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
Although Dokmai Garden flourishes, tourism suffers as usual during times of political turbulence and embassy warnings. To keep up the spirits I have been asked to write a blog now and then from my exile here in Sweden.
At present I teach botany in Sweden, but a student of mine will spend a few weeks at Dokmai Garden to train his skills as an arborist. As mentioned before, our gigantic forest mango is in need of a tree surgeon to remove parasitic Dendrophthoe parasites.
Another piece of news is that Kew Gardens in Richmond/London will host the 16th Flora of Thailand Conference. I have been invited to give a talk about Dokmai Garden’s Orchid Ark. If more Orchid Arks appear as a result then I can die in peace. Dokmai Garden’s efforts with the Orchid Ark was recently published (Wearn & Schuiteman 2013: Plant Conservation in Thailand: Dokmai Garden and the Orchid Ark. National History Bulletin of the Siam Society 59(1):5-14).
Other reports from Dokmai Garden is that the weather was surprisingly wet this past cool season and fires unusually obnoxious. At present the hot flowering season has just began. The lambs run around as if they own the place and the experiment to keep sheep for mowing seems to have turned out well.
Here in Sweden we have had an unusually mild winter and a very early spring, so I have experienced a most agreeable transition from the tropics to more northern latitudes. Nature displays spectacular views everywhere you go!
Dalby Söderskog National park, Sweden.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell