Dear friends of Thai flora,
Due to an overwhelming workload in Sweden we have not had time for tropical Dokmai Dogma blogs. However, we paid a swift visit to Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai this July, and so we wish to share some impressions.
We arrived in the midst of the El Niño drought, but since we have experienced such droughts before we were not worried, confident our selection of hardy plants would survive like last time. In fact we eventually received some 20 mm of rain, and in two days the landscape changed into a jade green, although teaks and other deciduous trees had already decided to shed their leaves. Flowering trees which normally display their beauty in the (normal) drought of April started flowering all over again (e.g. Delonix regia and Cassia fistula).
The garden was full of birds and butterflies, including the endangered golden birdwing butterfly. Neighbours had noticed this island of life too. Of course they wanted to know how to achieve such biodiversity. The answer has been hinted in Dokmai Dogma blogs before; establish a broad range of plant species providing shelter for birds, food for butterfly larvae, fruit, pollen and nectar, and stay away from fire and pesticides! We were also pleased to see that the quarry still contained water in spite of the drought, and there were still plenty of native fish, many of which have become quite large (e.g. giant gourami). During rainy La Niña years the quarry fills up, but Dokmai Garden is naturally drained so unlike the rice field areas around town we are never flooded.
In addition to the wild fauna, Dokmai Garden has new zebu cows, many white ducks and many more chicken including black-skinned (white-feathered) chicken. The sheep have become mutton, as they destroyed many plants, including treasured bananas.
To our great joy most of the orchids that were mounted in the trees until 2013 have survived and many are naturally reproducing. One example is the orchid Aerides multiflora, which never produced fruit until this year when we counted 57 capsules! This hints that the garden keeps evolving and attracting more species, including the elusive pollinator of this orchid.
Although we lost the Mediterranean plants which apparently needed Eric’s love and care, the native monsoon trees have grown rapidly. The payom, Shorea roxburghii, which has a valuable timber and is one of the best natural substrates when orchid seeds germinate, have grown to such an extent the five trees confused our orientation. They seem to have doubled their size in 18 months! The Benjamin fig, Ficus benjamina, has grown at an amazing speed too. A tiny seedling which originally germinated on a log was fastened to a rock six years ago, and its roots dispersed to eventually create a giant claw grasping the rock. This strategy has worked very well because the current impression of this fig tree is that of liquid roots. They look like they were made of melted metal.
Another native fig that has left childhood is Ficus racemosa. For the first time in its life it produces impressive amounts of red fruits to the joy of birds, insects and humans:
The ebonies are getting taller too, and we had a bountiful crop of santol fruit (Sandoricum koetjape). We also admired the height and health of the little known native tree Protium serratum. Although we could see its edible fruits, they were still immature. Many more delicious and rare fruits are expected over the coming years. The local climate of the garden is much cooler today thanks to the unbroken canopy of the monsoon woodland in the southeast. Humans can no longer reach the lowest branches in many trees, and like proud parents we remember that in June 2006 this entire woodland was gathered as seedlings in the back of our car! The native but rare rosewood (Dalbergia oliveri) has also grown rapidly. We should strongly recommend planting this native and gorgeous tree in Chiang Mai. Not primarily because of its valuable and beautiful wood, but because it can resist drought and has blue blossom and a lovely foliage which is red when the buds burst.
The area surrounding Dokmai Garden is developing quickly, with new houses and a brand new gasoline station, café, convenient store open 24/7 and ATM about 2 km away. The transformation of the canal road into a four lane freeway will commence in 2017. Being 2 km away we can not hear the traffic, but still rapidly access civilization when needed. The canal road is already the main route between town and the Doi Inthanon national park, which we of course also visited during our short stay.
Ketsanee Seehamongkol & Eric Danell
Harvest of Dokmai Garden kapok fruits (Ceiba pentandra) for filling of cushions
The 16th Flora of Thailand Conference was held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, earlier this week. The amount of new and important information is quite large, so I have prepared a series of blogs to treat one aspect at a time. If you wish to read the abstracts of the posters and talks then click here! Below is an introductory summary.
Dr Kongkanda Chayamarit from the Forest Herbarium, Bangkok, was dubbed ‘Mother of Thai Flora’ due to her determined leadership to get the manuscripts published. Indeed, during her time as executive editor the publishing rate has increased significantly. To the right is Dr David Simpson, Head of the herbarium at Kew and the host of the conference.
Some short facts about the Flora of Thailand project:
The project aims at listing and describing all wild and naturalized vascular plants in Thailand through a series of publications which can be ordered from the Forest Herbarium. The first issue was published in 1970, and up to date about half of Thailands 12050 vascular plant species have been treated. Dr Kongkanda who is the executive editor declared she set the deadline for the last issue to the year 2021. That means a significant increase in publication speed. Beware that another goal for 2020 is to assess all of Thailands flora to determine which species are endangered. The committee declared at the meeting they will go on with printed editions of the Flora, while the electronic versions, which many of us want, will have to wait.
Another fact is that when a specialist begins exploring a certain plant family, there are often entirely new species described. Dr David Middleton reported that in 2006 there were 161 species of Gesneriaceae known from Thailand, but this year (2014) he had reached 245, including several species new to science. A sad fact is that the forestry cover of Thailand has decreased from 53% in 1960 when the Flora of Thailand project was under planning, to 25% or less in 2014 depending on how you define a forest.
The conference talks were quite diverse, with e.g. honorary lectures by H.R.H. Princess Sirindhorn, historical treatments of the first botanists in Thailand (Arthur Francis George Kerr from Ireland and Carl Kurt Hosseus from Germany, active in the beginning of the 20th century), student and professor presentations on various plant families, other floras under preparation (Vietnam, Himalaya, Malesia, Indochina), conservation efforts including my own report on the Orchid Ark, lichens, mosses and even physiology.
Sad more or less recent news were the reports of dead botanists such as Christian Puff and Kai Larsen, and bird watcher Tony Ball. We were also surprised to learn about cut funding for botanists worldwide. At Kew Gardens the staff will be cut by 25%, a striking blow for the world’s centre of botanical research. At the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens in Chiang Mai the budget for displays has also been cut, and at Copenhagen University orchidologist Dr Henrik Pedersen has been forced to step down 25%, essentially a 25% cut of his salary since a researcher can not work part-time.
H.R.H. Princess Sirindhorn gave a presentation on the historical botanical ties with Great Britain and Denmark, the plant lab established at the Royal Palace, the work on Dipterocarpus alatus from the northeast of Thailand, the school gardens and her own interest in the genus Durio.
Other more positive news were the plans for a worldwide flora on line, a portal accessing information from various sources to present all known plants on Earth, based on the Plant List and eMonocot. Other important web sources are a key to Parmeloid lichens of northern Thailand, Ferns of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and Palms of Thailand.
The Forest Herbarium has also published a new revised version of the Rosetta Stone Thai Plant Names, and all speakers would receive a copy by mail, but by some reason this book would not be for sale.
A conference is not only a place for sharing results during official presentations, but also a place for brainstorms where people with similar interests can meet and exchange ideas. I sometimes think the most important collaborations and projects begin at pubs, coffee breaks or in washrooms. As to the orchids, this was a rare occasion where many devoted people could meet. The results of our talks and informal chats will be the theme of the next blog.
Eric Danell, grateful to Drs James Wearn and David Simpson for their generous support, and to Mr Vince from Bangkok who let me stay at his beautiful house in Chiswick.
The new revised edition of ‘Thai Plant Names’ was a dear surprise even to members of the Flora of Thailand committee!
Dear friends of Thai flora,
I am still in Swedish exile but preparing for the 16th Flora of Thailand meeting in London next week. To show the love for flora in Sweden, I wish to share some impressions from the arboretum at the university campus in Alnarp (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences). To me, this is the main summer attraction in the Lund-Malmö region, yet virtually unknown to foreign tourists.
Dokmai Garden benefactors Corien and Folbert Bronsema visited us and this adorable campus a few weeks ago. A striking feature is the castle, built of local yellow brick in 1862. It replaced a much older castle, used by the governors of the province Scania since the 17th century. However, this new castle was solely built to host students and teachers devoted at agricultural sciences, a ‘Hogwarts’ if you like. Today, the building hosts the Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management. I use the arboretum in my spare-time as a destination for family picnics, and I take my arborist classes there for their teaching.
Building a castle in honour of science, knowledge and flora is such a rare event. However, at times benefactors, royalties and governments do contribute generously. It is important to keep this in mind when you feel like the loneliest person in the world, trying to raise awareness of minute endangered orchid species in remote jungles. My quest in London is to find partners with whom Dokmai Garden can collaborate to prevent extinction of Southeast Asian orchids. I foresee a network of Orchid Arks. The facts that Kew Gardens generously covered my registration fee, my current employer Hvilan Utbildning AB encourages me to attend as a part of my teaching position and Khun Vince from Bangkok let me stay at his house in Richmond are already promising signs of international collaboration…
Bruce Bebe, one of the permaculture founders, asked me to announce his upcoming course: Permaculture Design Course in Thailand 7-21 December 2014.
Plant shopping in Chiang Mai is exciting, but the lack of scientific names and the high risk of buying unhealthy plants or plants unsuitable to the Chiang Mai monsoon climate can sometimes cause irritation. Here in Sweden, the concept E-plant (elite plant) includes nursery plants with a guarantee:
1. A variety selected for Swedish climate.
2. A variety which has been tested at many Swedish places to give local advice.
3. Local production to ensure the plants are in phase with the current season.
4. Species and variety guaranteed and of course labeled with scientific names.
5. Healthy plants free from viruses and fungi.
Lately, woody e-plants are equipped with a microchip with a number which can be read with a certain device. The number of the chip can be used to look up the individual plant in a database, providing all the necessary information. A lost tag will no longer mean the information is lost. The technique is still novel, and it remains to find out how reliably the information can be read, and if the plant is damaged by the injection of the microchip.
The cost for an e-plant is about 10% higher than for ordinary plants.
Future will show if this is a clever step to ensure high quality, or if this is an unnecessary technology.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell
Dokmai Garden has decided to sell the sheep after a seven months experiment. The sheep are perfect in a pen with grass, but wandering about in the precious botanical garden they cause a lot of trouble:
They uproot aluminium signs and bend them, 1200 Baht a piece. It seems green grass is their least preferred feed and so they rather focus on shoots, banana leaves, garbage and chicken feed. They have twice attacked the mirror image of themselves in the glass door of the shop with 15000 Baht in repair costs. The jew Bebe makes loud noises at night irritating the gardeners.
We reject the academic view that sheep are mainly grazers. These sheep are pronounced foragers.
While the mowing problem remains (pollution, costs, time and noise) we have decided to sell the sheep. Anyone with a pen or the intention of breeding sheep is most welcome to give the sheep a home before they turn into meat. Two rams (1 and 2 years old) and one ewe (5 years) remain. If you are interested in buying the flock, kindly leave a message below.
Sometimes a simple solution is not all that simple. Maybe the archaic scythe is the solution to the mowing problem? More contemplation is needed….
During my exile in Sweden I sometimes feel homesick. Luckily there is a Buddhist temple, Wat Sanghabaramee in Eslöv, just half an hour’s drive from my Swedish home. I was invited to participate during the Songkran festivities, and without expectations I paid a visit there. Hundreds of cars jammed the countryside road so nearby fields had to be opened to create more parking lots. Rumour had it the Thai ambassador was inside the temple but it was so packed with people I stayed outside. Indeed I had stepped through a dimension door. The atmosphere was Thai with roaring music, market vendors and loads of delicious Thai food, although not truly spicy.
To my joy a nearby Swedish oak (Quercus robur) was traditionally wrapped with a girdle and offerings made to the tree’s spirit. Oaks (Quercus spp) are not exotic to the Thais. Smitinand lists over 30 indigenous species and many are called ‘ko’ in Thai languages. Unfortunately I never had the time to introduce any to Dokmai Garden, hoping future botanists will fill in that flaw. Quercus brandisiana grows abundantly in the nearby Opkhan national park.
A week ago I took my Swedish arborist students to the library at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp. The aim was to study the 200 years old wooden library.
Each of the 217 volumes was made from wood of a special tree species. You open a volume like a book, but it is in fact a wooden box containing dried leaves, fruits, seeds, roots, flowers, charcoal samples, bark, pollen and in some cases glass bottles believed to have contained sap. These volumes are not only artistically designed and skillfully made, but are also of great educational value for learning the woods of various tree species. I believe the reason why such wooden libraries no longer are manufactured is the cost as compared to printed books or internet pictures. Still, all 20 students agreed it would be fantastic if they had access to such a wooden library when they studied dendrology (although we booked a guided presentation we could only admire selected volumes behind glass; the bulk of the collection was kept inside a safe).
When I lived in Chiang Mai I investigated the possibilities numerous times to get hold of wood samples of various common indigenous species. Such wood samples would be of great educational value and could perhaps be sold as high quality souvenirs. Although Dokmai Garden is a neighbour of the most famous antique and carpenter street in Thailand, it was quite hard to get more than a dozen of properly identified wood samples. Teak (Tectona grandis, Lamiaceae) dominates the carpentry industry, and a handful of other domestic species are also used, such as Xylia xylocarpa (Fabaceae). It seems the great skills of past carpenters are largely lost today, a consequence of the extensive clear-cutting which in turn led to the logging ban in 1989, making native woods other than imported teak timber rare in the legal workshops.
Establishing Thai wooden libraries at Thai universities seems urgent due to the rapid loss of experienced craftsmen. The immense confusion caused by the inexact meaning of vernacular names, demands a carpenter walking together with a botanist to the forest to select suitable and properly identified trees.
Creating a complete northern Thai wooden library is almost impossible considering there are over 1100 native tree species just in northern Thailand. However, a summary of 200 representatives would still be most useful. The solution to the financial problem in Europe in the early 1800’s were subscriptions. A subscriber recieved a new volume when it was manufactured. An additional difficulty in the tropics is the threat of termites which may turn any wooden collection into powder, while the European collection we studied has stayed almost intact for 200 years.
In spite of the difficulties, I wish the Thai government could invest in a project to preserve, and display, the Thai carpenter’s knowledge about woods. A museum of woods and forests would be a unique and educational venue bridging flora with handicraft and biodiversity awareness.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell, book lover