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One of the ancients

September 30, 2011

Of obvious reasons yesterday’s blog on the heavy rains received a lot of attention. I should like to connect to that blog by presenting a few interesting trees which could be used for both preventing erosion and to add beauty.

With 1100 wild tree species in northern Thailand there are many options. Unfortunately only a limited number are available. This is mainly due to lack of demand. Land owners who want a forest accept the free governmental teak seedlings (Tectona grandis, Lamiaceae), although a much greater number of tree species are offered, including the valuable rosewoods (Dalbergia spp., Fabaceae) which are now stolen in the national parks. Since the land owners want a quick cash reward for themselves, they are not interested in making money for their children or grandchildren, nor are they interested in biodiversity. However, if you belong to the vanishing minority of the human population who do care, then you should visit a Thai governmental forest nursery and ask what they have to offer. Some examples: Mai Dhaeng (Xylia xylocarpa, Fabaceae, a beautiul dome-shaped tree with a valuable and durable wood), Takien (Hopea odorata, Dipterocarpaceae, a black-stemmed slow growing species with an amazingly valuable wood and small flowers smelling of honey) and Makha (Afzelia xylocarpa, Fabaceae, a burgundy red wood used for floors. Very sturdy, can stand flooding and droughts). Australian Eucalypts may not be a good choice as they may lower your water table significantly in the dry season.

If you are lucky you may stumble upon an ebony (Diospyros, Ebenaceae). Luk jun, en Esan name for Diospyros decandra, is one of ‘the ancient trees’, not seen very often now. Thai elderly visitors coming to Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai clap their hands when they see our small tree, and you can almost see tears in the corners of their eyes. Not only does it have a magnificent and expensive wood, not only does it grow into majestic proportions, but it has edible fruits with a lovely perfume! It is not included in Simon Gardner’s book on northern Thai trees, so maybe it has a more eastern range, although I have seen it Luang Prabang in Laos which should imply it might have grown in northern Thailand before the loggers came.

According to Ketsanee, ‘jun’ refers to the moon, because the fruit resembles a little yellow moon. Why not use the English name ‘Moon ebony’ to create an interest for this unusual fruit?

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Yang permalink
    September 30, 2011 8:39 PM

    I’d love to try the fruit. How does it taste?

    • October 1, 2011 8:53 AM

      The fragrance is ‘perfumed’. It is so good I once carried a fruit around in my pocket, and now and then I would pick it up and smell it, and each time praise it. The flavour is like the fragrance. The texture is fibrous, and the balance between fruit acids and sweetness is perfect.


  2. October 1, 2011 9:06 AM

    Eric has opened up a truly big (1100 trees) topic here worthy of a major article.
    For nigh on a decade now our local conservation group “Gum Hak Doi Suthep”, or “We Love Doi Suthep” has been working away on the issue of growing trees near streams.
    We have found that a visit to government forest nursery rarely produces more than 2 or 3 suitable indigenous species so we collect seed every year and supply most to nursery staff who are usually more than happy to try to grow trees from the seed.
    We also work on tree planting and the essential bush care necessary to allow trees to survive weed competition. You are welcome to join in with our enterprise and hopefully teach us from your own experience.
    To get some idea of our activities please browse website. You may even find the tree list for last years planting at the Chiang Mai Railway Park to be of help if you wish to plant a similar environment. Please register and become involved.

    Just a few comments about these two recent postings on Dokmai Dogma:

    Please do plant slow growing Diospyros species which can often be found at Forest Nurseries and also Eugenias which are also good for bird and even human fodder
    Do not plant teak for erosion control as soil loss in teak plantations is more severe than weedy grassland.

    In natural Teak forests where the species rarely reaches 50% of the number of trees in the forest, not including bamboo, the problem of soil loss may be less severe.
    Bamboo which is naturally very abundant in Teak dominated forests, which we call Pa Benjapan in Thai, may with its association with termites and the mounding of soil resulting from these busy workers reduce sheet erosion. This I suggest is worth study.

    Bamboo along streams however is a more complicated story. I have seen huge bamboos fall down from river currents undermining their great pad of fibrous roots. Bamboo is an unconvivial plant excluding roots of other plants entering its root zone. This means the mutual benefit gained and given, as roots from a mix of trees growing over and under one another and giving support to the forest as a whole from strong winds or floods, is absent in the case of bamboo.

    The best plants for stream bank protection I have commonly observed are Pandanus penetrans, Salix tetrasperma, some of the Eugenia (also known as Syzygium) species – especially Eugenia formosa and of course the mighty Hopea odorata.

    If people wish I could give an illustrated talk on this subject at Dokmai Garden one afternoon.

    • October 1, 2011 8:30 PM

      Dear Ricky,
      Absolutely – we should love to have you here for a talk. Thank you very much for the offer. I contact you soon.


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