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The legend of Dokmai Garden’s forest mango

October 2, 2010

Many people who come to Dokmai Garden admire our huge forest mango (Mangifera caloneura, Anacardiaceae) situated in the northern part of the property. Without knowing anything about its background, some visitors have remarked they can feel ‘a very powerful energy’ near the tree. In any case, the tree is beautiful and produces edible fruit every second year. We measured the tree, which turned out to be 397 cm in circumference at the base, and 389 cm at breast height. The estimated age, based on the sizes of the smaller forest mangos at the Chiang Mai arboretum (established 80 years ago) is 160 – 220 years, but some foresters have said it must be over 300 years old. We assume the arboretum’s forest mango’s were planted 80 years ago, but if that assumption is incorrect, that they were already present, then of course our mango can be significantly older. Also, many trees slow down their growth speed when old, so one can not simply measure the size of a tree with a known age, and then estimate the age in another tree by measuring the size. There are also individual and local factors affecting age. For instance, Eric Danell planted a maple (Acer platanoides) in Sweden some 30 years ago, and it is still only 50 cm tall, due to a shady position. Since we do not want to harm the forest mango by inducing pathogenic fungi, dendrochronology is not an option.

As all the surrounding trees were clearcut some 60 years ago, we all wonder why they left this tree, and its sister tree situated 100 m to the west. For sure, it was big already at the time of the clearcut. Simon Gardner’s book ‘Forest Trees of Northern Thailand’ implies the timber has a low value. That is not correct. We have seen mango floors in old Thai houses, and they are superb. On the contrary, such wood is extremely rare and therefore expensive, so why did not anybody cut down this tree?

A local spirit teller told the Seehamongkol family many years ago that the spirit Saeng Mok inhabits the tree, and that he protects the land and the Seehamongkol family. Harming his tree would be very dangerous. Saeng Mok is not the spirit of a dead person, it is the spirit of the land. To the Seehamongkol family, Saeng Mok is second after Lord Buddha in importance.

At a recent market Ketsanee Seehamongkol was addressed by an elder of the village, Khun Nuai, who asked where Ketsanee lives. When Ketsanee explained she lives by the big mango, Nuai remarked that is a sacred and very safe place, beautiful and quiet. She then told Ketsanee a story we had not heard before:

According to Khun Nuai’s grandfather, King Naresuan’s army camped by a creek which is now a quarry at Dokmai Garden. The commander ate a fruit of a forest mango, and planted the seed in the soil. She claims Dokmai Garden’s forest mango is the commander’s tree, and that “the one who planted the tree, is now inside it”. Khun Nuai continued that one man considered cutting it down, but he immediately suffered a terrible accident. This event terrified people, so nobody dared to touch the tree.  Since there is a furniture factory just 2 km away, there must be very good reasons from staying away from this tree.

What makes this legend interesting is that it was not the king who planted it. People who make up good stories usually use the most famous people. In this case, we do not even know the name of the commander. Also, we have always noticed that during the rainy season water comes uphill and flows into our quarry, so the story about a creek may be true. King Naresuan was a king of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya between 1569-1605. He fought the Burmese for many years, and he and his army was in the neighbourhood many times. If this legend is correct, the tree was born 405-440 years ago.

Ketsanee Seehamongkol and Eric Danell

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