Four distinct forest formations – lowland dipterocarp, hill dipterocarp, lower montane and montane ericaceous forests – occur at various altitudes, from the foothills to the summit of Gunung Ledang.
As their names imply, the canopy of the lowland and hill dipterocarp forests is dominated by towering hardwood trees from the dipterocarp (Dipterocarpaceae) family. Members of this important timber tree family have vernacular names like Meranti, Keruing, Seraya and Balau, which may sound familiar to many Malaysians.
The forest begins to change markedly at around 1,000 metres above sea level, where moss appears on various surfaces, while dipterocarps and other lowland trees give way to montane species; such as those from the myrtle (Myrtaceae) and tea (Theaceae) families. Typical montane species that grow here include the chuchor atap (Backea fructescens), cina maki (Leptospermum flavescens) and podo kebal musang (Eurya nitida). The very top of the mountain is covered by stunted trees with gnarled limbs and leathery leaves. The canopy here is low, flat and dense, due to the strong winds that blow incessantly.
Orchids and pitcher plants abound at higher elevations, especially within the montane forest zones. Close to 100 species of orchids have been recorded on the mountain. Around half of these are epiphytic (they grow on trees) while the rest are either lithophytic (they grow on rocks) or terrestrial (they grow on the ground).
Gunung Ledang also has its fair share of endemic plants that are only found here and nowhere else in the world. This includes Fordia ophirensis, Garcinia montana and Jasminum ledangense, to name a few. It is telling that although botanists have been collecting here since the 1800s, new species are still being uncovered.
For example, in 2009, a new species of cycas, a plant with ancient origins and looks superficially like a palm, was found at the foothills of Gunung Ledang. Although new to science, this species had already been known to the local Temuan Orang Asli community for a long time. Plant taxonomists named this species Cycas cantafolia (Latin: Canto = song, singing; Folium = leaf), in reference to the vernacular name ‘paku lagu’ used by the local Temuan.
The protected forests of Gunung Ledang are a refugia for many rainforest animals. The largest mammal here is the tapir (Tapirus indicus), followed by the wild boar (Sus scrofa) and barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak). At the other end of the scale, the smaller mammal populations, including the bats, rats and squirrels are diverse and abundant. Some of the more remarkable rodents here include the Rajah spiny rat (Maxomys rajah), a primary forest specialist, the beautiful Prevost’s squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii) and the Southeast Asian endemic long-tailed porcupine (Trichys fasciculata).
Based on previous surveys by the Malaysian Nature Society, the park’s bird life numbers 163 species (although this figure is in need of updating). While there are no true montane species here due to its isolation from the Main Range, a suite of interesting forest birds may be seen, such as the Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil), Stripe-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus finlaysoni) and all five species of lowland malkohas.
The most abundant anurans (frogs and toads) in the park are the white-lipped frog (Hylarana labialis), lesser toad (Ingerophrynus parvus) and giant river frog (Limnonectes blythii). The giant river frog is classified as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, because it is harvested for food throughout its range.
Tropical rainforests support a rich diversity of insects, and the forests of Gunung Ledang are no exception. Notably, the giant forest ant (Camponotus gigas), which is probably the largest ant in the world, occurs here. This ant is native to Southeast Asia, where it only lives in primary forests.
While the aquatic life of the park’s streams and rivers has yet to be extensively studied, it is safe to say that the most abundant fish species here is the tengas daun (Poropuntius smedleyi). This small fish is a good indicator of stream health, as it needs pristine, crystal clear water to survive.
In general, you need not to go far for a glimpse of the park’s wildlife, as interesting animals may be seen in the vicinity of the park entrance; provided you stop, listen and pay attention. You may find fascinating insects and reptiles along the trails, hiding in plain sight on tree trunks or in crevices. Along the rivers, for instance, you might spot the the great anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus grandis) blending into a tree trunk.
Along Denai Pokok Ara (Fig Tree Trail) just behind the park office, you may spot dusky langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus) or a cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) on a high branch, or even the Blue-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo euryzona), which was recently listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the early morning, listen out for the trademark vocals of the Endangered lar gibbon (Hylobates lar) that reverberates through the forest.