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The lunchbox tree

June 1, 2011

Yesterday morning I woke up at 07. I strolled a bit in the garden, still after many years I am amazed by the quiet, in which I include the calls of birds and buzzing bees. I mean quiet from disturbing engines and music. The guinea fowl spent some time drying up their wings in the sun on the elevated road. Everything is emerald green, too bad hardly any tourists see Chiang Mai this time of the year. I greeted Poi Fai, our water buffalo, and then I happened to look up into a Haldina cordifolia (Rubiaceae) tree: it was full of butterflies! I never realized it was such a magnet. A Thai man from Bangkok has ordered a seedling, said he would be prepared to fly up here only for that seedling, a person of my taste! The tree is indeed a good timber tree, useful for houses and furniture, and it has a long reputation of being medicinal.

Intrigued by the cloud of mainly Painted Jezebel butterflies (Delias hyparete indica, Pieridae) I decided to interrupt my romantic stroll and proceed to work. I fetched a telescope clipper and then I collected a few flower clusters to share the joy of the butterflies. The fragrance surprised me a lot. I asked Ketsanee what she thought, but she just looked puzzled. To me, this is the fragrance of a lunchbox for school, with butter (butyric acid), cucumber, wheat bread and a mild smoked and sliced sausage (medwurst in Swedish). In our pedagogic effort of making the local flora known and appreciated by foreign settlers, we hereby name Haldina cordifolia ‘Lunchbox tree’ in English due to the peculiar fragrance of the flowers.

The flower clusters are characterized by protruding female stigmata.

The scientific name ‘cordifolia’ means ‘heart-shaped leaves’. ‘Haldina’ might be a latinized form of ‘haldu’, an Indian name for this tree. The red petiole (leaf stalk) is another characteristic.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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