Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Jeff Ooi for Jelutong MP, Bukit Jelutong, Jelutong of Brunei Darulsalam, Jelutong of Singapore. These are famous 21st Century references to the word "jelutong".

But 105 years ago, a small band of Foochow desperadoes were cutting through thick jungles for the first time in their lives and looking for the wonder jungle produce, the jungle rubber or jelutong. They had been introduced to this special "rubber"
tree by the men of the Rajah Brooke government if they wanted to make some quick money out of an easily ready tree in the swamps. Many died because of it: snake bites, extreme heat, virus,etc. A Sibu tombstone could even have this inscribed "Here lies Wong who fell to his death because he tried his luck with jelutong" if it was possible to do so in the witty western sense.

When the first Foochows arrived in Sibu in 1903, many took the opportunity to explore and exploit the land to the best of their ability. Grandmothers used to tell their grandchildren how they feared that they would never see their loving husbands again the moment they set out to fell trees in the jungle or to look for wild boars or other animals.

My grandfather was a young man when he first arrived, a mere seventeen year old boy. As he was very determined to do well and establish himself as soon as possible, the whole Rejang Basin was a wonderful place for him. While felling the trees of the jungle he was also on the lookout for jelutong trees because he knew very well then that it was a tree that could help him get extra income. However it was not as easy as he had expected and many times he got lost in the jungle and even feared for his life.

The mortality rate was high amongst the Foochows at that time. He often told us that in a morning, they had buried more than four or five friends who had died from the heat or disease. He told us that there was a great deal of fear all around. Who would be buried the next day? It could even be he himself as life was so fragile. But his belief in God helped him through many days and years of uncertainties and even fear.

So what about his great desire to collect the latex from jelutong? He tried his very best and did find a little bit,but he finally gave up looking for more jelutong because his rubber trees, the wonder plants, were ready for harvesting after a few short years and rice was also being harvest on his newly acquired land. There was a great deal of happiness after about 7 years.

The jelutong (Dyera costulata), or lotong chiew , in Foochow, is a species of tree in the oleander subfamily. It grows to approximately 200 ft (60 metres) with diameters of 5 to 6 ft (2 metres) and boles clear and straight for 90 ft. It grows in Sarawak and the Rejang River basin is a much favoured habitat for this tree.

Jelutong is also used for its wood and is quite similar to balsa wood. Often designers use this wood for building special models. The roots are used as a cork substitute.

Jelutong has been very famous amongst the Foochows as it was be tapped for latex and from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Perhaps jelutong has been overharvested or people have lost interest in it. We seldom hear about it amongst the local people. Many have said that it is a threatened species. But I am sure some reafforestation programme can put it back in our state. It would be an excellent wood for organic toy making.

I am including in this posting a good article on jelutong.

Sources: Lemmens, Soerianegara and Wong, 1995
"Population status and trends Jelutong has a scattered natural distibution and has declined as a result of tapping for latex and felling for timber. The risk of extinction was recognised 60 years ago. In Peninsular Malaysia the species has been reported to be threatened (Ng et al 1984). Jelutong does, however, regenerate readily in logged-over forest. It is also planted commercially for timber. Role of species in the ecosystem Threats Exploitation for latex, felling for timber, conversion of lowland forests to agriculture. Utilisation It has a number of speciality uses such as pattern making in foundry work, for drawing boards, pencils, picture frames, dowels, carving, blackboards, wooden toys, clogs, brush handles and battery separators, and it is also used for furniture parts, door knobs, ceilings, partitioning, matchsticks, matchboxes and packing cases. The roots are used as a substitute for cork and their wood for axe handles. The latex is used in the manufacture of chewing gum, in paints, as priming for concrete, or for sizing paper. Follicles are occasionally used as torches by the local population or burnt to repel mosquitos"

2. (Lemmens, Soerianegara and Wong, 1995). Trade In the period from 1980-1990 the export of jelutong sawn timber from Peninsular Malaysia was 32000-44000m3/year with a value of US$ 5.1-10.8 million a year; in 1992 it was 19000 m3 with a value of US$ 8.3 million (US$440/m3) (Lemmens, Soerianegara and Wong, 1995). In 1995, Malaysia (Peninsular) exported 5000 m3 of sawnwood at an average price of 710$/m3 (ITTO, 1996). The export from Sabah was 67000 m3 in 1987 with a value of US$4.5 million and 23000 m3 (55% as sawn timber, 45% as logs) in 1992 with a total value of US$ 3.5 million (US$ 215/m3 for sawn timber, US$ 82/m3 for logs). Japan imports comparatively large amounts of jelutong, mainly from Sarawak and Sabah

3. (Lemmens, Soerianegara and Wong, 1995). In 1987, Indonesia exported 2,183,462US$ worth of this species as jelutong (WWF and IUCN, 1994-1995). In Malaysia, the trade in latex has declined since the peak production period 1930-1940. The export of jelutong latex from Indonesia was still around 3500 t in 1989.

4. Indonesia is the main source of jelutong gum. Most is exported to Singapore, mainly for re-export to the US. Some is exported directly to Japan and Europe where Italy is the main importer (Coppen, 1995).

5. IUCN Conservation category LR-lc (Asia Regional Workshop, 1997). Conservation measures Jelutong is subject to a log export ban in Peninsular Malaysia, and special permission has been required to cut the tree in Thailand (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives Decree of 1988). Regulations on the methods of tapping the latex were introduced in the 1930s (Coppen, 1995). Forest management and silviculture In Peninsular Malaysia D. costulata is chosen for enrichment planting because it is easy to handle in the nursery, survives well when planted out, has a good rate of growth and has good market potential. Prolonged contact with acid water in peat forest harms young plants. D. costulata is a very light-demanding species and once a young tree is well established in full light, it tends to spread its crown and develop into a pronounced 'wolf tree'. Sudden opening of the canopy is favourable for its development

10 memories:

Gaharuman said...


Your posting is very interesting.

There are actually two species of jelutong in Sarawak, the swamp and the hill jelutong.

I suspect you are talking about the swamp jelutong, since Sibu is very much a swampy area.

Jelutong latex were tapped in very much the same way as rubber trees. The jelutong latex was used in the past to make chewing gum and its popularity has declined and I do not know what they use for chewing gum now.

Jelutong wood is now used for making pencil.

sarawakiana said...


Thank you for visiting and the extra input on jelutong. There should be more interest in natural woods and organic products.

Love our earth before everything is gone!!

Gaharuman said...


The swamp species is Dyera lowii while the hill species is Dyera costulata. The pneumatophore roots of Dyera lowii is corky, so is suitable as cork.

sarawakiana said...

I understand many people would use jelutong as a stopper for the Chinese hot water flask.

Also, I am mainly referring to the swamp jelutong.

I am wondering if there is any more jelutong left in Sarawak?

toys, pencils, and many designer items can be made from this lovely wood.

Sarawak should be a proud producer of this wood, besides the latex it can produce.

Gaharuman said...


I believe there still are jelutong tree in Sarawak. I have personally seen one at Petra Jaya in Kuching. I believe, the swamp forest around Sibu, Sarikei and bintangor are secondary foreest now and probably jelutong has been extinct from this areas (I might be wrong). But there are still jelutong to be found in Sarawak but very rare now. Exiting population are likely to be few and could be treathen with a further decline. Yes, it is good for toy too.

sarawakiana said...

I think not many will be able to recognise a jelutong tree, including myself. Can you send a photo?

My mother lives in Petra Jaya. May soon I will go and have a look...and take a photo with the tree!! thanks.

Gaharuman said...


You will be able to see a close up photo of the swamp jelutong tree including its leaves, roots, bark and latex in the book "Bako National ParK: rain forest, vegetation and plants". Unfortunately the book is only sold in Kuching at Holiday Inn Bookstore or Sarawak Plaza. I dont have any photo at the moment but if I do have later, i will post it.

Alison @ gaharauman

Gaharuman said...

Dyera lowii is also known as Dyera polyphylla, the swamp jelutong.

sarawakiana said...

So I believe that our grandparents must have been collecting latex from the swamp jelutong and getting bitten by snakes,mosquitoes and others.

Incidentally, according to one write up, the natives who earned their money from engkabang bought wardrobes, clothes,and important "imported " stuff. They earned a lot of money in the 60's fromthis jungle produce.

Then slowly development ate away their cash income. Sad.

Gaharuman said...


I can send you the book with photos of swamp jelutong if you can provide me your postal address. My email is




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