The Neram tree (Dipterocarpus oblongifolius) is a fairly common inland riverside tree in the north-eastern half of Peninsular Malaysia and also throughout most of Borneo (Sarawak, Brunei, Kalimantan, and parts of Sabah). It seems to be absent from the West Coast states, although strangely, seems to be present at the Ulu Kenas Recreational Forest park, near Kuala Kangsar in Perak (which is an exception). In Pahang itself, it is not found in all areas, and therefore can only be considered as locally common. In Sarawak, it is called the Ensurai tree.
The Neram tree is a dipterocarp which may surprise some people as dipterocarps are normally associated with straight and tall timber trees in the South East Asian rainforests. The Neram is anything but straight and tall, although it can grow to more than 2 meters in diameter and reach perhaps 40 meters tall. The trunk and branches tend to lean out over the water’s edge in order to facilitate its fruit dispersal.
This beautiful tree is very important for protecting riverbanks which would otherwise get eroded away during floods. As such, the tree is accorded some form of protection status in Sarawak. The Neram also plays a vital role in Kelah (Tor Tambroides) conservation as its fruit is eaten by those fishes (a fruiting drought some years ago decimated the Kelah population).
The fruit consists of 3 very short wings and two main pink colored wings that are about 8 – 10 cm long. The leaves are dark green and shiny, about 15 – 18 cm long, and with prominent ridge veins. The bark is fairly reddish-brown with dimples, and somewhat flaky as well.
Kayaking along inland rivers with the huge Neram trees arching over the river and providing much valued shade is a great experience, and only possible where they are found. Their boughs, branches, and trunks are often festooned with numerous epiphytes, ferns, and orchids, and when they fall into the river through old age, their enormous trunks provide a convenient natural bridge to ford the river.
Neram trees can be found throughout Taman Negara, where they line almost all the riverbanks there, although they seem to be absent from the other major conservation areas in Peninsular Malaysia, such as Endau Rompin National Park and Royal Belum State Park (as far as I know). They are impossible to miss throughout their range, as they are distinctive, large trees which tend to colonize entire riverbanks. Some magnificent stands of tall Neram trees may still exist along rivers flowing down the eastern flank of the Main Range in Pahang, such as at the beautiful Ulu Jelai (upper Jelai river), site of a proposed conservation area for many years, but which never got anywhere.