Monday, October 13, 2008

Koompassia excelsa

The tapang tree (aka Mengaris, Honey Bee Tree,Tualang) is a majestic emergent tree of the Southeast Asia rainforests best know for the disk shaped honeycombs which hang from its horizontal branches. Towering above the canopy the tapang can reach 250 feet, or the 30 stories in height.

Tapangs are a member of the legume family, and are related to peas. Their leaves are pinnate with 4-5 leafletsgrowing alternately along a central rib. They create a bright green, feathery crown. Their seeds are contained within large pods. The trunks have a smooth, silvery bark. The slippery surface discourages sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) from climbing up into the tree to reach the honey combs of the Asian rock bees (Apis dorsata). The bees prefer the tualang because it doesn't branch until almost 100 feet up. Huge buttresses support the tree at its base and keep the giants from toppling over. The sap is irritating to the skin and produces a rash.

Perhaps the tapang trees are best known for the immense parabolic honey combs which hang from the bottom of their branches. The combs can be 6 feet across and can contain as many as 30,000 bees. One tualang tree can contain more than 10 nests. The world's largest honey bees, Asian rock bees are 1 inch long and the tapangs are their preferred tree speciesbecause their tremendous height provides them safety from marauders. Except for the human kind.

Those sticks are man made ladders, used by humans to collect the honey from those hives.Honey hunters climb the man made ladders with smoldering torches, banging them on the branches above the nests. This creates a rain of fire, and as the sparks fall to the ground the awakened and enraged bees take off in pursuit of the embers. The bees become disoriented and remain on the ground until dawn, leaving the nests unprotected for the honey hunters to finish their harvest.

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