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Pachira nut!

January 1, 2011

On the last day of 2010 we spent the daytime going west beyond Samoeng. We realised the Khun Khan national park (55 km from the Samoeng/Canal intersection, or 65 km from Dokmai Garden) is worth a visit. The national park is said to harbour pangolin, Sambar deer, wild boar, porcupine, golden jackal and dhole, a most interesting wild dog. What species actually remains today is another question.

A good map to use for this area is the ‘Mae Hong Son loop map’ which you can purchase at Dokmai Garden for 250 Baht. The map will lead you via backroads to both the Queen Sirikit Botanical garden and Pai, without going throw the busy town or the busy touristic main road.

We kept driving and ended up in an area with strawberry plantations. Little plastic bags with tasty nuts were also sold, and the locals referred to them as ‘Malabar chestnut’ (Pachira aquatica). We managed to obtain three young specimens which will be planted at Dokmai Garden.

The Malabar chestnut is native to South America, so the name ‘Malabar’, referring to southern India, is just a catchy commercial name. It has edible nutty seeds and has become a symbol of financial success, hence the nickname ‘money tree’. The alternative name Guyana chestnut is better, but would trick people to believe this is a true chestnut of the oak family (Fagaceae). It is a relative of ton ngu (Bombax ceiba, a local species) and kapok (Ceiba pentandra, an African species), members of the durian family (Bombacaceae), which is now inlcuded in Malvaceae. Using the name Pachira from Guyana and then a more neutral ‘nut’ would be the best way to avoid false associations.

Pachira nut has been planted here and there in Asia during the past 25 years, also in subtropical areas. It is probably a rather new introduction to Thailand, since it is not included in Smitinand’s eminent book ‘Thai Plant Names” (2001).

We saw one tree with young green fruits in a sunny open area which looked quite dry (red laterite soil). Although it originally comes from swampy areas in South America, the locals in Samoeng claimed it can stand drought. Since we found it growing in the pine belt region about 1000 meters above the sea level, growing it at Dokmai Garden in the Chiang Mai valley will be an interesting experiment. It needs sun and moisture, so we shall do our best, and let you know the results.

Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

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