Skip to content

Instead of Rhododendron

September 20, 2011

Many foreign settlers here in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand wish to grow Rhododendron (Ericaceae) like at home. Although there are wild Rhododendron in Thailand, they are high elevation plants (usually above 1500 metres) and will do very poorly here in the hot valley at 300-350 metres.

A nice tropical substitute for some violet Rhododendron is the local native Melastoma malabathricum (Melastomataceae). Both foliage and colour resemble some rhododendrons. Most visitors to Dokmai Garden do not know this plant at all, a minority of the visitors make a qualified guess that this is South American Tibouchina of the same family (Melastomataceae), but Tibouchina have dry capsules while fruits of Melastoma are fleshy. The Asian genus Melastoma is usually lacking in western tropical garden floras. This is probably because modern tropical garden floras are mostly American, and they focus on nearby South American plants.

‘Melastoma’ is Latinized Greek and means ‘black mouth’. This is because the fruits, which taste like raisins, make your tongue black. I hereby dub thee ‘Malabar black mouth’ in English!

The Malabar black mouth is in eternal blossom if watered and fed with grass cuttings.

The black fruits are appreciated by children and bulbul birds.

(This is an expanded version of an earlier blog, now with a picture of the flower, English name and additional comments)

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

Advertisements
6 Comments leave one →
  1. kentiopsis permalink
    November 8, 2011 9:03 AM

    In Hawaii, Melastomas are a terrible invasive species. They have overrun miles of native vegetation near Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island. Regarding rhododendrons, I’d imagine that many of what are commonly known in Hawaii as “tropical rhododendrons” would work in Chiang Mai.

    While I’m here, I’d like to note that the Big Island, or Hawaii Island is a fantastic place to visit for those interested in natural history. The island encompasses a very wide range of climate zones, from wet tropical to cold xeric. Also, just outside the town of Hilo, on that island, is the Panaewa Rainforest [sic] Zoo. This is a must-see for tropical plant fanatics. The various plant societies of the island have planted many hundreds of their favorite species on the zoo grounds—I planted a number of the palms myself. The collection of animals on display is modest, but the plant collection is terrific, and I believe that most of the interesting plants are labeled. The eastern side of the island, where the zoo is located, is home to many tropical plant nurseries and some of the most knowledgeable plant people anywhere.

    • November 8, 2011 9:22 AM

      We even have native Rhododendron, but they grow at very high altitude. An assumption often made is that Chiang Mai has the same climate as Bangkok. We don’t, Bangkok is much more moist. During the hot dry season Chiang Mai is more like central India. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is invasive in Florida, but here it shrivels up and dies if you do not water your garden, and I have never seen it naturalized.

      Your example shows we should better stick to our own native plants and try not to bring new exotics which may turn into a problem.

    • November 8, 2011 9:22 AM

      We even have native Rhododendron, but they grow at very high altitude. An assumption often made is that Chiang Mai has the same climate as Bangkok. We don’t, Bangkok is much more moist. During the hot dry season Chiang Mai is more like central India. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is invasive in Florida, but here it shrivels up and dies if you do not water your garden, and I have never seen it naturalized.

      Your example shows we should better stick to our own native plants and try not to bring new exotics which may turn into a problem.

  2. kentiopsis permalink
    November 8, 2011 9:36 AM

    I’m curious about the invasiveness potential of Bauhinia aureifolia. For example, does it have small fruit attractive to birds? It’s an attractive plant that I’ve never seen in Hawaii. Any ideas on this?

    • November 9, 2011 9:20 AM

      I have not seen any fruits – a disappointment! Our specimen is still in blossom, and I have seen butterflies visiting the flowers, but no fruits so maybe there is a need for cross pollination? In that case, bringing in one clone would solve the problem with invasivess. I have had difficulties taking cuttings. The stems are hollow and such cuttings rarely take. The high price and the fact you only rarely see it implies it is not possible to mass produce, yet.

      Cheers, Eric

Trackbacks

  1. Dokmai Garden | World Flavor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: