Being a Swede, Christmas in Thailand is different from home. The viking yule was midwinter (December 21st), a celebration that darkness was defeated and the days would become longer. The viking gods were essentially ancestors, quite similar to the spirit worship here in Thailand. Not much is known from the time before Christianity because most Norse temples were burnt and the literature which were based on wooden pieces were destroyed, only fragments survived as rock carvings or were used for black magic spells until the early 20th century.
The English word ‘book’ is derived from the Germanic word for beech tree (bok in Swedish, Buch in German) which wood was used for carving runes. Some oral legends survived thanks to the Icelander Snorre Sturlasson. The viking or Norse gods were exchanged with Arab/Hebrew gods and the Scandinavians changed (lost?) their traditions. In modern Sweden, one of the most secular societies in the world, we celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. It is a family gathering and the reason is the same as in the old times; we head towards brighter times! Here at Dokmai Garden where I live with a Buddhist family they hardly know who Jesus is, although I have tried to explain to make them understand the fuzz, but it is like explaining a religion from the bushlands of Mali to a Christian.
Gods or nature, the gorgeous creation which surrounds us fills me with joy everyday. In this Thai environment yule to me is the slow beginning of the flowering season. Yesterday I mentioned the monkey hand, today we have a much more rare orchid in blossom: The Pegu orchid.
This orchid is on the Thai endangered species list. Since it grows in a tree at Dokmai Garden you will not see it unless a guide shows it to you. It was once widespread in the majestic lowland forests of Sikkim, Nepal, Burma and Thailand, but today we have corn fields and shopping malls instead.
The name ‘Pegu’ (peh kou) is the ancient name of the town Bago in Burma. It was originally founded by the Mon people of the Thaton kingdom. The Burmese from Bagan conquered the city in 1056. The Mon came back but the Burmese from Toungoo conquered it again in 1539. It became a Burmese royal capital until 1634 and was a base for many attacks launched at Siam. Once an important port for trade, the delta grew and the town was disconnected from the sea. The British conquered Pegu in 1852. Lindley described the orchid Dendrobium peguanum in 1859.
The flowers are clustered and small, snow-white with undulating violet lips. Ketsanee says there is a faint fragrance of ‘forest blossom’ but right now a cold blinds my nose. The pseudobulbs are stout. Some literature claims this species grows along streams in wet environments, some claim it should be grown much drier. We grow it in an evergreen longan tree (Dimocarpus longan, Sapindaceae) facing East. It is a fairly dry area although we do irrigate the lawn.
If there are still any specimens left in the wild we should be interested in sharing your field data (altitude, tree substrate, orientation on the tree, height in the tree, pollinator, proximity to running water etc). This species has a high priority for the Orchid Ark!
Dokmai Garden is open Tuesday-Sunday 10-17 as usual during Christmas, but closed on Dember 31st and January 1st.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell