The snapdragon tree in blossom
Are there tree-sized members of the mint family (Lamiaceae)? Yes, teak (Tectona grandis) is one, but its companion in the dry savannah-like monsoon forests surrounding Chiang Mai has gigantic mint-shaped flowers: the snapdragon tree (Gmelina arborea). The classical snapdragon is Anthirrinum of a family different from the mints (Scrophulariaceae), but the vernacular name is still quite descriptive.
The Dokmai Garden tree is now four years old and it obtained its present size (5 m) already as a three-year-old. The leaves are edible when young and the flowers contain nectar which attract sunbirds. Just like teak it is a deciduous tree, but its wood is inferior to that of teak.
Edible, deciduous heart-shaped leaves with two glands at the base of the leaf stalk (petiole), and large yellow-red snapdragon-like blossom in January-February are two characteristics of the snapdragon tree.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell