Tree Planting Day
by Pwee, Timothy
Tree Planting Day is an annual event in Singapore which typically involves the planting of trees and shrubs in public places like housing estates, parks and schools. The event, which is usually held on the first Sunday of November, was officially started in 1971.1 The event is still held in Singapore as of 2015.2
The initiative began as a tree planting campaign on 16 June 1963, when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew planted a mempat tree at Holland Circus, which was subsequently removed due to road works in the mid-1970s.3 The campaign aimed to have at least 5,000 households planting trees in their homes to replenish felled trees in Singapore, induce rain to provide more water, and make Singapore a more pleasant home.4
In his book, From Third World to First, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wrote about the drive to make Singapore a tropical garden city, which included planting trees and shrubs around the island, in a bid to achieve First World standards. For instance, greenery raised morale and made people proud. It also showed effort put into maintaining Singapore, and impressed foreign VIPs. Tree Planting Day was one of the events used to support the tropical garden city initiative. Mr Lee also mentioned that Tree Planting Day was set at the beginning of the rainy season in November to minimise watering.5
The first Tree Planting Day
The first official Tree Planting Day in Singapore was held on Sunday, 7 November 1971. Then acting Prime Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, launched the event by planting a rain tree at about 9.45 am on the summit of Mount Faber. A total of more than 30,000 plants were planted on that day, including trees, fruit trees, shrubs and creepers. Similar tree-planting activities, led by Ministers and Members of Parliament, also occurred around Singapore the same day at spots including Kampong Java Park and Queenstown community centre.6 With the arrival of the third term vacation, schools had celebrated Tree Planting Day earlier, on 4 and 5 November.7 52 schools chosen by the Ministry of Education had planted about 592 trees on 4 November.8
Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had missed the launch as he was away on a tour of Europe and India. Instead, he planted a yellow flame tree at Tanjong Pagar community centre on 12 December 1971. During an interview, he had stated that the first Tree Planting Day was “Singapore’s most important day”, and that he hoped to increase the planting of fruit trees in Singapore so that they can “provide enough fruits for all”.9
Moving forward, Tree Planting Day was celebrated annually in Singapore on the first Sunday of November. In the earlier years between 1972 and 1979, Tree Planting Day had promoted tree planting at reclamation areas, with Mr Lee planting trees on reclaimed lands such as Marina South and East Coast Park.10
In the 1980s, the focus shifted to fruit trees, with the theme of the event in 1984 set to increasing the number of fruit trees,11 and the following year, the emphasis was on planting trees that bore lesser known fruits like binjai and kundang.12 During the Tree Planting Day in 1989, the-Second Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong had said that the fruit trees could provide shade, and serve as an extra source of food in times of emergencies.13 By 1989, a total of about 271,705 trees and shrubs had been planted as part of the annual Tree Planting Day campaign.14
In 1990, the 20th Tree Planting Day was held on Sunday, 4 November 1990. The day also saw the launch of The Clean and Green Week. Initially, called the Good Environment Week,15 Mr Goh Chok Tong launched Clean and Green Week to expand the scope of Tree Planting Day.16 Tree planting activities were still held during Clean and Green Week.17
The 20th Tree Planting Day was also Mr Lee’s last Tree Planting Day as Prime Minister, as he had stepped down from the position on 27 November 1990.18 He had planted two trees that day – a dwarf coconut tree at Spottiswoode Park in his constituency, Tanjong Pagar, and a kuras tree at the Esplanade Park.19 Mr Lee continued to participate in Tree Planting Day activities every year, and until his passing in 2015, he had not missed any of the yearly events.20
In 2008, the Clean and Green Week was rebranded as Clean and Green Singapore to promote recycling, cycling, tree planting and nature treks. Tree planting activities continued to be one of the activities during Clean and Green Singapore.21 As of 2015, Tree Planting Day is still being held annually in Singapore in November.22
1. Hassan, N. J. (2015, April 10). Mr Lee Kuan Yew- committed in building a garden city. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
2. Yong, C. (2015, November 9). Planting roots in the community. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
3. Lee begins the tree campaign. (1963, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hassan, N. J. (2015, April 10). Mr Lee Kuan Yew committed in building a garden city. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved 2016, August 31 from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. ‘Plant a Tree’ drive in S’pore. (1963, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, K. Y. (2015). From third world to first: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions and the Straits Times Press, pp. 201–205. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 LEE-[HIS])
6. Dr Goh plants tree to launch T-Day. (1971, November 8). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Fruit trees planting operation gets underway in schools. (1971, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Dr Goh to launch Tree Plant Day today. (1971, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Keep eye on world scene too, says Lee. (1971, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Gamboa, E. (1983, November 6). PM planted it 11 years ago… The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Gamboa, E. (1984, November 4). Today’s efforts, tomorrow’s fruit. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee, S. H. (1985, November 3). Bringing back our ‘forgotten’ fruits. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Goh, K. (1989, November 6). Tree planting a fruitful effort. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. From this… to this in 20 years. (1990, November 4). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Good Environment week will replace Tree Planting Day. (1990, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chok Tong loves nature, but ‘doesn’t have green fingers’. (1990, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1990, November 5). ‘Total approach’ to environment needed. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Han, F. K. (1990, November 27). PM Lee resigns. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. George, C. (1990, November 5). Mr Lee plants last tree as PM. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Chew, C. (2015, March 24). Mr Lee Kuan Yew 1923–2015: Life after Mrs Lee. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
21. Liaw, W-C. (2008, November 1). First city reservoir opens. The Straits Times, p. 3; Chua, G. (2008, November 21). Tree planting takes root in S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 77. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Yong, C. (2015, November 9). Planting roots in the community. The Straits Times. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.