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Angel snow discovered – in Chiang Mai!

August 8, 2011

Many people love the Avatar movie and all its creatures, and they cry for the suffering of the forest people. At the same time, hardly anyone cares about the actual, real  and ongoing destruction of Earth. Almost all creatures in the movie exist on earth, although slightly changed for the movie, but nobody cares about reality. Most people love drugs, fiction and religion, and they love money, but they do not love nature. The established multinational environmental organizations have impressive numbers of offices and impressive numbers of staff who willingly help you donate, but the organizations are impossible to reach if you wish to discuss something serious or a collaboration. At Dokmai Garden we have tried for years to collaborate but we simply don’t get through. Donor staff never forward within their organizations, and offices abroad always refer to Thai offices. There is no interest in helping. I guess when an organization was established, there was a lot of passion, but the founders are gone now, and the organization and their local offices are run by professionals as any job, focusing on money and can not see how a collaboration would render them more money (which they erroneously believe is their chief aim).

Fortunately many people like gardens, their own private paradises, and so it would be good if a native species or two get some shelter in a private garden among all man-made hybrids and imported exotics. One fantastic tree which I saw in blossom in Singapore botanic gardens many years ago have until recently been hiding from me here in Chiang Mai. It is said to be native to northern Thailand, but I have never seen it here.

Unfortunately I have no picture of the flowers of Stereospermum fimbriatum (Bignoniaceae), so I refer to this web page which mirrors my memory perfectly.

There are so many plants on earth (currently some 274 000 described) that our language and legends are not enough to give all of them unique names. That is why any small edible red fruit is called ‘cherry’ in English. Catchy names are good to create an interest in the wild flora of Southeast Asia. Of course there are indigenous names; village names, district names, province names, central names and so many languages. The scientific name is still the most reliable, it will allow you to google and to retrieve useful information, but for the regular guy who just wants something nice in his garden, a scientific name will mean nothing. One vernacular English name for S. fimbriatum is ‘snake tree’, alluding to the long coiled fruits, but I am sure many will be afraid of such a tree. ‘Chachah’ is impossible to remember and to spell and so it is better to use the scientific name instead. How about ‘angel snow’? The tree is in blossom during the hottest time of the year, and a slow fall of its fimbriated flowers (corollas) may have a cooling effect for the eyes. As the colour is pinkish-white it looks like supernatural snow from a distance (click on on the web page i referred to above). As people like fairy tales more than reality, angel snow may attach them to reality for a moment.

The tree is found in Chinag Mai but where? Here is a report from Ricky Ward:

“Last year while visiting a waterfall near the highway north east of Chiang Mai my companion spotted an unusual pod-like fruit hanging from a tree.

We collected a fruit and it has been sitting on the dashboard of our pick-up for months and below is a picture. As you can see from the scale ruler the long fruit comes to 63 centimetres and the seeds are a little longer than the diameter of a one Baht coin which is exactly two centimetres. So next time I know that if I want to measure something small I have a 2 cm ruler in my pocket.

Stereospermum fimbriatum – แคทราย – Care Sai is a tree related to S. neuranthum which appears to prefer dry sites. In my travels around Chiang Mai I had not noticed Care Sai until on a visit to Sarapee Railway station park. Then while inspecting the banks of the Mae Khao at Ta Sala on the road to Sankamphaeng I found a second old tree. Neither were tall trees but I think S. fimbriatum should be included in a list of trees to plant near streams and the lowland flood plains.

Both S. fimbriatum and S. neuranthum and also the rare S. colais are among the ten species of Bignoniaceae recorded for Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in Maxwell’s Enumeration.”

Thanks to Ricky there might be seedlings of angel snow available in six months or so. We have also decided to try to take cuttings.

The length of the fruit (a capsule, pods belong to the bean family) can not be used for identification, because both S. neuranthum and S. fimbriatum grow fruits to 60 cm or more. However, a long fruit will indicate you have an interesting tree, and then you look at the leaflets. If they are 6 cm broad or less you may have a S. fimbriatum, if they are 11 cm broad or less you may have S. neuranthum.  Another similar fruit is that of Holarrhena pubescens (Apocynaceae). The leaves of this family have a white latex.

Text: Eric Danell & Ricky Ward

Photo: Ricky Ward

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