Singapore Botanic Gardens' fallen heritage tree did not have decay cavity

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A 40m-tall heritage tree that toppled and killed a woman at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February did not have a cavity in its trunk that was a result of decay, said a senior National Parks Board official, countering an assessment earlier by an independent arborist.

Rather, the hollow - 1.5m long, 0.2m deep, 1m high and 0.3m wide - was a flute, said Mr Elango Velautham, deputy director of Botanic Gardens' Arboriculture and Plant Resource, who inspected the tembusu tree after the report was made on Sept 29 last year.

A flute is an irregular feature of a tree. It is caused by uneven growth patterns that may appear to be concaved inwards or extruded outwards, as opposed to a cavity, which is an open or closed hollow within a tree stem, usually associated with decay.

"There was no decay, no cavity," said Mr Elango, testifying yesterday, on the second day of an inquest into the death of Indian national Radhika Angara, 38, who was crushed when the tree fell on Feb 11.

Asked by State Counsel Kumaresan Gohulabalan if there was any concern about the structural integrity of the tree following his inspection, Mr Elango replied there was none.

The tree was inspected twice a year, and no visual defect had been found, he said.

Asked by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, representing the next-of-kin of Ms Angara, whether a decay in a tree trunk is a very serious matter, Mr Elango said it was.

If it was a cavity, there could be decay.

"It could be wrongly perceived as a decay. We have to verify these things," he said.

Mr Rajah asked the basis on which he ascertained the structure was a flute. He also wanted to know if the witness had inspected it himself. Mr Elango said he did.

Mr Elango told State Coroner Marvin Bay it was impossible for a tree more than 200 years old to develop a severe defect so rapidly. He said: "A cavity of that length, that width, that height cannot happen over a period of one year."

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