A visit to Sabah Agriculture Park

Today is a treat for any horticulturalist, keen gardener or simply anyone who appreciates the natural world as we visit Sabah Agriculture Park (formerly Tenom Orchid Centre). Read on for information and a guide on all that’s best to see at this natural tropical haven for orchids, rare exotic trees and many beautiful flowers.

Phalaenopsis orchid

Phalaenopsis orchid

Travelling to Sabah Agriculture Park

Today we’ve travelled to the small town of Tenom, around two and a half hours south of Kota Kinabalu. The ‘Kimanis road’ took us from sea level to around 4,000 feet in order to cross the Crocker Range and we first skirted the town of Keningau before arriving in the lovely cool valley that is home to Tenom and the friendly indigenous Murut people, many of whom are farmers taking advantage of the fertile land here.

Sabah Agriculture Park background, history and information

We’re here in Tenom to visit the Sabah Agriculture Park that’s around 15km out of town and lies just east of the imposing Sungai Padas (River Padas). The park is large and covers around 6sq km and was originally founded in 1981 as the Tenom Orchid Centre by a British botanist, Datuk Anthony Lamb who I’ve subsequently learnt that when he joined the agricultural department in 1962 in what was then colonial North Borneo, he was the last British subject to be recruited into service prior to independence.

The park is now known as the Sabah Agriculture Park and has been expanded to include a research and educational facility, a campsite and of course an opportunity for visitors to enjoy trees, plants and flowers in their natural tropical habitat.

A guide to the different areas dedicated to orchids at Sabah Agriculture Park

When we arrive, it’s just before midday and hot so a little guiltily we opt for the park ‘train’ that takes us to the Native Orchid Centre, located on the far side of the park and one of several self-contained areas, and one of the Park highlights. The stream coupled with the heat and high trees makes it appear that you’re in the rain forest and we find a few delicate and beautiful flowering orchids that a knowledgeable and friendly member of staff identifies by their Latin names. In the adjacent Hybrid Orchid Centre, we learn that orchid hybridisation harks back as far as the 1850s and today one of the purposes is to grow orchids that will be strong and resilient as cut flowers.

The unusual cannonball tree and its cannonball sized fruit

Back on the track around the park we come across a few unusual looking Cannonball trees, the trunk covered with pink flowers and many large fruits about the size of a…cannonball! The fruit is edible but due to the unpleasant smell is rarely eaten however it is used as feed for livestock such as pigs and chickens.

Couroupita guianensis Cannonball tree

Couroupita guianensis Cannonball tree

The ‘train’ has long gone with a party of excited local school-children so we conduct our own ‘self-guided’ tour and stroll slowly enjoying the Model Garden, Lily Glade and Hibiscus Garden and have the Park pretty much to ourselves.

Strelitziaceae  Bird of Paradise / Crane flower

Strelitziaceae Bird of Paradise / Crane flower

Pitcher plants can also be seen at Sabah Agriculture Park

A couple of highlights remain. The first is a small indoor area where carnivorous Pitcher plants are flourishing in the moist air awaiting their next insect feast. These fragile plants are very special and the only place apart from Mount Kinabalu where I’ve seen them.

Pitcher plant

Pitcher plant

A meeting with the massive Octomeles sumatrana, also known as the Binuang tree

Finally, we come across a massive tree with a huge girth that we believe is around a couple of hundred years old. Post visit, the Park confirmed that it’s a fast-growing evergreen Binuang tree believed to be around eighty years old that’s indigenous to Southeast Asia and the island of New Guinea. Apparently, young leaves can be eaten as a vegetable and the juice is used in local medicine to treat stomach-ache.

Octomeles sumatrana  Binuang tree (with your blogger for scale!)

Octomeles sumatrana Binuang tree (with your blogger for scale!)

A few minutes later we arrive back at the Park Entrance having enjoyed a fun and educational 2-3 hours that I’m sure any horticulturalists, keen gardeners and general lovers of nature would particularly enjoy and appreciate.

Blue Kinabalu Travel Agency, upon request would be more than happy to arrange a trip to Tenom to enjoy this and other local attractions as part of a bespoke tour.



Arundina graminifolia  Bamboo Orchid

Arundina graminifolia Bamboo Orchid

Heliconia rostrata  Lobster Claw

Heliconia rostrata Lobster Claw

Costus curvibracteatus

Costus curvibracteatus

Heliconia rostrata

Heliconia rostrata

Top Tip for Visitors:

As you’ll be away from Park HQ for a couple of hours plus, carry a large bottle of mineral water with you to stay hydrated.

About Martin

Martin is a British expat living in Kota Kinabalu who arranges tailored tours within Sabah primarily for British and Western tourists on behalf of Blue Kinabalu Travel Agency. Please help spread the word about beautiful Sabah and share this post using the social share buttons below.