Not an olive, not a plum, not a mango…
….it is a maho (Spondias lakonensis, Anacardiaceae)! On Sunday when we walked about in the garden after Ricky’s lecture we visited Dokmai Garden’s Spondias pinnata (Anacardiaceae), commonly found in the Thai markets. We concluded this is a fast growing local species which could be used on river or quarry banks which are situated high above the water level. Next to this tree is its hitherto anonymous sister species, the maho. Until this year I have not paid much attention to it.
This particular specimen emanates from the Mae Kanin Tai valley which is surrounded by the Opkhan (Obkhan) National park. Ketsanee is not familiar with it and Smitinand only mentions one Thai name, ‘maho’, which is from Chiang Mai. One of our tropical garden school students, a forester from America, told me that of all our trees he loved this one most. At the time (January 2010) it was somewhat leggy but had a superb coppery bark. I am now in love with the tree too! On our garden tour I shook the tree so the small fruits fell down. We tried them, and they are superb! Indeed several of us thought they tasted like plum, sweet, not tart like so many other jungle plants. The Thais of the group did not know this tree. We thought it would be a great fruit for making jam or marmalade. Our VIP card holders may come here and pick ten fruits each for free for propagation at home. My work with seeding jungle species was never much appreciated, and without a demand I can not proceed with such time consuming activities.
Are there any other English names? When the British discovered the tropical world they named little red fruits ‘cherry’, larger red fruits ‘plum’, little green fruits ‘olive’ and large green fruits ‘apple’. This is terribly annoying since many tropical fruits have nothing to do with the fruits in Europe. Totally new names are needed to emphasise the diversity of the plant kingdom. ‘Hairy-leaved Cantonese Mombin’ is one name I found on internet, but it is a bit awkward, and I do not like geographical names because the actual range might be larger, or the actual home of the plant different from that of the name, as in Malabar chestnut. The mombin (Spondias mombin) is South American and is confusingly also often called ‘hog plum’ (Spondias pinnata is also ‘hog plum’). Adopting the Chiang Mai name ‘maho’ is good, because it is a new name in English, short and easy to pronounce. This is similar to ‘santol’ (Sandoricum koetjape, Meliaceae) which originally is Malayan.
Keep exploring the native plants! Start by visiting Dokmai Garden and by reading Simon Gardner’s book on northern Thai trees.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell