rest of her time is split between the Native Plant Nursery and Singapore Botanic Gardens, experimenting propagation methods and soil media to find ways to optimise the growth of native plants. Successfully-propagated plants are then passed to other divisions within NParks to be planted in nature reserves and parks and along the streets of Singapore.
“When people hear that I work in a nursery, they assume that I work with children,” she says, chuckling. “They do not realise that there are people who are actively involved in plant conservation in Singapore.”
Some of the unique plants that Ms Yeoh has helped propagate include rare native gingers and ginger allies,
yellow and pink purslane, and the white scorpion orchid. There is no guaranteed success in getting these plants to flower or bear fruit – she describes the collection of the seeds for propagation as “quite opportunistic”.
“We look out for signs of when the plants might be fertile and monitor them closely to collect the seeds later. We also consult our colleagues who have been in the field to see if they have spotted fertile plants.”
Banking for the future
Other than working at the Native Plant Nursery, Ms Yeoh also collects seeds of native species for Singapore’s first Seed Bank. This is where seeds are stored and conserved for the possible use of habitat restoration and species conservation projects in Singapore and the region.
One of her favourite things about working at the Seed Bank is conducting tours to educate the public on the role NParks in plant conservation.
Working amid lush greenery is a dream come true for Ms Yeoh, who took part in voluntary activities and completed an internship with NParks.
“I have always enjoyed studying and growing plants since I was in secondary school. I guess it started with receiving two plants during a visit to a nursery with my parents. I found it rewarding to watch them grow, and I enjoyed experimenting with various growing conditions and trying to propagate them.”
She applied for the NParks Undergraduate Scholarship because she wanted to play a part in the conservation of native plants and the greening of Singapore.
As an undergraduate pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford, Ms Yeoh visited some of Europe’s most beautiful gardens, including Orto Botanico in Italy, Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom, Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland and Botanical Garden at University of Innsbruck in Austria. The exposure made her realise that the world of plants is extraordinarily diverse and intricately adaptive.
“I think education and experiences in nature are important for human well-being, and I would like to share my passion for plants and nature with even more people,” she says.