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January blossom

January 14, 2012

While writing this blog, we have some droplets of rain (2 mm so far this year) and the temperature was 20°C at 09.30. Within sight I can admire the pink cloud of the foaming Congea tomentosa (Lamiaceae), ‘Pride of Lanna’. This is a handsome and native liana which also blooms in the Chiang Mai jungles now, one of the few plants that does. Another very welcome sight is the splendid orange blossom of ‘ton kwaw’ Butea monosperma (Fabaceae), the Chiang Mai province tree. This is actually 2-3 weeks later than last year’s blossom. Maybe the heavy rains in September-October forced the blooming period forward a bit? Some plants regulate their activities based on changes in day length (photoperiod), some react to temperature, some react to moisture. This tree is not yet in blossom at Dokmai Garden, and yesterday I only saw one tree in bloom in Namprae south of Chiang Mai. Saraca indica (Fabaceae) is still in beautiful orange blossom. As to native orchid flowers I have already blogged about the tarantula leg (Dendrobium senile) and the lion tooth Bulbophyllum lobbii.

These examples are seasonal native monsoon plants. Some plants make flowers almost all year round, such as Ixora spp, Thunbergia laurifolia, Uvaria grandiflora, Tabernaemontana pachysiphon and the South American lilavadee (Plumeria spp).

As to less colourful blossom, there is a massive mango blossom (Mangifera spp. Anacardiaceae) right now. Some trees already produce fruit primordia and their crops should be safe, but later varieties may have a poor crop this year due to this rain. Such rains are not abnormal, we had them during the previous two years too. The mango relative cashew (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae) also began making their tiny pink flowers now, and to my experience mango rains are bad for the production of cashew apples too.

A really nice flower in blossom now is South American Gliricidia sepium (Fabaceae), ‘mother of coffee’ (there are many). They appear like cherry blossom, pink on naked or near-naked branches, but they are pea flowers. Being crispy and sweet, they are perfect ingredients when making an exotic tropical salad. Unfortunately they almost always sooner or later attract aphids, but in this early stage of blossom the trees are so sweet.

In addition to the flowers, a gardener may consider foliage and sculptural shape of trees. Yesterday we had visitors representing a gardening magazine in Canada, and they said that during their 3 months long trip in Asia, they had seen a beautiful tree in four countries, but nobody had been able to tell them what the tree was. At Dokmai Garden they saw it too:

What makes Dokmai Garden different from other gardens is our passion for plants (we live here and we love the plants, they are not just a 9-5 job), our personal approach (we like to chat with visitors) and we make efforts and investments in sharing knowledge. Beautiful gardens can be found everywhere in Asia, but if you wish to know more about these tropical plants, there are only a handful of educational gardens in South Asia.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2012 11:38 AM

    I too have noticed . Saraca indica (Fabaceae) flowering in my travels to Esan & back in the last fortnight.
    Yang Na , Dipterocarpus alatus has also been flowering for some weeks and I saw some recent blooms on theground testerday but the local D. turbinatus is usually a month or so later in flower and seed.
    Now we also have Bombax ceiba coming out in all its red glory and there are many big specimens in the Ping valley as well as along the Mekong.

    It seems our normal Mango rains have come this year so I ask : “Is that an indication of a normal year, if there be such a thing, i.e. no early start to the rainy season?”

    • January 14, 2012 12:07 PM

      Yes, I forgot to mention Bombax ceiba, the red silk tree, or red kapok. It is an awesome native species, a characteristic of the Chiang Mai valley and a magnet for nectar feeding birds. A relative, kapok (Ceiba pentandra) from Africa and South America, is also in blossom at Dokmai Garden.

  2. January 14, 2012 12:25 PM

    Saraca sp. is also blooming in Honolulu, along with Amherstia and, of course the mangoes and avocados. Although these latter two have small flowers, I enjoy the massive displays.

  3. January 14, 2012 1:14 PM

    The Indian Mast tree is a common feature everywhere around Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.

    • January 14, 2012 4:54 PM

      Yes, it is a common tree, but visitors from temperate areas will not find botanical gardens like at home, because they are very rare in southern Asia, and so a garden tourist struggles in an ocean of village names. There will be a change, especially now with the younger and well educated Asian generations taking over. I hope that one day Asian people will take the information we now provide for granted. I want them to say that this is every man’s basic garden knowledge. Right now it is not. There is not even a name standard for a country, they all struggle to exchange information between provinces.


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